OK – so, everyone talks about the “route to the Ryder Cup”. Whether that’s for captains, players, families, caddies, officials, volunteers, whatever – it’s a pretty important journey. So, I thought I’ d tell you about mine.
From around June I knew I’d be going to Hazeltine in Chaska, Minnesota for the Ryder Cup. It’s my seventh Cup, and no, it doesn’t pall, doesn’t become any less toe-curlingly fantastic to be going. Brian, my husband, and I decided we’d have ten days or so holiday in the US before reporting for duty at Hazeltine. We loosely planned our schedule with all our requirements – decent accommodation (easy in America); a few visits to brew pubs (Brian’s particular interest) and some good challenging exercise to be sure to be prepared for 12-hour days on the course, broadcasting.
We landed in Chicago after a long, tedious flight from Manchester and immediately headed south and then east and north, rattling through Indiana and up into Michigan itself, along the east coast of the lake of the same name. Now, I don’t want you to think it was all play and no work. I resolved to check in frequently on Ryder Cup news to see if US captain Davis Love III was giving any indication as to his final pick. As we settled into the modestly named Grand Haven for a couple of days there was no word from Davis.
Grand Haven was beautiful with spectacular beaches and walks along the shore and biking trails everywhere – and I mean everywhere. It’s the first state I’ve been in where it’s possible to get around without a car. We ticked off a few things on our list: Brian’s holiday haircut – tick; brew pubs visited – tick, tick, tick. Fellow brew pub enthusiasts suggested we go further north to Traverse City and visit Glen Arbor and surrounding area.
Brian was doing all the driving on this trip (his choice) which brought one particular domestic to the fore. Sat-nav or map? Which do you trust? A sat-nav is only as good as the programmer and I’ve always been a map girl. After the first two days, when we had travelled far more miles than necessary because we were avoiding every sort of road except long, winding, curly ones, I lost patience and took over with our newly acquired Rand McNally 2017 atlas. Peace restored, more or less. One thing we did agree upon was how astonishing it was that so many cars in America seemed to be sold minus indicators. Just an observation.
Still no word from Davis on his pick.
In Traverse City we visited the spectacular Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore Park. The dunes were magnificent, including a famed Dune Trail which involved a vertical climb up a 400-foot sandhill of beautiful, soft, golden sand. Exercise for the Ryder Cup – tick; brew pubs – tick, tick.
All going well, with a little education thrown in. Did you know that Michigan is famous for its cherries? And I didn’t know that Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes to be wholly in the US. The other four – Superior, Erie, Huron and Ontario – all have the US/Canadian border running through their centres.
Time to head south again. One delightful night in Saugatuck, another gorgeous lakeside beach town, then we whizzed back to the windy city and to the world famous Wrigley Park, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. We stayed in an AirBnB one block north of the stadium in the centre of vibrant, friendly Wrigleyville. Taylor Zarzour, one of my broadcasting colleagues on Sirius XM, for whom I work in the States, had organised tickets for us.
It was the Cubs versus the St Louis Cardinals. As a baseball virgin, I suspect the amazing seats just behind home plate were wasted on us but what a spectacle it was. There is nothing like a live sporting event and the friendly fans flanking us (one of each persuasion) were only too happy to give us a crash course on the nuances of the game. A brilliant, brilliant experience. Exercise – nil; brew pubs – tick, tick,tick.
The latest from Davis on his US side: “This is the best golf team maybe ever.”
Hmm! And that’s with only eleven of them.
We leave Wrigleyville with its amazing, beautiful old homes, (brownstones, I think) and point the car in the direction of Chaska, Minnesota and Hazeltine Country Club. We travel through miles of rolling, elephant-eye-high cornfields in Wisconsin with pristine, oxblood-red farms dotted hither and thither and decide that this is not the state to open up a business selling push lawnmowers. Nor motorcycle helmets for that matter.
No word from Davis but, hold on! Time for Johnny Miller to step in with his thoughts: ”I do believe the Euros have got, at least on paper, the worst team they’ve had in many years,” Miller said at the Tour Championship.
Hmmm! Sounds like the Europeans should just send the trophy over and stay at home.
Next stop, Green Lake, Wisconsin. Rory has just won the Tour Championship AND the Fed-Ex Cup in spectacular fashion. Hooray! At least one of our awful team seems to be able to play!
No word from Davis on his twelfth man.
We are not required to wait too much longer. At halftime during Sunday night’s football game, featuring the Cowboys and Bears, Davis Love III announces the final member of his team, less than five days before the competition starts. It is Ryan Moore, runner-up to Rory in the Tour Championship and world No 31. Earlier in the week Moore had ruled himself out of the running for the final captain’s pick saying, “I’m resigned to the fact that I’m not going to be on the team. I had a long talk with Davis. It’s not going to happen.”
Hmmmm! Safe to assume that Moore is somewhat surprised to find himself going to Hazeltine. And what about Bubba Watson? No room for a double major champion with only two Americans ahead of him in the world rankings? Even a 66-67 weekend at the Tour Championship wasn’t enough for him to get the nod. So the surprises have started already for some of the US players. I wonder if this “worst team Europe have had in many years” will be able to deliver a few more? Let’s hope so!
