Green with envy

Posted by Dom
I used to hate golf. In fact, hatred is probably the wrong emotion to use. Complete and utter indifference would be more like it – combined with a minor annoyance that whenever I tried to play the damn game, my tee shots would either be embarrassing fresh air swings, or pathetic little strokes that barely made it into the air. 
So as I grew up, I was never one to get very excited when the major golfing events came around – even the fact that I lived pretty close to one of the most famous courses in the world (The Belfry) made no impression on me.

A few years ago, though, something made me change my mind, and the Ryder Cup was the catalyst. Not the Open, or the US Masters, or any other of the major individual golfing events that tempt the casual sports watcher into actually venturing beyond the inevitabilities of football, cricket or rugby. No, it was this glorious competition between the US and Europe, that America had dominated for donkey’s years – and which all of a sudden actually seemed to be getting pretty close and exciting. No one really likes a walkover, and all of a sudden in the 1980s and 1990s, Europe was getting better and starting to actually win the thing.
The change in my feelings towards golf reached its conclusion over the last few glorious days at The K Club in Ireland, where the driving rain and howling wind didn’t stop one of the finest sporting contests of the last few years taking shape.
The 2006 Ryder Cup had everything – OK, Europe’s huge nine-point victory meant there wasn’t a dramatic fight to the death with the result in doubt all the way to the finish, but there WAS a return to some ‘old-fashioned’ sporting values that football, cricket or rugby seem to have forgotten over the last couple of years of scandal and cheating allegations. 
Perhaps the perspective given to the event, with Darren Clarke playing for Europe only weeks after his wife had died from breast cancer, helped crystallize the fact that it was a sporting contest, and nothing more – so many competitions these days are hyped up into such staggeringly inappropriate levels of importance that it is all too easy to lose sight of what is important and what’s not. The crowd at The K Club ferociously backed the Europeans, of course, but there was no booing of the Americans, no arrogant displays of bad sportsmanship, and an almost complete understanding of the spirit that such a battle should be played in. The crowd was knowledgeable, passionate, boisterous or completely quiet as the occasion demanded, and completely in tune with how to respect the golfers – even when global megastars as Tiger Woods were within touching distance.
The on-course action was immensely fierce and intense, but fair – with the Americans playing their full part in making sure that it never stepped over the boundaries of honest play and sportsmanship.   

In short, anyone who was there will never forget it. Even part-timers like me who just sat in their dressing gown watching hour upon hour of Sky’s coverage in the comfort of their own living room will remember the weekend for years to come.
It’s easy to get over-emotional, of course, and golf around the world certainly has its fair share of problems, with its over-inflated egos, periods of complete inaction and rules that seem almost deliberately designed to repel the casual observer. But for the duration of one weekend in Ireland, you could sit back, relax and enjoy a major sporting event by just concentrating on the purity of the contest – the individual battles, the complexities of team camaraderie and the bravery of participants going through hugely traumatic periods of their lives (Tiger Woods himself, of course, had lost his father only a few months previously, and was one of the first to embrace Clarke at the end of the match).
The Ryder Cup would seem to me to be the ultimate team sport, and if a golf competition can make casual no-hopers like me sit glued to the television for seven hours, then it must be doing something right. 
So will the plus points of the weekend spill over into other sports, and hoist golf up in the nation’s collective consciousness, or was it just a glorious one-off that’ll we instantly forget about once the Ashes or the Premiership work their magic?
Let us know your own thoughts and opinions about the weekend’s action, whether other sports could take a leaf out of golf’s book, or if ultimately you think that the whole so-called sport is just a ‘good walk ruined’ (as Mark Twain would have it).
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