By John Huggan
MEDINAH, Ill. -- Much is always made -- quite rightly -- of the fact that, prior to 1979 and the addition of continental Europeans to the previously pathetic Great Britain & Ireland squads, the Ryder Cup was little more than a biennial "garden party." Every member of both sides was just so terribly nice and polite. With one or two notable exceptions in 1957 and 1969, the golf passed off without any sort of major incident or controversy. And, of course, the team from the big ol' US of A went home the winners.
In other words, the whole thing was generally as dull as dishwater, to the point where it eventually became unwatchable. And unplayable -- as a presumably half-asleep Jack Nicklaus was quick to point out in the wake of yet another comfortable U.S. victory at Royal Lytham in 1977. He was right, of course. Hardly anyone cared about the eventual outcome. There was no rivalry to speak of, no spark with which to ignite something above the ordinary. The Ryder Cup may have been only a two-horse race, but one of the participants was a donkey.
Well, guess what, at least in terms of the seemingly endless nonsense we've been treated to so far this week -- the best three days in golf are immediately preceded by the worst four -- the Ryder Cup is reverting to its pre-1979 decorum. If yesterday at Medinah is anything to go by, the little bit of "edge" that has made the matches so fascinating to watch is in real danger of disappearing. Which is ominous. Amidst a cloud of political correctness and saccharine-sweet niceness, they could easily lose a great deal of their appeal.
Take this tribute to Seve Ballesteros thing. I yield to no man in my admiration for the way in which the legendary Spaniard played the game. And it is right and proper that he be fondly remembered at the first Ryder Cup after his untimely death last year. But dear oh dear, the level of schmaltz is already all but overpowering. We've got Seve on golf bags and Seve on yardage books, when all we really need is Seve on our minds.
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"We respect them and they respect us," said American skipper Davis Love yesterday. "And come Friday morning to Sunday evening we are going to have a lot of fun competing. And then, as Jose (Maria Olazabal) said, then it goes right back to being friends."
Now, I can't blame Davis for coming out with such obvious frothiness and inanity. In his position, he probably feels he has to play safe when it comes to the pre-match verbal jousting. But my goodness it is tedious, especially when what is really required is a healthy dose of disrespect and skepticism directed straight at the opposition.
Don't get me wrong, though. This is not a call for anarchy or anything like it. I was as appalled as anyone -- as a Scot, probably more so -- by what went on at Kiawah Island in 1991 and at Brookline eight years later. On both occasions, the level of animosity between the two teams and their supporters reached unacceptably vitriolic and near violent proportions. So I'm not saying we need to see players stampeding across greens when opponents are waiting to putt, or spectators yelling vile and disgusting epithets at individuals whose only crime is wearing the wrong color shirt. Those sorts of things go beyond the pale.
Golf at its best is a civilized sport and nothing should be done to change that fact. But come on guys, let's see and hear some action. Let's stop being so damned nice about anything and everything. Let's ban the word "respect" until Sunday evening. And let's get some good-natured and pointed banter going.
It doesn't have to be mean-spirited or evil. But let's at least have someone -- anyone -- tweaking a member of the other side. It would be great to hear an American having, say, a public giggle at Rory McIlroy's eccentric hairstyle. Or have a European take aim at Jason Dufner's "disgusting" chewing tobacco habit. Anything to get the competitive juices flowing and create just the right level of inter-personal tension on the first tee Friday morning.
The Ryder Cup deserves nothing less.