This Time It’s Not Someone Else’s Money

The Ryder Cup (officially the Ryder Cup Matches) is a biennial golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States. The competition is jointly administered by the PGA of America and the PGA European Tour, and is contested every two years, the venue alternating between courses in the United States and Europe. The Ryder Cup is also the name of the trophy, after the person who donated it, Samuel Ryder. The Ryder Cup, and its counterpart the Presidents Cup, are unusual in the world of professional sports, since despite being high-profile events that bring in tens of millions of dollars in TV and sponsorship revenue the players receive no prize money. The event also has a significant financial impact on the local economy.
The 2012 contest is scheduled for 28, 29, and 30 September at Medinah Country Club, in Medinah, Illinois, a suburb northwest of Chicago. The 2014 contest will be at Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Perth & Kinross, Scotland.
The competition began following an exhibition match in 1926 between a team comprising American professionals against a similar one drawn from the British PGA on the East Course, Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Surrey, UK. The first competition took place in 1927 at the Worcester Country Club, in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Early matches between the two sides were fairly even, but after the Second World War, repeated U.S. dominance led to a decision, initiated by Jack Nicklaus, to extend the representation to continental Europe in 1979. (Ireland was officially included in the title of British team in 1973, though Irish had competed since 1953 and Northern Irish since 1947.) Including Europe was partly prompted by the success of a new generation of Spanish golfers, led by Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, the first Spaniards (and continental Europeans) to play in the event. Team Europe has included players from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden. Since 1979, Europe has won eight times outright and retained the Cup once by tying, with seven American wins over this period. Through 2010, Europe has won six of the last eight matches (.750) and has not lost in Europe since 1993.

As you can see by the Wikipedia entry above, the Americans have found the sledding rather tough of late, even on home soil but when the matches are in Europe, it’s been nothing short of famine. You’ll notice that the competition is in the form of “matches”. Tomorrow there will be four matches in the morning and another four in the afternoon. The same scenario will be repeated on Saturday. These matches are in “pairs” format in that two Americans will play two Europeans in each match.

These Friday and Saturday matches have curious names, “foursomes” and “fourball”. On this side of the pond “foursomes” is more commonly called “alternate shots” with each team playing one ball and alternating tee shots while “fourball” is usually called “better ball” in North America. In this type of match, each player plays his own shots (ball) with the better score on the team counting for the team.

Curiously enough, in “match play” as opposed to “medal play”, you may not have to actually get the ball into the hole. Your opponent can “concede” the putt in which case you pick up your ball as though you had made the shot. Yes, there’s some gamesmanship in this conceding putts business, one part of the contest I don’t like and never have. Golf is about putting the ball into the hole. Full stop!

If your team  has the better score on a hole, it “wins the hole” and since there are only 18 holes to play in a match, if you have won more holes than there are holes left to play, your team wins the match and gets a point for the team and points are what it’s all about so let’s go there.

With sixteen matches on Friday and Saturday, obviously there are 16 points to be won. But on Sunday, all the players on each team (there are 12 per side) play singles which makes the total number of points available, 28! If a match ends in a tie (it’s said that the match is “halved”) then each side secures a half point. Now here’s where curious doesn’t begin to describe it. If, at the end of all 28 matches, each team has 14 points, the team that won the last Ryder Cup Matches gets to keep the trophy and the substantial bragging rights that go with it. Therefore, the U.S. team must win at least 14 1/2 points to rescue the Ryder Cup from the clutches of the Europeans.

So why do I include this Ryder Cup event on my blog site? Even though golf is pretty much the quintessential individual sport, this event places more value on the team dynamics of the two sides than is evident to even the most avid golf fan. The Europeans of late seem to bond better than the Americans. Some of the knowledgeable golf commentators have said it’s much more likely that you’ll see European players sharing a libation and fellowship than you will the Americans. There’s more of a sense that “we’re in this together” on the European side.

By the way, as you can see by the Wikipedia entry, the combatants are professional golfers, some of whom are not just millionaires (Brendt Snedeker, one of the Americans, last weekend won 11.4 million dollars by winning the FedEx Cup) but multi-millionaires or billionaires. But they won’t play that way because you see, this weekend, they can lose. When they play in a professional tournament, it’s all bout how much they can win. It’s someone else’s money. It’s only a matter of the size of the slice of the pie!

You’re going to see “angst” on the faces of otherwise pretty cool customers as they feel the weight of the country and the team on their shoulders. No one wants to lose the match that clinches the point or half point that wins the Ryder Cup for the opposition. Now, it’s about winning and losing, something they don’t face on a regular basis and something for which they are not really trained. That’s where the “captains” come in.

The Captain of the American team is Davis Love III. The European Captain is Jose Maria Olazabal (there are accents I should have on the Spaniard’s name so for those fluent in Spanish, please forgive). Captaining a Ryder Cup team is an honour professional golfers covet. For Love and Olazabal, it’s been two years of painstaking attention to detail. The pride that’s taken by winning this event is like nothing else in golf. It’s the Masters, U.S. & British Opens and the PGA all rolled into one! For golf fans, it’s the best competition in the sport they’ll see for the next two years! It’s quite simply, great theatre! In 2008, Captain Paul Azinger, to solidify the team dynamics on the American side put his 12 players into three “pods” based upon a variety of common characteristics. One pod was euphemistically called “The Rednecks” as they hailed from the southern states. The pariings for the “foursomes” and “fourball” came from within each pod. It was in my mind, and in the mind of many others, a stroke of genius on Captain Azinger’s part! Those common experiences and characteristics of the players in each pod played a vital role in the American’s win!

Both captains will try to inspire their team, to put them into the best mindset so they can play as well as they are able. Although I doubt very much that either captain will read this post, I’m going to weigh in with my two cents worth.

First, the only people who really matter are your teammates, not the country, not your family and friends, and certainly not the captain. Everything you do is to support your teammates and that support must be unconditional. Second, trust your skills, they’re all you’ve got so why wouldn’t you trust them? And, trust the skills of your teammates! Third, be disciplined and sweat the small stuff. Don’t try too hard! Don’t try to be the hero and do things you know are unlikely you’ll be successful doing. Stay within yourself. In fact, as opposed to trying to do more, do less, but do it better! Lastly, have the right attitude. As you walk to the first tee tomorrow morning, say to yourself, “I just can’t wait to play!

Those of you with copies of  “A Pane in the Glass: A Coach’s Companion” (available through the Balance Plus website), go to “Your New Lenses Are Ready For Pick-Up” (p.128).