Category: Archive

Echo Profile: Cup comes of age

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Paul McGinley reckons the party will be the biggest that the golf world has ever seen.
The Ryder Cup will be fought over this week on a stretch of Kildare sward in front of a pumped-up Irish crowd and a worldwide television audience.
And when the strokes have all been divvied up, the swinging, if McGinley is on the ball, is really going to begin in earnest.
Golf’s most prestigious team tournament has come a long way since a bunch of guys in tweeds and plus fours decided to bridge the water hazard otherwise known as the Atlantic.
The crack of golf clubs has, in recent years, been partnered up by great post-game craic.
And the Irish bear much of the responsibility for this metamorphosis from stayed, gentlemanly competition with almost always the same winner, the United States, to a fist-pumping, biannual and truly competitive clash between the best golfers from America and Europe.
The Ryder Cup dates to 1927, right smack in the era of Mashies and Brassies and at a time when clubhouse toffs maintained a less than starry eyed view of golfers who played for money.
The Ryder Cup, however, was to be different: a clash of professionals yes, but a competition that drew on national pride and prestige, not cash, as its prime energy source.
Several informal competitions had been played between the original Ryder sides, the U.S. and Great Britain and Ireland, before Samuel Ryder, a wealthy English seed merchant and golf enthusiast, decided that a more formal arrangement was required.
Once the gold chalice-like trophy was forged and polished the inaugural competition was played at Worcester, Mass.
Home turf proved decisive and the Americans, captained by the great Walter Hagen – whose mother was from County Antrim – laid hands on Ryder’s trophy for the first of what would be the majority of years that the tournament has since been played.
Other Irish names on the first American side were those of Johnny Farrell and Mike Brady, selected as an alternate.
There were no Irish players on the opposing side, despite its formal name.
Britain and Ireland, devoid of any Irish players, nevertheless, won the second Ryder Cup in 1929 and did so again in 1933. The rest went to the U.S. who were leading the series 4-2 when World War II put an end to all thoughts of international golf.
When the competition resumed in 1947 it did so with its first Irish-born player. The great Fred Daly had won the British Open that year and his selection was something of a no-brainer.
However, the war had turned the world on its head. America had emerged from the struggle as an economic and military colossus. It had also morphed into a golfing superpower. The trophy headed west.
Harry Bradshaw was Ireland’s second Ryder representative. Bradshaw should have won the 1949 British Open but for the fact that his ball ended up in a broken beer bottle. He hit the ball without waiting for a ruling and lost in a playoff.
Despite such prominent Irish reinforcements, the GB & I team found itself slogging uphill during the 1950s. There was one exception. The 1957 meeting brought the trophy east again for the first time since ’33. Bradshaw was still on the team but the real Irish muscle was to be provided by a young Christy O’Connor.
The Galwayman – described by Lee Trevino as one of the three most natural golfers he had ever seen – was to play in 10 Ryder Cups but few matches would compare to his 7 and 6 final day singles win over Dow Finsterwald in the ’57 event held at Lindrick in Yorkshire.
It was a high point in what would be a stellar golf career. Another O’Connor high, though one with a rather rapid drop attached, came a couple of years later when the competition was played in Palm Springs, Calif.
The British/Irish team was flying from Los Angles to Palm Springs when their plane plunged 4,000 feet in a storm. It was the most frightening moment in the life of a man who was generally credited with having nerves of steel when his feet were on the ground and he had a driver in his hands.
During the 1960s, 70s and the first half of the 80s, the Ryder Cup turned into a virtual American heirloom.
The lone standout was the one and only tie in the competition, at Royal Birkdale in 1969. This was largely facilitated by the generosity of Jack Nicklaus. He gave Tony Jacklin a two-foot putt on the 18th, thus sealing the unusual result. Nicklaus wasn’t being generous to a fault, however. Under the rules, the U.S. retained the cup in the event of a draw.
The one-sided nature of the Ryder Cup prompted the organizers to open the door in 1979 to players from continental Europe.
The arrival of the likes of Severiano Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer into the expanded Ryder fold looked at first like it would make it a lot harder for Irish players to make the European team, never mind star on it.
Oddly enough, the greater competition seemed to fire up Irish performances and the six European wins and a sole draw (with Europe retaining the cup) since 1985 have featured some of the most glorious exploits by Irish golfers in the history of the game.
In recent years Eamonn Darcy, Philip Walton and Paul McGinley all found themselves in the position of having to sink knee-knocking putts to clinch the trophy for Europe. All did.
Arguably the greatest Irish moment, however, was provided by Christy O’Connor Jr., nephew of Christy Sr., at the Belfry in 1989.
Up against the redoubtable Fred Couples, O’Connor hit a two-iron to four feet on the 18th.
It was a shot heard around the golfing world, a highlight for the ages and an emphatic reminder, if one was needed, that Irish players seem able to provide a crucial razor’s edge competitiveness when the Ryder Cup is on the line.
After all that Irish players have given the competition it was only fitting that the Ryder Cup should end up on an Irish course.
It would have done so a year ago but for the fact that the cancellation of the event set for just a few days after 9/11 bumped the competition from uneven to even years.
And so it has come down to the K Club this week. The Europeans will have three Irish players in Paul McGinley, Padraic Harrington and Darren Clarke.
All’s to play for. And then, regardless of which side wins, will come McGinley’s party of parties.

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