Wednesday 19 December 2018

Europe's Cup runneth over in epic Paris spectacle

Rory McIlroy plays from the third tee during his Ryder Cup singles match against Justin Thomas. Photo: Sportsfile
Rory McIlroy plays from the third tee during his Ryder Cup singles match against Justin Thomas. Photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Gilleece

On returning last Tuesday from Paris to his home in Bradenton, Florida, Tony Jacklin found himself reflecting on his own prophetic words of 1985. After leading Europe to their first ever Ryder Cup triumph, he had predicted: "There will be enormous ramifications stemming from this."

Yet events last weekend at Le Golf National surpassed even those wild imaginings. "To see the European team delivering in front of 56,000 spectators, all having their own vantage points, crowned what was for me an untouchable three-day extravaganza," he enthused. "A spectacular tournament at a spectacular venue - and to think that it wasn't even on national TV in the US back in 1987."

This, in Jacklin's view, was the only realistic way of assessing the latest instalment of a remarkable sporting event. And I agree with him. Having been carefully crafted into a crucial cash cow for the European Tour, it has delivered memorable television viewing while raising a six-figure cash dividend.

Given his current abode, it was perhaps understandable Jacklin should have overlooked the weather, which could hardly have been better given the time of year. It contrasted sharply with a rain-drenched weekend at Celtic Manor in 2010 and the ravages of Hurricane Hugo at The K Club four years earlier.

A mental picture remains of the scene behind the 18th green in Straffan at 6 o'clock on the Sunday afternoon, a short time after victorious Europeans had been celebrating on the clubhouse balcony. A child's red jacket and a saturated baseball cap lay where lush grass had been turned into a quagmire by several inches of rain. Broken umbrellas, plastic bags and empty beer bottles littered an area compared humorously by a security guard to the World War II battle-scene at Arnhem. The owner, Dr Michael Smurfit, estimated it could take 24 months for the course to fully recover. And he wasn't far wrong.

By comparison, Le Golf National presented charming images of verdant turf and sparkling water, where Europe's celebrating players romped like overgrown children among their supporters. Which became richly ironic when set against the reported views of the tournament's founder who, apparently, would be entirely at home among Britain's current Brexiteers.

"I'm not sure that Sam Ryder would have approved of Europeans in the Ryder Cup side," the great Gene Sarazen remarked prior to the 1989 matches.

Jacklin, meanwhile, was always conscious of problems inherent in bringing star sportsmen together under a team umbrella. "When I first captained Europe in 1983, I remember telling my players to park their egos outside the door of the team room," he said. "To his great credit, Seve [Ballesteros] led by example and I never had any problem with the rest of them.

"In those early days, envy of Americans seemed to be enough to drive us on. We envied their land of plenty, where the players had an abundance of everything, especially money. Even their weather was better than ours. It allowed us to become classic underdogs, all the more determined to beat them."

Interestingly, when Americans step out of line, which Patrick Reed appears to have done in Paris, Jacklin sees it as helping the European cause. But Andy North, a member of the defeated 1985 US team, countered: "It's a shame when it gets this way, though if you're not in the team room it's hard to understand what goes on."

As a vice-captain to his good friend Tom Watson at Gleneagles four years ago, however, he remains shocked by how the US captain was, as they say, thrown under a bus by Phil Mickelson on that occasion. "I was beside myself about that," said North. "But it happened and it's history. However, you're supposed to learn from that stuff and it doesn't seem like we have."

While there may have been bitterness last weekend between certain American players, they seemed to behave admirably towards their opponents, with Justin Thomas exemplary after his singles win over Rory McIlroy.

Either way, there's nothing new about poor behaviour in the Ryder Cup in which the rare victory by Britain and Ireland in 1957 at Lindrick, provided two examples. One concerned the unsporting behaviour of Dow Finsterwald en route to a 7 and 6 singles thrashing by Christy O'Connor and the other was Eric Brown's 4 and 3 demolition of Tommy Bolt at the top of the order.

In the locker-room afterwards, the man known as Thunderbolt because of his notorious temper, remarked: "You won, Eric, but I didn't enjoy the game." To which the hard-nosed Scot replied: "No, of course you didn't enjoy it, because you were fucking licked."

Against this and the background of several other sharp exchanges over the years, Jacklin was conscious of his duty as European skipper. "When Raymond Floyd captained the US in 1989, I noted a bit of an edge in his attitude towards the matches," he recalled. "So I called him aside and said, 'Let's just enjoy what we have here'. And everything worked out fine."

He went on: "Now, we can be proud of the Ryder Cup as a wonderful showcase for the professional game. The competition is out there, open and honest, with nothing hidden from the TV cameras.

"Compare that to soccer, which they like to call the beautiful game. I don't see much beauty in the attitude of winning at all costs. We hear of players who, even before going out on the pitch, are planning how they can cheat the opposition. Diving in the penalty area is only one aspect of what they get up to. I can't watch it any more."

Meanwhile, the usual questions are being aired as to US attitudes to future Ryder Cups. As if they would dramatically abandon a similar money-spinner for the PGA on their side of the pond! Indeed, the publicity machines are already cranked up to promote ticket sales for the 2020 staging at Whistling Straits.

Still, there are genuine American concerns. Like the appearance of Tiger Woods, clearly tired and emotionally drained, especially during last Sunday's singes defeat to Jon Rahm. Was it reasonable to have him make such a commitment only days after an extraordinary victory in the PGA Tour Championship in Atlanta?

"That's what's liable to happen where the PGA of America have nothing to do with the players," said North. "Our tour is hardly involved in the Ryder Cup, whereas the European Tour are 100 per cent committed to the project, even to the extent of arranging that prospective pairs are drawn together in tournaments. That would never happen in the US."

He added: "If you ask me are we serious about the Ryder Cup, my answer is that I sure think so. But you guys do such a good job in putting the whole package together that you always seem to give yourselves at edge, especially at home."

So, how important is it in Europe? I remember being on the Costa del Sol about 30 years ago for a pro-am event in which the late Jimmy Martin was playing. Known as 'Rev' to contemporaries, he made far less impact on younger pros, who knew little about him.

In a drinking situation one evening, a few of these tyros began making fun of Martin, prompting him to declare proudly: "I'll have you know I was once a Ryder Cup player."

That's how important it is.

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