Darren Clarke, like all captains, will be able to smile benignly and give two fingers to his critics if his team wins at Hazeltine and will suffer all sorts of criticism if they lose. He’ll be second-guessed left, right and centre and the what-ifs and if-onlys will be rolled out ad nauseam. He’ll have to take the Knox if Russell wins again but the Scotsman has only himself to blame for not making this Ryder Cup team, not Clarke. The only way to guarantee your place is to play your way in.
I gave up railing against captain’s picks years ago because they’re just that: the captain’s picks. Not mine, not yours, not the European Tour’s, not the PGA’s, not anyone’s but the captain’s. He or she can ignore everything but their gut instinct. Rankings, experience, personality, form all play a part but in the end the gut rules. In Clarke’s case it’s currently well under control on the outside however much it may be churning on the inside. But all captains, almost without exception, go with the tried and tested, players they feel they can trust, people they know well, usually with a proven record in the white heat of team matchplay.
Six rookies is a lot, so Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, who are both playing pretty well and have proved themselves supreme team men, gave Clarke no headaches. And if he’s rating Thomas Pieters in the same league as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, well, decision made and hard luck Russell. Of course, if Henrik Stenson’s meniscus messes him up, there’ll have to be a substitution….Dai, my late husband, poured scorn on Tony Jacklin’s choice of Christy O’Connor Jnr for the 1989 match at The Belfry but Christy came good, Dai ate his words and they were friends again – eventually. Catriona Matthew has probably never forgiven Dale Reid for not picking her for the Solheim Cup at Loch Lomond. A measured communicator as far removed from the Montgomerie mould as it is possible to be, Matthew had her own Krakatoa moment when she was left out and I, who had spent years failing to coax the intelligent, thoughtful Scot to say anything remotely interesting, wasn’t there. Polite words fail me! Matthew would always have been in my team but two stubborn Scots didn’t quite see eye to eye and Europe splashed their way to an amazing underwater win so the home captain was spared a post-match mauling. Pre-match had been a different story…Still, it’s only a game, isn’t it?
The bookies make the Americans the favourites and it’ll be a big ask for Europe to win an unprecedented four in a row but I can’t see it being anything but tight, tense, nail-biting and enthralling. Europe also start ahead by virtue of being the holders, an unfair advantage that should be abolished forthwith. If it’s a tie, the teams should share the trophy.If I were the Ryder Cup captain, all I’d ask is that my 12 players were playing well on Friday the 30th of September, Saturday the 1st of October and Sunday the 2nd – and putting out of their socks every day. I’d be a very gracious winner or a gracious and shellshocked loser! Ole, ole, ole.
Finally, just a mention for Crans-sur-Sierre, which is hosting what is now the Omega European Masters (the event has had several incarnations) for the 70th consecutive year. We used to stay at the Hotel Des Melezes by the 7th tee, as idyllic a setting as you could find anywhere. It’s now flats I believe (or luxury apartments) but the view’s still spectacular and the memories are magical. Vive Crans.
He thought he’d done enough, he hoped he’d done enough – but a phone call from Darren Clarke, the 2016 Ryder Cup captain, last Monday brought the news he didn’t want to hear. Russell Knox had been passed over for this year’s Ryder Cup team in favour of not one, not two, but three players more than twenty places below his current standing of 20th in the world. The American-based Scot has won twice in the States in the last year and only five European players are ahead of him in the world rankings. “It was a really, really difficult phone call for me to make, as hard a phone call as I’ve ever had to make in golfing terms,” said Clarke.
Jordan Spieth, world No 3, declared last week he was certain that Russell would make the European team and that it was a no-brainer. Just goes to show – if you want to be certain of being on a team you simply MUST bag one of those automatic slots.
Sport, and golf, is littered with people who have been left off teams they think they should have been on. My own Russell Knox moment occurred in 1977 at the slightly less elevated level of the Ulster side of eight players for the interprovincial matches. I was confident of selection. I had played twice before and become a slight trailblazer by being one of the first women ever to go to the States to take up a golf scholarship. I had opened my winning account in America, too.
The team was to be posted in the local paper – no letters or phone calls for us. And there it was – seven names in alphabetical order. And where I was expecting to see “Madill” – well, blow me, it was there all right but the initial preceding it was “P”. Even my parents were astonished that Patricia was on the team. “It’s a mistake, it must be,” I cried ungallantly. “I expect it is,” replied an unconcerned Patricia as she retreated back behind the pages of “Shoot” magazine. And then it hit us. There were EIGHT players on the team and the paper only named seven. They had left one out – it was a misprint! THAT explained it. Of COURSE I was on this team – I was SO much better than Patricia. My name had been omitted in error.
Only it hadn’t! The powers-that-be had decided to cut costs that year by sending seven players because only six ever played at any one time. And despite my American performances (out of sight out of mind, Russell?!) I was not picked.
Back to Russell. What was his reaction to this shattering news delivered by Darren Clarke?
“I’m disappointed but I understand.” Classy.
What was my reaction to my omisssion?
Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth plus displays of righteous indignation, all reignited in an instant even after nearly forty years! Anything but classy.
And yes, Patricia still reminds me of it often!