Tuesday 23 January 2018

Love's quartet of born-again Christians eager to rejoice in US victory

Oliver Brown at Medinah

Webb Simpson is a figure of quite pristine American-ness. In Atlanta last weekend, the US Open champion was spotted in Starbucks, before 8.0 in the morning, holding the baby and reading the Bible. Never was a more immaculate paragon of virtue seen in these times.

It was his immersion in the sacred texts, though, that provided the most telling clue as to the character of this US Ryder Cup team.

For Simpson, alongside Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson, props a quartet of born-again Christians who sustain a rich seam of evangelism in this competition, manifested most vividly when former captain Tom Lehman decided to wear a bracelet marked WWJD -- 'What would Jesus do?'

One presumes that the son of God would not, as Lehman once did, have rushed on to the 17th green at Brookline like a hollering dervish.

The rump of America's established golf constituency can roughly be summarised thus: ardently Republican, gun-toting good ol' boys whose political inclinations make Mitt Romney look like Woody Guthrie.

So overwhelmingly right-wing is the make-up that Padraig Harrington, an Irish Democrat by nature, once told me there was nobody on Tour with whom he could sensibly debate the state of the nation.

It is the naked religiosity of many US golfers, though, that can occasionally grate.

When the Lehman-led Ryder Cup brigade descended upon the K Club in 2006, CBS commentator David Feherty suggested: "I think a lot of Europeans find that conservative Christian thing as frightening as conservative Muslims."

Such an outlook has softened slightly in the six years since, but the American cohort assembled by Davis Love III is so conspicuously devout that he is less likely to preside over team meetings than prayer meetings.

Take Simpson, for example. The 27-year-old, who studied religion at Wake Forest University, brands himself on Twitter as "a sinner loved by a saviour".

So deep-seated is his faith in the Lord that he once likened the calling of a penalty shot to an appeal to the divine. "For me, it's not as much the nature of the game but the fact that the Holy Spirit is prompting me to call a penalty on myself," he said.

There are two ways to take this argument: either as a matter of purely personal belief, which Simpson happens to use to help himself on the course, or as an instance of uncomfortably arrogant sermonising.

Where Ricky Gervais claimed, dangerously for a comedian trying to court an American audience, that Christians did not have a monopoly on good, so God-fearing golfers are not the only ones capable of practising good ethics.

But the invocation of God, by Simpson and those of similar conviction, is relentless.

In the aftermath of a victory last summer in North Carolina, Simpson declared: "I'd be stupid not to thank my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, because it was tough out there and I was nervous."

Johnson, likewise, chose the moment of his Masters triumph in 2007 to offer this: "It being Easter, my goal was to glorify God, and I hope that I did that today."

Bubba Watson, the popular maverick who prefaced the admittance of women at Augusta National by wearing pink and crying, also turned a good deal more sanctimonious as he reflected upon his first Green Jacket. Alluding to a verse from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, he intoned: "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will."

If Rickie Fowler had been selected for this Ryder Cup, the team-building messages here at Medinah would have been positively soaked in Scripture: the youngster, such a luminous performer at Celtic Manor two years ago, is known to inscribe his golf balls with '4.13' -- the section of Philippians that reads: "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength."

Irish Independent

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