It's a rare sight to see professional golfers discuss tactics in the middle of a hole, or cheer supportively following a tremendous swing of the club. But camaraderie rules the links at the Ryder Cup, the biennial golf grudge match between the US and Europe that has been captivating golf fans since its humble beginnings in the 1920s when seed merchant Samuel Ryder's dream of a transatlantic golf tournament was first realized.
For three days in September two teams of 12 golfers will forgo fighting over multi-million dollar purses and come together to compete for pride and country. The unique format changes the dynamics of the game from a solo pursuit to a team game.
On the Friday and Saturday foursomes comprised of the best golfers America and the Continent have to offer will shoot "four ball" (also known as best ball) in the morning, and alternate shots in the afternoons. The latter format is where cooperation and strategy really come into play. Playing partners become defacto caddies for each other and styles must mesh in order to succeed.
The intimidating duo of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson learned first hand the perils of not being on the same page at the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills when they strode up to the 18th hole deadlocked in a tie with Brit Lee Westwood and Irishman Darren Clarke. Mickelson, who constantly struggles to temper his wild side, walloped his tee shot so far left that it almost bounced into a backyard forcing Tiger to clean up Phil's mess. With the ball sandwiched between a chain link out of bounds fence and a pine tree, Woods was forced to call the lie unplayable, take a one-stroke penalty and then punch it back onto the fairway. Had Phil played it more conservatively, Tiger could have taken dead aim at the flagstick. But because of Mickelson's aggressive drive the Stars and Stripes' chance for a win were puttered away.
When playing partners are in synch they can elevate each other's game. Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal were en fuego at the Ryder Cup in their late 80s early 90s heyday, defeating practically everybody they faced.
Solo prowess comes into play on the Sunday as the Ryder Cup competition ramps up the action with 12 singles matches. Still the team aspect looms large as players keenly follow the action when their round is finished.
"It would be very easy to drool with sentimentality over the Ryder Cup. But, at the end of the day, it is simply two teams trying to knock seven bells out of each other in the nicest possible way," ABC golf commentator Peter Alliss once opined, distilling the pomp and circumstance of the prestigious biennial tournament down to it's titanium swinging core.
Europe has won 7 of the last 10 tournaments but the tide may turn this year at the K Club in Kildare, Ireland. Tiger's team play potential was finally unlocked last year when he was paired with Jim Furyk at the President's Cup, the Johnny-come-lately imitator which borrows the Ryder Cup's format and pits the U.S. against the rest of the world minus Europe.
Now if only American captain Tom Lehman can find the right match for Mickelson then the U.S. team should mount a formidable challenge against Welshman Ian Woosnam's European squad.
This article first ran in the September issue of Bell T.V. Magazine
Copyright © Mike Dojc 2006