Europeans taught Americans two things over the weekend: how to golf, and how to act.
Reversing a trend in head-to-head match play that had seen Americans win that format in six of the last seven Ryder Cups, Europe’s team recaptured the Cup as Paul McGinley, a little-known Irishman, sank the winning putt on the 18th hole that put the Old World on top. The teams had started the day tied with 8 points each. McGinley’s win left three twosomes still out on the course where names like Davis Love, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were struggling against lesser known opponents. Not since 1999, when the American team at Brookline surged from behind to overcome a four-point deficit, had there been such a drubbing.
But far different from the American venue was the deportment of both the players and the galleries at Sutton Coldfield, England. The galleries rooted hard for the Europeans but were respectful to the Americans, as if the crude behavior of both American players and their fans in 1999 could somehow be left in the sandtrap of history. Europe’s premier player, Colin Montgomerie, a preferred target of American spectators when visiting this country, played and conducted himself superbly.
America’s team captain Curtis Strange and Europe’s leader Sam Torrance were deferential to one another and the other’s players. But Strange could not avoid the crudity of American locker rooms and its streets. He informed one televised pre-match press conference that one of his players had “big balls,” giving sportscasters a gift that lasted them a full news cycle. And Sunday, as the match was closed and the cup decided, he opined that the Americans had been given a “European butt-whippin’.” He liked the ad lib enough to include it in his formal remarks at the closing ceremony.
As for player deportment, it was left to Spain’s Sergio Garcia to play ugly American this time. In a losing effort, he fist-pumped and gyrated in the fashion known more to NFL end zones than staid golf courses and when the winning putt sank, it was Sergio who led celebrants onto the 18th green and cavorted down the fairway, stopping further play. Waiting to approach the green but unable to continue, Davis Love and opponent Pierre Fulke got official permission to call it a day and halve their match. The others behind them, the forlorn twosomes of Mickelson and Price and Woods and Parnevik, finally finished their meaningless matches.
All in all, 2002’s Ryder Cup event was a vast improvement over the shame of 1999, if you can accept “big balls” and “butt-whippin'” as part of the lexicon of golf. We have come some distance since CBS sportscaster Jack Whittaker was banned from Augusta National for not referring to the spectators as a gallery.