A free Ryder Cup is the least golf's millionaires can do
Published 21/09/2012 | 05:00
As the world's leading golfers fight over a bonus pot of $35m (€27m) in Atlanta this weekend a ban is hereby proposed on the claim that they contest the Ryder Cup "for free", with no prize money or pay to compensate them for appearing in one of the world's great sporting events.
Technically it remains true that they do it for love, for continent or country, but this week's FedEx binge renders meaningless all notions of financial sacrifice in Chicago on Friday.
Next week's Ryder Cup protagonists are not Olympic volunteers. They have been shown a bit too much public gratitude for giving up a week every two years for a trans-Atlantic smash-up that boosts the profile of their sport; and so, in the long-run, helps them all to become multi-millionaires.
This thought occurred during a look down the PGA Tour earnings for 2012.
There, you find a chap called Blake Adams in 90th place. His best finish this year has been tied for seventh in the PGA Championship (the fourth Major), 10 shots behind the winner, Rory McIlroy.
The reason Blake catches the eye is that he is bottom of those who have earned $1m (€772,000) or more on the circuit this year. There are 89 above him. So 90 golfers have earned seven figures in the US in a calendar year. The overwhelming majority have not won a PGA Tour event.
Like tennis, golf lifts good, consistent also-rans into the ranks of the super-rich.
Way above Blake and his life of ease, the big dogs scrap for the FedEx package. At the start of the decisive Tour Championship, which opened yesterday, McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson occupied three of the top four places. The points that determine the winner were reset to ensure a nail-chewing finish this weekend, which, miraculously, appeared not to annoy McIlroy, the runaway leader before the rankings rewrite.
These play-offs were intended to enliven the season's final months, and they have succeeded this time round because McIlroy has been in rampant form.
His rivalry with Woods is boiling up. It will be the headline tale of next week's Ryder Cup at Medinah.
But with a prize of $10m (€7.7m) available to the winner, we can dispense with genuflection when the contestants pass through the FedEx door on Sunday night and into the light of Corinthianism.
Four years ago, America's Hunter Mahan gave an interview which he soon regretted: "Mickelson and Tiger: their time is worth money. And for the PGA of America, the Ryder Cup is a moneymaker like no other. They don't have to pay anything," Mahan complained.
"When (Mark) O'Meara said players should get paid for it or some of the money given to their charities, I think (he said that) because the PGA takes so much out of the event that the players don't really get anything.
"Is it an honour to play? Yes, it is. But their time is valuable.
"This is a business. I just feel like the players don't have much control over it, and I don't think they like that."
In 2002 Woods was asked whether he would be happier winning the $1m on offer at Mount Juliet in Ireland that week or the forthcoming Ryder Cup.
He chose Mount Juliet and said: "Why? I can think of a million reasons."
Payment for Ryder Cup participation is bound to find its way on to the agenda again, once the more acquisitive players have found a way to suggest it without becoming public enemies.
In Atlanta, golf writers have picked up on the contrast between one international tournament ending with a $10m jackpot and another starting less than a week later with zero prize money.
"One is monetary, the other is pride," said America's Steve Stricker, picking his words carefully. "This (the FedEx) is playing for your year. You can do a lot of good things and you're playing for a lot of money.
"Next week you're playing for something totally different. You're playing for your country, with team-mates. You can see it across every guy's face. You go through the whole gamut of emotions."
The Ryder Cup's publicity quotes Alexander the Great: "Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all." Pay them and it will cease to be the Ryder Cup. It would eat its original purpose. It would just be the next hotel check-in after the FedEx. (© Daily Telegraph, London)