On the Thursday afternoon before the start of the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama, Spain, Thomas Bjørn was asked how he felt. His answer remains one of the treasures of the biennial event, the more so since it was his debut and he had no experience of playing it, he was speaking in his second and possibly third language, and Seve Ballesteros was the unpredictable and unorthodox captain of Europe.
“It’s wonderful,” said Bjørn, then 26 and making the first of three appearances in as many decades. “There’s no running home to Mummy now.”
Ah, the Ryder Cup. The golf tournament that attracted so little interest in 1991 that the television rights were practically given away, allegedly. The golf tournament that the US won almost every time for the first 50 years and has lost almost every time for the past 30. The golf event that makes grown men weep.
The golf correspondent of The Times once described it as the fourth most-watched sporting event in the world. “And how, pray, do you arrive at that,” an editor, having read his copy, asked the journalist.
“The Olympics, both summer and winter, the football World Cup, perhaps the world athletics championships and then the Ryder Cup,” the writer replied, pointing out that the footfall of the television coverage of the golf event would be considerable in most of the world’s continents with the exception of Antarctica.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan are three of the Englishmen who will make their debuts at Hazeltine next month. Another is Danny Willett, the Masters champion. Add in Justin Rose, who is on the team, and Lee Westwood, who will almost certainly be selected by Darren Clarke, the Europe captain, tomorrow and the six Englishmen will make it a vintage Ryder Cup for England. Westwood was the only Englishman in the 1999 Ryder Cup. Willett, Wood, Westwood, Fitzpatrick, Sullivan and Rose could be an impressive sounding firm of solicitors with well-padded offices just off London’s Savile Row.