The Ryder Cup is no normal week. And Paris is ready.
Tennis’ annual Wimbledon tournament, spending time roadside at cycling’s Tour de France, watching the streets of Monaco morph into a Formula One GP weekend, the Daytona 500, a Springbok versus All Blacks encounter, The Masters. Obviously, there are dozens of other big events, depending on what sport you gravitate towards, but right near the top of any list is the Ryder Cup.
A tournament that every two years pits the cream of the US against the best Europe has to offer, this year sees the famous act stop in Paris, where Le Golf National hosts the event, with the US arriving as the holders of a trophy that was first contested in 1927.
South Africa’s greatest golfer, Gary Player, reckons the US should always win, given their golfing population, resources, climate, courses and investment in the sport. But that’s not how it pans out and of the last 19 encounters, the US have won only eight times. The most recent being on home soil at Hazeltine in 2016. It will be tougher for them to repeat the trick in Paris.
The French capital is called the City of Lights and fireworks can be guaranteed in September. There’s something about the famous competition that brings out the best, and worst, in those involved. While golf is said to be a gentleman’s game, all the etiquette goes out the window when it comes to the Ryder Cup.
And in the last couple of instalments, when it comes to the Americans and their spectators, it’s as if someone has opened the front door and let the dogs out.
At the 2016 Ryder Cup, Danny Willett’s schoolteacher brother Pete didn’t do the then reigning Masters champion any favours when he launched a broadside on American fans before the United States’ victory at Hazeltine, calling them ‘cretins … squeezed into their cargo shorts and boating shoes … fat, stupid, greedy, classless bastards … pausing between mouthfuls of hot dog so they can scream “Baba booey” until their jelly faces turn red’.
Over the course of a weekend some 50 000 fans watch no more than four groups of golfers at a time on the Friday and Saturday, before the 12 singles match-ups on the Sunday.
When asked whether the Hazeltine crowds were good, bad or ugly, Europe’s Rory McIlroy, a four-time Major champion and former world No 1, said, ‘Probably a combination of all those.’ He then added, ‘The louder they yell, the better we play, so I hope they yell all day.’
Over in Paris the American players will be favourites to retain their title, given the way the latest generation of stars are dominating the sport. Players like Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka are experienced and mainly unflappable – although that can change in a heartbeat when it comes to this unique event.
On the European side, McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood are just as accomplished and every player across both squads could be a potential Major champion – many already are – in a ‘normal’ week of big-event golf.
However, the Ryder Cup is no normal week. And Paris is ready.
South African golfers are included in the International Team for The Presidents Cup, also against the United States, although the competition, while understandably newer, hasn’t created quite the same energy and buzz the Ryder Cup is known for.
The adrenaline rushes aren’t only among the fans. The golfers have felt their knees turn to jelly, and when you have a four-foot putt to win a point or even share a point for your country or continent, the hole’s size diminishes to that of a panado.
Matchplay golf is one of the most exciting formats in the sport. But when there’s a Ryder Cup at stake, it becomes much bigger than just a golf event.