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Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Ryder Cup: Canada, The Ashes and World War Two

Henry Salmon

By the time this is released for general viewing, the conclusion of the 2010 Ryder Cup will be imminent. The biennial tussle between Europe and America's finest is one of golf’s most treasured possessions and yields a prize more coveted than any other in the sport. As a sporting occasion it is entirely unique and its set up is altogether peculiar. This year the tournament is being broadcast to 197 countries, only 48 of which are eligible to play and only 8 of which are represented. The obvious reason for the world-wide popularity of this contest is the presence of the world's finest golfers. However, the really gripping element goes beyond golf - it is the theatre of the event. The passion and desire to win shown by players from both sides is unlike any other date in the sports calendar. It has always seemed to draw the best from golf's greatest characters.

The competition had its inaugural year in 1927, featuring the best players from Britain and Ireland against the best from the United States. Initially an equally contested battle, the Americans dominated after WW2 resulting in the inclusion of continental Europeans from 1979 onwards. The purists among you may still disapprove of "these continental types rocking up and playing in our historic tournament" (slightly - and i stress only slightly elaborated quote from old man in the pub!!), but this obscenely archaic point of view ignores the immensely passionate contributions of golfing greats such as Seve Ballasteros, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal to name but a few! If we accept the presence of continental Europeans (and I apologise right now for using a rhetorical question), then why not players from other continents? In previous eras, top golfers from outside the US and Europe were few and far between, with players such as Player and Norman being exceptions that proved the rule. In recent years, however, there have been major competition winners from Argentina, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Korea. Why shouldn't they be allowed to partake?

Trying to incorporate the world's best players regardless of their nationality provides us with a number of difficulties. It would be impossible to fit more nationalities into the current teams. Which side would they join, and how would they fit in with the rivalry? They could form a new “rest of the world” team, but this would mean a change of format. However, changing the format would almost certainly remove some of the needle of the tournament. The only competition in world sport that has a comparable effect on both players and fans alike is the Ashes. Beyond the quality of the cricketers on show, there is the bragging rights, the fear of losing to the enemy. If either contest lost that magic, it would sink into theatrical (if not sporting) mediocrity. The fragility of the Ryder Cup's popularity is perhaps perpetuated by the lack of attention paid to events such as Golf's world cup and the Davis cup in tennis. Both are examples of team versions of “non-team” games that attract little attention. Without the “us versus them”, the Ryder cup would just be like any other competition.

I must re-assert my stance as a non-purist. I am not against anyone playing in the Ryder cup, regardless of their nationality, as long as the Ryder cup doesn't lose its spark and its individuality. If there is a way to involve the Ernie Els's and Angel Cabrera's of this world, let me know. For now, it works. The world is fascinated and long may it last!

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