Sunday 17 December 2017

Ryder Cup gladiators have let blood boil over in some raw past clashes

Mark O'Meara and Payne Stewart look on as team captain Dave Stockton pushes Corey Pavin into the water as the USA celebrate on the beach after victory in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in South Carolina in 1991 - one of the more controversial Ryder Cup encounters
Mark O'Meara and Payne Stewart look on as team captain Dave Stockton pushes Corey Pavin into the water as the USA celebrate on the beach after victory in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in South Carolina in 1991 - one of the more controversial Ryder Cup encounters
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

THE Ryder Cup arena can sometimes have much in common with the TV series 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' -- but without much sand.

On the surface, this is golf, the gentleman's game, in which honour, self-regulation and self-penalising when appropriate are prized above results and personal success.

No golfer worth his or her salt wants to win a tournament by cheating, even by an inadvertent breach of rules, and that's the code by which the game is played.

But when it comes to the Ryder Cup, the emotions and intensity are always close to the surface, and perceptions are on a knife-edge.

One man's suspicion that opponents are not adhering to the rules is another's perception of gamesmanship aimed at putting him off his game.

Technically, even if the protagonists don't physically come to blows, the blood can boil over, and the red mist descends.

In many ways, the men involved in the biennial Europe v USA clash are modern-day gladiators of golf, and they go out to figuratively kill each other, albeit within the context of the sport's regulations and traditions.

That should come as no surprise. The Ryder Cup is a contest between the most competitive golfers on the planet, men who ply their trade in pursuit of glory and millions in prize money on the international golfing circuits.

Each one is a self-employed mini-corporation and they didn't get where they are today by being nicey-nicey and followers of the Dalai Lama -- at least, not on the golf course.

The Ryder Cup is no different, with some seriously raw and edgy altercations between the teams over the years.

Take, for example, a little tit-for-tat between the GB and Ireland team -- as it was then in 1947 and 1949 -- and their American opponents.

The world, and in particular Britain and the USA, had suffered all kinds of slaughter and hardship during World War 2, but there wasn't much fellowship among the allies when Henry Cotton thought the Yanks were pulling a fast one at Portland, Oregon, in 1947.

Cotton felt there was something suspicious about the American team's clubs due to their control of the ball in soggy conditions, so he called for an inspection.

This was duly done, but the clubs were declared legal. Ben Hogan, one of the members of the American team, didn't forget what he took as a grave insult.

Two years later, still recovering from the horrific crash which almost killed him and his wife Valerie, Hogan, captain of the USA team, waited until the night before the clash at Ganton before he complained about the depth and spacing of the GB and Ireland team's grooves on their clubs.

Consternation! What to do? The decision was made that Bernard Darwin, the great writer and then chairman of the R&A Rules Committee, should inspect the clubs and make a decision.

Darwin checked them out and said there was not much wrong with them, but some of the club faces needed to be filed down.


A little more tasty, and on the course, was the 1957 clash of Eric Brown -- 'Broon from Troon' -- and Tommy 'Thunder' Bolt, an expert in the ancient art of throwing clubs and in 'throwing the head' as we'd say in Ireland.

The galleries at Lindrick got stuck into Bolt, cheering for Brown and, sad but true, also cheering every putt that Bolt missed because they knew he'd react badly.

Brown won 4&3 and when Bolt made it clear he hadn't enjoyed the match at all, the Scot replied: "After the whipping I gave you, I wouldn't have enjoyed it either." Whereupon the frustrated Bolt marched off and broke a club.

In 1969, Brian Huggett and Bernard Gallacher squared up to Dave Hill and Ken Still of the USA -- almost literally.

The simmering tension erupted on the seventh green in fourballs on the second afternoon. Hill, who was furthest away, rolled his putt up to a couple of feet and holed out.

Gallacher and Huggett protested to the referee that the American had putted out of turn, which he had, and claimed the hole. The GB&I men were right, but the Yanks were fuming.

On the eighth tee, with Gallacher still discussing the matter with officials, Hill played his tee shot and then told the Scot that if he didn't shut up, he (Hill) would wrap his one-iron around his (Gallacher's) neck.

Ah, bless it. You can almost hear Peter Alliss shaking his head and saying, "now those where the days, when men were men and even drew blood occasionally before becoming the best of chums in the local intensive care unit!"

Ten years later, in 1979, there was civil unrest within the newly incorporated European team, which played at the Greenbrier in West Virginia.

Ken Brown and Mark James, now well known as media commentators, seemed to go out of their way to be the disruptive bad boys.

They didn't wear the team uniform on the flight, they missed a team meeting, appeared disinterested at the opening ceremony and, to cap it all, Brown completely ignored Des Smyth, his playing partner, in their foursomes match against Tom Kite and Hale Irwin.

Silent Brown and unhappy Smyth got the proverbial 'dog licence' -- beaten 7&6. Welcome to the Ryder Cup, Des!

A hefty fine was levied on James and Brown after the Cup was over.

In later years both mended their ways and became members of successful European teams, with Brown on the 1985, and '87 teams, and James on the '89 side which drew the match, but retained the trophy.

Kiawah Island (1991) and Brookline (1999) were two stagings that got out of control.

Abrasive Dave Stockton, the 'War on the Shore' captain and the exuberantly patriotic Corey Pavin exemplified the gung-ho attitude of the Americans in 1991.

From a European point of view, the whole thing was way over-hyped by the home team. They were certainly not impressed with the late-night phone calls to their hotel after a local disc jockey gave out the number on radio and urged his listeners to give the visitors call ... after call... after call.

The atmosphere was further ramped up when Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal got into a row with Paul Azinger and Chip Beck in the opening foursomes on day one.

Rules dictated that only one ball of a particular compression could be used, but Beck teed off on the seventh with a ball of different compression to the one he started with. The Spaniards noticed it, but didn't complain until the ninth green. Chaos ensued with the two team captains and players arguing on the 10th tee. If the Americans were to be penalised, the Europeans ought to have objected before the players teed off on the eighth hole.

After 10 minutes of discussion, the match continued with no penalty to the Yanks, but the atmosphere between the players was thunderous.

It was typical of that match, with Americans cheering European misses and giving it the old 'U-S-A, U-S-A' chant when Bernhard Langer missed the key putt at the end.

Two years later at The Belfry, Tom Watson, the USA captain tried to dampen the fires, but walked into a mini-row when he politely, but firmly, turned down a request at the pre-event gala dinner by Sam Torrance for the Americans to autograph a menu card, as was the tradition.


Watson had wanted to defer autographs because it would take three hours to sign for everyone in the room.

Instead he had hoped that they could be signed at the players' leisure, but that plan didn't work when Torrance took the hump. Watson had the last laugh by winning that year.

Brookline 1999 was another USA win that left Europeans fuming.

Apart from the insults directed at Colin Montgomerie by sections of the gallery, the infamous charge by American players, wives, girlfriends and officials all over the 17th green in the Olazabal v Justin Leonard match was shameful.

The 9/11 carnage of 2001 that caused the postponement of that year's scheduled Ryder Cup moved the contest into even years and muted the fervour of 2002 at The Belfry.

Since then the Cup has been relatively angst-free. Oakland Hills 2004 proved a damp squib for America, as did The K Club in 2006. Paul Azinger lifted his Tiger-less (injured) team back on to the winner's podium in 2008 without too much hassle.

Boo Weekley did infuriate Lee Westwood by urging the crowd into a series of 'U-S-A' chants after holing a birdie putt, while Westwood waited to make his own putt, but in fairness, Weekley apologised later.

Tame enough, really. Not like the old days, eh Spartacus?

Irish Independent

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