Sport Golf

Saturday 24 March 2018

green, gold, red, white and blue -- it really doesn't matter how our golf heroes celebrate

David Robbins

So what will be your abiding memory of the 38th Ryder Cup? Will it be Graeme McDowell's triumphant match-winning putt on the 16th on the last day? Or the tears straining for expression as America's Hunter Mahan tried to explain what it felt like to lose that last, crucial match?

Perhaps it will be the mud, or Monty, or the WAGS, or the leaky rain gear the US team wore?

Or perhaps it will be the picture below, of McDowell, the man who anchored the singles round for the European team, and Rory McIlroy, the rookie.

Graeme McDowell is known on the tour as G-Mac, a nickname that conjures up a Marvel Comics superhero.

And Rory McIlroy is called Wee-Mac, his young sidekick, a kind of Robin the Boy Wonder to McDowell's Batman.

Also in the photograph is Padraig Harrington, who struggled with his game, with the course and with the pressure all weekend. But, thanks to winning alongside Ross Fisher in the foursomes, he still emerged with his dignity very much intact.

This is indeed an image to cherish after one of the greatest matches the golfing world has ever seen: the three Irishmen involved wrapped in their respective national flags.

Harrington carries the Irish Tricolour of the Republic of Ireland, while McIlroy and McDowell pose with the flag of Northern Ireland, the red cross of St George, the Red Hand of Ulster beneath the British crown.

It is an image dripping with symbolism, containing as it does all the emblems of the various traditions on this sports-mad island of ours.

The great French thinker Roland Barthes once wrote an essay based on a black legionnaire saluting the French flag.

If the semiotics of that situation were complicated, they are nothing compared with what's going on in the photograph from Celtic Manor.

Of course, G-Mac and Wee-Mac are both citizens of Northern Ireland. McIlroy has indicated that he will play for Britain if golf ever becomes an Olympic sport.

McDowell was born to a Catholic mother and a Presbyterian father and considers himself Irish.

"I don't care about politics," he has said. "I just care about the sport and the people who love it. I'm proud of where I come from and doing things for this part of the world."

Golf, like rugby, cricket and many other sports, is administered on an all-Ireland basis and both Macs played for Ireland in the world cup in China last November.

But for McDowell and McIlroy, playing golf on an island obsessed with flags and emblems, allegiances and identities, even the business of getting dressed is fraught with danger. It is no wonder they both let their golf do the talking. "I'm not bothered who I play for," was McDowell's take on the Olympics. "I'd be honoured to represent Britain or Ireland -- or both. I'm proud to play golf for Europe."

Trevor Ringland, a former international rugby player for Ireland and now involved with the UUP in Northern Ireland, believes we need to relax and be more inclusive when it comes to the whole area of symbols, flags and regalia.

"Too many people have been killed over flags and emblems in this country," he says. "The important thing to remember is that someone who is Irish can also be British -- and someone who is British can also be Irish."

Ringland, a feisty winger in the Ireland team of the 1980s, knows what he is talking about. He played in the days before 'Ireland's Call' was introduced at international matches to acknowledge that players of other traditions might not be represented by 'Amhran na bhFiann'.

"The thing is that a sportsman can now chose to be Irish, he can be British, he can be Northern Irish, he can, in the case of the Lions, be British and Irish and he can be European," he adds.

"He can move between these identities and he can enjoy each when it's appropriate."

Many members of the European Ryder Cup team spoke about the importance of friendship in motivating them to play well last weekend.

"We must look to friendship in sport," agrees Trevor Ringland, citing his friendship with the late Moss Keane as an example of a relationship between two sportsmen from different traditions that managed to move beyond difference.

That's why our photograph is such a perfect encapsulation of Ireland's contribution to a famous European victory in the Ryder Cup.

It show three men, each of whom represents his own brand of Irishness, rightly celebrating a victory that meant a lot to Irish people everywhere.

Irish Independent

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