ROME, ITALY | One of the fascinating aspects of the Ryder Cup is observing how the 24 competitors, pretty much the best in the world at an individual sport they play for almost the rest of the year, come together for one week to represent their continents in a sport composed of two 12-man teams.
It is not so much a matter of “do they have the golf game?” because to have qualified or been selected means they have. It is more a question of coping with the rhythms and rituals of a week that is unlike almost every other week of their lives.
“In an odd way, this is such a selfish sport,” American Max Homa said. “It’s always just us – myself and my caddie – and that’s all we care about. I won’t sit here and say I’m rooting against people, but if I’m one back and somebody is on the 18th hole and it could be my best friend in the world, I hope that they make a double and I win.
“It’s a bit of a different dynamic here, and I think we crave that in a way. You crave being around people that you want to root for and that you enjoy spending time with.”
Justin Rose, 43, is Europe’s oldest team member and playing in his sixth Ryder Cup. “The challenge for individual players playing team sports is clicking into it quick enough,” Rose said. “It’s an amazing feeling, but 18-hole matches are sprints in a sense, and you have to make sure that that team dynamic is there from the word go. I’m not sure there’s a magic button that you can push to kind of create that, and I think maybe trying too hard to create it, you don’t find it. It’s a hard one to answer and probably one that the captains and vice captains are trying to figure out subconsciously for us all the time.”
Robert MacIntyre, who comes from Oban, a town with a population of 8,500 on the west coast of Scotland, 100 miles northwest of Glasgow, is making his debut and thus is new to the extreme pressure piled on to individual players in this team competition. He is the only Scot on the team, though Tyrrell Hatton’s caddie, Mick Donaghy, is also Scottish. On an occasion such as this in a city as glorious as Rome, and billeted in a five-star hotel little more than a hefty Rory McIlroy drive from the Colosseum, MacIntyre would be excused if a part of him were overawed and slightly disoriented.
MacIntyre has one advantage over most other debutants in this biennial competition between two 12-man teams, and that is that whenever he is at home and available he plays in a team game, so he is not unfamiliar with the team concept.
Europe’s team rooms are designed to boost the players’ morale, with uplifting photos of each of them around the walls. Pithy mottos and aide-mémoire abound. In the centre of one of the team’s rooms, captain Luke Donald has positioned one of the late Seve Ballesteros’ shirts. The Ryder Cup meant a huge amount to Ballesteros, and it is not possible for anyone who is unprepared for it to avoid the enormous significance of the shirt to the Europe cause.
“It’s pretty cool to be here and preparing and being in the team room and seeing the stuff that goes in there,” said Nicolai Højgaard, a debutant like MacIntyre. “That surprise Luke made [Tuesday], with our shirts next to each other and then Seve’s in the middle, it was special and emotional, and that’s what this week is about.”
Højgaard sounded as though he verged on being overawed by it all; MacIntyre did not. MacIntyre has one advantage over most other debutants in this biennial competition between two 12-man teams, and that is that whenever he is at home and available he plays in a team game, so he is not unfamiliar with the team concept.
The game is shinty, a game played with sticks and a ball and best described as being a combination of ice hockey, field hockey and Gaelic football. “There’s been a lot going on this week,” MacIntyre said on Wednesday, “but it still feels very much like home. All the guys are behind each other for one goal and, as we say in shinty, it’s one goal to win the match, and this week it’s one goal to win the trophy back.”
“In shinty, it’s man v. man,” MacIntyre said. “You stop your man, and it helps the team. It’s not like football where the other team will attack you and they have a formation with which to attack you. Obviously if there’s a breakaway you’ve got to cover him, but the majority of the time it’s one v. one. My dad is our coach, and he always says, ‘Look, if you do your job right, that takes care of it.’
“It’s the same in the team aspect for golf: If I do my job, it helps the rest of the guys. I’m trying to take that into it, and yeah, I find it very similar to the sports I enjoy.”
There are aspects of MacIntyre’s game, some of which might have come from shinty, that help him particularly at match-play golf. He is powerful, accumulates lots of birdies, is easygoing and gets into and out of scrapes on a course without much difficulty.
“I am still not entirely sure what shinty is and what goes into it, but I can imagine what it is by looking at Bob,” Rose said. “As a golfer, he’s determined; he’s dogged; he’s got a great short game. He gets himself out of tight situations regularly. He’s hit some unbelievable golf shots. He plays creatively. He’s got actually I think a really nice style for match play.
“Obviously, any type of team sport or physical sport, you’ve got to be tough. There’s that sort of toughness to it. Hopefully he will bring that from shinty [to golf], whatever shinty is, exactly.”
In a few days, we will be able to assess how MacIntyre is coping in his first Ryder Cup. Helped by his extra knowledge and current involvement in team sports, will he take to it as to the manor born, to make a literary reference to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Or will he crumble? It will be interesting to see.
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