This time a week ago I was standing 150 yards from the first tee at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. It’s normally an oasis of greenery and relative tranquillity but this was clearly a special day. We were fifteen minutes away from the opening tee shot in the 41st Ryder Cup and I felt I’d strayed into a circus Big Top. Sensory overload was the order of the day. Kaleidiscopic colours were everywhere and there was the all-around-deafening-sound of thousands of people chanting and roaring like something possessed.
I knew the players were approaching long before I saw them, as a deep thundery rumble of approval and support began to roll across the green ribbons of fairways from the direction of the practice ground. When Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler appeared on the first tee the sound escalated to such a scale it was like a physical blow to the solar plexus and the skies filled with waving Stars and Stripes. And then it stopped. Utterly. Completely. Totally. Silent.
This was my world inside the ropes at the Ryder Cup for three, long, exhilarating, deafening, exhausting, confrontational, inspiring days.
I am part of the Sirius/XM on-course broadcast team and cover the majors and significant tournaments for them. Sirius/XM is a satellite/digital radio network with millions of subscribers worldwide and they cover every single tournament on the PGATOUR throughout the year. The nearest equivalent in this country would be Radio 5 Live with whom I started my broadcasting career twenty years ago. The superb 5 Live commentators were some of the global media sharing the inside-the-ropes experience with me, along with television camera crews, print media and, of course, friends and families of the players.
Add in a plethora of assistant captains, their personalised buggies plus drivers and it’s a pretty busy place inside the ropes. So, as well as clocking up an average of 25,000 steps per day on the old fitness tracker, I did hundreds of daily knees-bends to ensure the paying public could actually see the action. And you have to be pretty swift to manoeuvre yourself into a spot where you can call the shot either live or on tape if the producer requires. Who needs a gym subscription if this is what you do for a living?
And don’t forget the voices in your head! Lots of them! At any given moment I am listening to 1) the programme that’s going out on air; 2) the direction from the producer; 3) significant shots being recorded by on-course colleagues to be played out later if required. Throughout, I add to this never-ending cacophony of sound by telling the producer how long it is till the next shot in my match and that I am ready to commentate if needed. The most surreal moment was when I was recording a call that started to play out on air before I had finished. In other words, as I’m speaking I can hear myself in my headphones starting my commentary and in real time I’m actually just finishing my sentence. “A nightmare scenario,” my husband said – and I suspect he wasn’t alluding to the difficulties I was facing trying to maintain my focus! If you jump into a tumble dryer you may understand what I mean!
I covered four of Rory’s matches, so I got a huge amount of airtime, particularly as there were a few unsavoury incidents when the abuse was OTT and unacceptable. All this was going on against a background of frenzied screaming outside the ropes and breathtaking skills from the players inside. It made me marvel and wonder at the work that the players must put in away from tournaments to be able to come and perform to such a level in such an arena. Mind-blowing!
During Rory’s singles match against Patrick Reed I found myself in amongst Reed’s exuberant friends and family on several occasions. I mentioned this in commentary during one of Patrick’s celebrations and said that I was beginning to think Patrick was the quiet one in the family! Two holes later I got a tap on my shoulder and turned round to see a guy dressed in the uniform of the American family supporters. “Hello”, he said. “Are you Maureen? We’re Patrick Reed’s friends and family.”
“Oh no,” I said. “Are you cross with me?” Silence. Then, a broad smile. “Not at all. We LOVE it.” Phew! It was a timely reminder that thanks to the on-course radios your listeners are frequently all around you, not just thousands of miles away.
It’s true to say that at times you simply can’t hear yourself think, which accounts for stumbles and slip-ups during broadcasting. I was chastised on Twitter by a listener for describing a putt as a “nail-bitener” and crossly told to “speak English”. I thought listeners in Kentucky had heard that phrase before. Doesn’t everyone know it’s a cross between a knuckle-whitener and a nail-biter? Still, that’s a first: being told to speak English by an American!
Having spent the entire week displaying commendable impartiality during the broadcast, allow me to mention how much I really did revel in the deliciously quiet moments that the European play squeezed out of the partisan galleries. But, alas, in the end the USA’s Ryder Cup Task Force juggernaut accomplished its task and swept Europe aside.
Still, as I said to my colleagues, “The trophy’s only on loan, lads. Keep it clean.”