After another thrilling match, the pleasure of seeing the players in the press conference afterwards is a privilege, especially if your team happens to win. The friendship shown among the European players was special this year. In the past, the drinks have been flowing before this final official press engagement (Lee Westwood has been known to knock back a few celebratory beers before this event), but this team was sober and very happy. They joked about Thomas Bjorn’s promise to have a body tattoo if his team won; they teased Sergio Garcia about the way he laughs with a ‘hee-hee-hee’ noise; there was special applause for Sergio (“Not a bad pick,” said Bjorn) and also the vice captains (nicknamed ‘The Wives’); and more jokes about Francesco Molinari’s version of being excited and deadpan at the same time, plus his “love affair” with Tommy Fleetwood who blew him a friendly kiss. To be there and share the feeling of triumph is an unforgettable memory.
But, If you want to find the essence of the phrase ‘An event no one wants to attend’ then come along to the press conference for the losing Ryder Cup team. The closing ceremony is over, many of the losers have been crying (Jim Furyk’s eyes were red, for sure) and the chill in the room is way below freezing. Tiger Woods looked and sounded exhausted; Phil Mickelson was eloquent and admitted his part in the loss; all players were quick to defend their skipper; and there was a confession from Captain Furyk that his counterpart did a better job. The fact that Justin Thomas with four points out of five was the only player at the Open de France in the summer was dismissed as a reason for the loss, but it’s a stark statistic that the US team played eight competitive rounds over the course and the Europeans played 233. If more US players came over to more European Tour tournaments (which would be great for European golf fans) then their team might end a Ryder Cup losing streak that is now 25 years old.
An odd ending with the final match finishing over an hour after the European win was confirmed (either by Molinari or Garcia depending on how you define the moment of victory). Should the organisers change the rules to stop this happening again? Well, it’s just golf, I guess – there is no match point in this sport. In the 1990s, the matches still taking place after the result was confirmed used to be conceded so the celebrations could start, but betting companies among others wanted a ‘real’ result and so Bryson DeChambeau and Alex Noren played on. Oddly, sitting in front of my laptop in the media centre, I had just written that Noren should have conceded before his monster putt on the 18th because he already had a guaranteed half point – then he went and holed it. Now, that was a great way to get the party started.
Interesting post-match titbits included: Ian Poulter wearing a fancy dress postbox oufit (the postman always delivers!); Patrick Reed giving his signature “shush” signal to the crowd after his win and then following it with a clap for the crowd (he does like to play the villain); captain Jim Furyk confirmed that this was “a managerial job” that his counterpart Thomas Bjorn did better (perhaps it’s time for the US to talk more to managers, team builders outside of sport as well as inside it); and the new-style closing ceremony on the 18th green was cute with all the players wearing flags as scarves – great idea and notice how all four official partners – Aberdeen Standard Investments, BMW, Emirates and Rolex – got an name check on the mini-stage.
The mainline French media were here in force and that was a good thing because even the Open de France struggles for local coverage. The TV news reports contained Ryder Cup stories over the weekend, both in the main part of the broadcast and also in the sports section (after the football, of course). Just to get the full attention of all the TV and radio stations plus the large print newspapers here is a step up for French golf.
The choruses of booing that emanated from this Ryder Cup crowd were a bit of a surprise, but perhaps not when you think of all the new golf fans who must have been at an event like this for the first time. Football and rugby are the is the top team sports in France and a few boos are de rigueur there. It didn’t spoil the event, but it shows that the gentlemen’s culture that is the pride of the sport does not always translate.
Shout out to the Ryder Cup European Development Trust (RCEDT) that has now supported 35 different projects in 30 countries with £2.2 million of funds. Projects range from helping disabled golfers to taking the game into schools. Remember, the European players take part for free, but control where the match profits are spent. The American players, by contrast, receive a couple of hundred thousand dollars to give to a charity of their choice and the PGA of America dishes out the profits of their Ryder Cups. Nice to see a big mention of the RCEDT in the match programme.
My own book about the behind-the-scenes elements of the match, Ryder Cup Revealed, is far from the only one available. Fellow author Peter Fry already has a Samuel Ryder biography under his belt and has now delved into the past of a rather obscure (but very key) figure in the match’s history. The Man Who Saved The Ryder Cup is about Robert Hudson, a millionaire grocery magnate from Oregon, who funded the first post-World War II match at a time when no one really knew when (or even if) the Ryder Cup would ever take place again. Every fan at Le Golf National owes Mr Hudson a debt of gratitude.
Final memories from long-time former PGA and PGA of Europe administrator Lawrie Thornton. “In these days of wall-to-wall TV coverage, it seems strange to recall that on the fabulous final Sunday in 1985 when Europe won the match for the first time for 28 years, the BBC2 coverage didn’t start until after 2 o’clock, quite a while after all of the final day singles matches had all teed off.” Lawrie goes on: “The day after that Ryder Cup, the President of the Spanish Golf Federation suggested to the PGA Executive Director that as ‘provider’ of 25% of the European Team they were entitled to 25% of the event profits. I believe that Colin Snape agreed, as long as the Federation similarly contributed to the losses incurred in the previous three matches in which players from Spain had participated. The discussion didn’t progress beyond that point.”
One of the most impressive elements of this year’s match was the Ryder Cup app. Michael Cole, the European Tour’s chief technology officer, has been elevating all elements of electronic communication on the Tour and the app had many remarkable features including a way to find a player out on the course who you want to watch and the shortest path to find him, navigating your walk around all the holes via GPS like Google Maps. Over 38,000 devices (either mobile phones, laptops or tablets) downloaded the app on the first match day and reports about how they were used and also how the crowd moved around the course (GPS tracking allows all that data to be collected as well) are eagerly awaited and could make a difference to the way fans enjoy big golf tournaments in the future.
There was still a little doubt after two match days in the minds of some of the media about the 1st tee grandstand but standing at the top of it watching the first groups go out on Sunday underlined that it is just amazing. The clapping, cheering and then the foot stamping made for a level of noise that was truly memorable.
Ross Biddiscombe’s acclaimed book Ryder Cup Revealed is available at amazon.co.uk via this hotlink: https://tinyurl.com/y9w75whd