As the planet slowly recovers from the ravages of the terrifying Covid-19 pandemic, sport once again leads the way on the rocky road back to normality as, immediately after the successful and entertaining but spectatorless Tokyo Olympic Games, golf takes centre stage when the War of the World – United States vs Europe – tees off in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, with the home side thirsting to avenge the 17.5-10.5 mauling suffered in the Paris debacle of 2018.
The Ryder Cup, named after English entrepreneur and golf enthusiast Samuel Ryder who hailed from Preston, proved to be an insurmountable task for the home nations in the initial years as the Americans, powered by immortals Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino etc, routinely and relentlessly brushed the opposition aside, often by embarrassing margins. I’m old enough to recall those dark days and how jarring were the patronising words of consolation and pats on the head proffered to outclassed opponents by successive Yankee captains at post-match victory celebrations, but in 1979 all that was about to change.
Golf was becoming very popular in continental Europe with the emergence of Spanish superstars, swashbuckling Seve Ballesteros, gritty Antonio Garrido, ‘El Niño’ Sergio Garcia, Captain Fantastic José Maria Olazabal, plus cigar-chomping Miguel Ángel Jiménez and German prodigy Bernhard Langer. With Europeans regularly scaling the summit of golf’s order of merit, and with Uncle Sam at last tiring of the cat-torturing-the-mouse routine that the competition had become, combined with TV stations’ complaints about the one-sidedness of it all, the call went up… the Ryder Cup must be opened up to the rest of Europe.
And so it came to pass – from 1979 stars from Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden strode to the aid of their beleaguered British and Irish colleagues and the effect was immediate, the Ryder Cup became a proper contest and the unthinkable happened – the Americans were being put to the sword, and for Uncle Sam, having grown fat gorging on the carcasses of inferior opponents, this was a hard pill to swallow. Of the 20 tournaments played since the change, Europe have won 11 to eight, with one tied.
Postponed for a year because of the plague, the 43rd Ryder Cup is scheduled to take place at Whistling Straits, Haven, Wisconsin, with the action set to detonate on Friday 24th September and ending two days later on the Sunday. At the time of writing, barring any more nasty pandemic setbacks, the three-day extravaganza is set to be played in front of a full hostile house of fanatical and very noisy golf enthusiasts. Memories of the spanking the Yanks suffered last time in Paris are still raw in the States – the then president and golf nut Donald Trump was reported to be incandescent at the result, it didn’t sit well with the Ginger Don’s moronic MAGA chant of Make America Great Again – and Team USA are desperate to avenge what they consider to be that shameful collapse.
The Americans, led by non-playing captain Steve Stricker, are odds-on favourites with the bookies to wrest the Cup back, and with eight Yanks in the top ten of golf’s official world rankings it’s not difficult to see why Uncle Sam’s Boys are confident that America is on the road to redemption, with victory assured in what is sure to be an ultra intimidating Whistling Straits battleground. The team is made up of the top six in the points table who qualify by right, the remaining six places are ‘captain’s picks’ where Stricker has the option to include players based on current form or previous Cup experience, like class act Phil Mickelson, who boasts an astonishing 12 Cup appearances. I fervently hope that old ‘Lefty’ makes it 13.
Team Europe consists of the top nine in the order of merit, with non-playing captain Padraig Harrington having just three picks, an unenviable dilemma for the popular Irishman – who to pick, who to leave out? Just as with Mickelson for the USA, my earnest hope is that Ian Poulter be one of Harrington’s choices should he not qualify by right. The mercurial Englishman comes alive when donning Team Europe colours – not a hint of Brexit negativity here – a fantastic fanatical team player who has never lost a Cup singles match, won five with one tied is the proud record of Hitchin’s favourite son.
Who will emerge triumphant on Sunday, 26th September? My heart says Europe but my head whispers USA. Spaniard Jon Rahm, who tops the world rankings, is head and shoulders Team Europe’s finest, Rory McIlroy occasionally shows signs that he might be about to rediscover some of his past zest, Tommy Fleetwood is flying and Tyrell Hatton has been a revelation this term, all signs that Team Europe have realistic hopes of hitting the 14-point target that, as holders, would see the Ryder Cup retained. It’s going to be an exhilarating three days, with every stroke live on TV. Don’t miss it!
Current odds: Team USA 4/7, Team Europe 2/1, Tie 12/1
TV Schedule of The Ryder Cup Action (Tee-off times to be announced)
Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Golf
Also excellent coverage BBC Radio 5 Live
Friday 24th – Morning 4 Foursomes – Afternoon 4 Fourballs
Saturday 25th – Morning 4 Foursomes – Afternoon 4 Fourballs
Sunday 26th – 12 Singles