RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: The Ryder Cup reveals some of golf's dirty secrets

RIATH AL-SAMARRAI: Don’t talk to me about purity! The beauty of the Ryder Cup is that it reveals some of golf’s dirty secrets

  • Europe’s captain Luke Donald has previous spoken of the Ryder Cup’s purity 
  • The Ryder Cup instead exposes golf’s edges that are typically kept under wraps 
  • Mail Sport’s new WhatsApp Channel: Get the breaking news and exclusives here 

A Ryder Cup legend was chatting the other evening about myths. Captivating guy, Tony Jacklin. You could listen to him for hours and it’s quite possible he would oblige. He is also one of the greats from these parts – he won a couple of majors in his day, claimed 27 other titles from Columbia to New Zealand, and yet a sizeable chunk of his fame is derived from a shot he never even took.

Jack Nicklaus’s concession of a short putt in 1969 might just be the most iconic cup moment of all, and because the cup is the cup, it is a defining feature of Jacklin’s legacy, too. But it’s an episode that has leant itself to one of the myths we are discussing. ‘There’s a thing that gets me mad about it,’ he told me on Wednesday.

‘Every year when the Ryder Cup comes around it gets brought up, which is absolutely fine, because it was fantastic sportsmanship from Jack and critical, as it allowed us to tie the match. But everyone says the putt I had was a three-footer. I hear that all the time. You can go to YouTube and look at it – it was 20 inches long. It was a tap-in and I was at the top of my game!’

He likes to laugh about it, just as he likes to laugh in his telling of a tale that runs counter to another myth: that the Ryder Cup stands above such squalid concepts as greed and power grabs and questionable behaviours. That’s a topical subject in golf, of course. But Jacklin has a vivid memory of an earlier hoo-ha, which is to say the match of 1987, the third of four in his long period as European captain. It would involve an extraordinary row.

‘People were seeing dollar signs everywhere,’ he says. ‘We had won for the first time in 26 years in 1985 so people knew the cup was about to grow into this bigger earner now that it was competitive. The president of the (British) PGA was Lord Darby, the Queen’s cousin, and he had a position of strength because the cup had historically been deeded to them. He was suddenly asking for a 50-50 split of future proceeds (with the European Tour). Ridiculous.


Tony Jacklin captained Europe to their first Ryder Cup victory in 26 years back in 1985

David Duval, right, vocalised the threat of US players boycotting the Ryder Cup back in 1999

‘I had carte blanch during that time as captain, so I told him he must be kidding. I was on the side of the players (and therefore the European Tour) because they are the gladiators out on the course, so I offered 60-40, which I thought was generous. It obviously got resolved in the end but it got to a point where the PGA were considering sending a team of unknown club pros to represent Europe instead of people like Nick Faldo, Seve (Ballesteros) and Bernhard Langer.

‘I think that whole thing cost me a knighthood, you know.’

It’s a cracking story, and one he detailed further in his Ryder Cup memoirs a couple of years back. He loves the cup, like they all do, but as with any sport there are layers that get hidden under the syrupy branding. Same would be said of 1999, when David Duval vocalised the threat of US players to boycott the cup over a dispute about the destination of profits.

They are footnotes in the grand scheme of a great event, but they also push back a little against what we will hear in the coming week about the cup.

Purity already seems to be a pre-Rome buzz word and, fair enough, it’s a catchy one. It points to those individuals coming together and playing for a mountain of pride, not cash, when so much of this cup cycle was dominated by separation and loathing and greed and LIV. Luke Donald spoke about that purity in an interview with Mail Sport last year, when he described an institution that sits above the recent chaos. It’s a nice thought from a good man. A sound ideal.

But purity? That’s not what I see when I look at the Ryder Cup. Never was. In fact, it’s the last thing I’d ever want to see, because the beauty of the Ryder Cup is found in the impurities it reveals. It’s the impurities that always made it real. Made it an occasion that, to my eye, sits behind only the Olympics and the World Cup in sport’s ecosystem. It’s about the rough edges. The explosions of will and feeling and traits that emerge from behind the masks when it all means more. And no sport likes a mask so much as golf.

It has long trumpeted itself as a higher-minded pursuit. The one where players call penalties against themselves and they thank the sponsor and, aw shucks, they just want to grow the game and respect its traditions. Some golfers actually go along with all that; others in the same orbit enjoy laughing at the façade of it all. Which is why the cup has always been so great, and will continue to be, because in the furnace of a unique competition, the authentic bits creep out. The dirty bits. The believable bits. The accessible bits in a sport of locked doors. The human bits.

I had a fun chat recently with Chip Beck, from the US team of 1993— we were laughing at his memories of the late and fabulous Seve Ballesteros, who had a convenient habit of clearing his throat when an American was at the top of his back swing.

Europe’s captain Luke Donald, left, has previously spoken about the purity of the Ryder Cup

Seve Ballesteros had a habit of clearing his throat when an American was at the top of his back swing.

The Ryder Cup exposes golf’s edges and feelings that are normally kept well under wraps

A similar conversation with Brian Huggett, Europe’s oldest living captain, drew on his recollection of the police needing to intervene in rows he and Bernard Gallacher were having with the US pairing of Dave Hill and Ken Still in 1969, because the Americans had a way of sneaking into their eyeline during putts. That was the same cup where the British captain Eric Brown ordered his guys to not help the Americans when they lost balls, and later ended with Nicklaus’s concession to Jacklin for a tie – an act of sportsmanship that has gone into lore, but which infuriated the American captain Sam Snead, because a draw is a draw and a win is so much better.

The impurities run through much of the cup’s wonderful history – the rucks between Paul Azinger and Ballesteros at the War on the Shore of 91, Sam Torrance’s rant against Tom Lehman in 99 (‘and he calls himself a man of God’), and Phil Mickelson’s depositing of Tom Watson under a bus in 2014.

We can be sanctimonious about our tastes, about where lines are drawn, and which should not be crossed, but the impurity is part of the drama and the drama is why we love sport. The great myth of the Ryder Cup, and golf in general, is that it was ever above any of it.

Jones remains bullish with Australia on the brink 

Australia play Wales in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday with elimination a distinct possibility if they lose. 

Naturally, their coach Eddie Jones says he has ‘no doubt we will win’.

If ever there was a man who might occasionally benefit from questioning his own sense of conviction.

Eddie Jones has remained defiant despite Australia facing the prospect of a World Cup exit

Boxing lacks responsible adults 

Conor Benn’s return to the ring this weekend was never going to be a quiet affair. Boxing rarely is, and more so when a case of two positive drugs tests stands unresolved in the corner.

It was predictable that his team would push ahead with getting him in the ring, but it is an utter sham that the Texas State Athletic Commission granted Benn a licence in those circumstances. At a time when the sport is sinking under the weight of its doping crisis, boxing needs two things to happen.

Primarily, it requires a global, over-arching governing body that has the power and policies to impose blanket rules. Secondly it needs a group of responsible adults capable of filling such a post.

Good luck with the latter if the search focuses on those currently filling leadership positions in the fight game.

Conor Benn will make a return to the ring despite two positive drug tests remaining unresolved

Source: Read Full Article