To the relief, no doubt, of golf fans around the world, the 41st Ryder Cup matches are about to begin ... thank God.
At the end of a week that has seen more than one unseemly incident, the game’s most interesting and exciting event needs to get going in order to remind us that golf is a game played by gentlemen and not uncouth yobs.
First we had the now notorious column penned by the older brother of Masters champion Danny Willett. A drama teacher in a Yorkshire high school back in jolly old England, Pete Willett managed to alienate just about every one of Uncle Sam’s nieces and nephews over the course of an extraordinary diatribe that set out to be satirical but ended up spiteful. A sample…
“Europe need to silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling irritants, staged on cookie dough and pissy beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘baba-booey’ until their jelly faces turn red.
“They need to stun the angry, unwashed, ‘make America great again’ swarm, desperately gripping their concealed-carry compensators and belting out ‘mashed potato’ hoping to impress their cousin. They need to smash the obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego-man hair, medicated ex-wives and their resentful children. Squeezed into their cargo shorts and boating shoes, they’ll bellow ‘get in the hole’ whilst high-fifing all the other remembers of the Dentist’s Big Game Hunt Society.”
Then we had the Phil Mickelson affair. And day after making an unprovoked attack on the 2004 American captain, Hal Sutton – something to do with Phil having to change balls in order to play with Tiger Woods at Oakland Hills 12 years ago – the five-time major champion offered up an abject apology for said onslaught. It was childish, petty stuff that should have been beneath someone of such stature.
Oh yes, the golf.
These matches are being contested by a European team that looks suspiciously like a throw-back to the late 1980s, the top-half of the side (Danny Willett, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Henrik Stenson) noticeably distinct from the bottom half (Andy Sullivan, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Matt Fitzpatrick, Lee Westwood, Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood) and an American side that, as ever, reads better on paper than it might play on grass.
Recent Ryder Cup history, of course, has not been kind to the New World team. Eight of the last ten matches have ended with the trophy back in Europe.
So what is likely to happen over the three days of real competition? Given the inherently unpredictable nature of 18-hole matches contested over three different formats, that is typically not an easy question to answer. The home side are, on average, ranked higher than their visiting counterparts. The away team is, statistically, superior tee-to-green. And the Americans are, according to the numbers, better with putters in their hands.
The reality, however, is that there isn’t much in it either way. Since the continental Europeans first joined the fray in 1979, a remarkable 40 percent of the matches have ended on the last green. In the singles over the same period, the teams are tied. So it could go either way, although home advantage and a typically vociferous crowd might just be enough to tip things in the American’s favour. The law of averages is certainly on their side. As is the notion that they must surely have run out of ways to lose by now.
In other words, bet on Europe. Or the draw. Or the Americans. Oh, I really don’t know.