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Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan, First Minister for Wales, speaking at The Ryder Cup in Louisville(Getty Images)

First Minister feels at home in Valhalla

Americans and Welsh share bond of 'openness', says�Rhodri Morgan

By Steve Howell- Europeantour.com

Print News

As Rhodri Morgan walked around the Valhalla course this weekend, he felt very much at home. The First Minister for Wales has been visiting Louisville to see how the job of hosting a Ryder Cup is done, ready for taking on the responsibility in 2010. And he believes the big common factor between the United States and Wales is the openness of the people of the two countries.

When the veteran politician was a student at St John's College, Oxford, fifty years ago, he found he got on better with the American undergraduates than with most of his English peers.

"I think the Americans will enjoy our openness," says the man who has led the Welsh Government since 2000 and spearheaded Wales's bid to host The Ryder Cup alongside Celtic Manor owner Terry Matthews.

"Americans have the perception that British people are stand-offish and reserved, but we're very open in Wales, the way most Americans are."

Morgan's American friends at Oxford persuaded him that his education would not be 'complete' without crossing the Atlantic to do a masters degree.

"Most people in Britain didn't used to do masters degrees, whereas in America they were very common, and you were not considered to have completed your education if all you had was a BA or a BSc.

"Harvard was much stronger as a university in the teaching of government - or political science - than Oxford, and I was glad that I went there and was able to study in a setting where they really did take the subject very seriously."

At Harvard from 1961 to 1963, Morgan was heavily influenced by Samuel Beer, a professor specialising in British politics who was also an active Democrat and associate of the President of the day, John F Kennedy.

"He told me the Labour Party needed people like me and that I should get involved directly in politics rather than academic life."

But Morgan's American connections have another dimension. Family legend has it that his great uncle, Tommy Davies, organised a whip round among Welsh and Irish miners in Colorado to raise money for Jack Dempsey to have boxing lessons.

Tommy and Morgan's great grandfather, David Davies, were among five siblings who emigrated from Wales to the United States in the late 19th century, settling for about ten years in Nashville, Tennessee before being lured to Cripple Creek by the second Colorado gold rush of the 1890s.

Whatever part Uncle Tommy actually played in Dempsey's rise from hobo to world heavyweight boxing champion, the story says a lot about the web Welsh miners weaved across the United States in those years. Wherever coal, gold or any other mineral was being mined, the Welsh were likely to be part of the story.

That branch of the Morgan family settled in Peyton, Colorado where second cousin Joe Davies was the postmaster for many years.

"We never lost contact with them," says Morgan. "My mother was very diligent in writing to Joe, I visited all my cousins during the summer of 1962 when I was at Harvard, and they've visited Wales."

Morgan became a Member of the UK Parliament at Westminster in 1987 and was re-elected in 1992 and 1997. But he decided not to stand again in 2001, having been elected to the newly-created National Assembly for Wales in 1999 and become First Minister a year later.

Despite his obvious affection for America and Americans, one of Morgan's frustrations is their lack of knowledge of Wales.

"Whereas Scotland and Ireland have quite a high profile in the United States, most Americans not only don't know where Wales is but what it is. Is it a country like Scotland or Ireland or a county like Yorkshire or Sussex? They're just not sure.

"So we see the Ryder Cup as an opportunity to put Wales on the map. It's potentially transformational. Wales is Europe's best kept secret, and we want it to be Europe's worst kept secret.

"It also has the advantage that golf is the game of choice of the American business community. So if you have got a high profile in the world of golf then you've got a big way-in to the American business community.

"If we can get them to see Wales as the backdrop of an outstandingly successful Ryder Cup in 2010, then that is great for the profile of Wales for business and tourism purposes."

Wales has many of the ingredients of a superb Ryder Cup already in place. The Celtic Manor venue with its luxury hotel and specially-designed Twenty Ten course, excellent road and rail links to London, an international airport, an abundance of good quality accommodation and, of course, three million naturally friendly people.

But Morgan realises this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Wales, and nothing must be left to chance. "We're here to pinch ideas," he says unashamedly, giving the example of the training that Louisville has given to thousands of people -- from taxi drivers to hotel staff - who are likely to come into contact with visitors.

It is nearly fifty years since a Harvard professor set Morgan on a path to become Wales's First Minister, and he will celebrate his 71st birthday on the eve of the next Ryder Cup. But if Morgan has retired by then, it's a pretty safe bet that he will still be playing a big role, not least in welcoming Americans with characteristic pride and openness.