The stage is set

Flying the flags

The Stage is set

Bill Elliott, Editor at Large, Golf Monthly and Chairman of the Association of Golf Writers, looks ahead to the start of the 2012 Ryder Cup for what promises to be a passionate collision of continent and country.

THERE is something romantic, even a touch poetic, about an empty sports stadium just hours before big-time action is set to take place.

So it was here at Medinah on the eve of this 39th Ryder Cup as I strolled down the fairways of the back nine, the trees beginning to slide gently into autumnal glory. No-one else was around apart from the security chaps guarding each hole but somewhere in the distance I believed I could hear the noise that will envelope this Chicago course in the morning.

The stage is set

Europe's Captain

Suddenly this old theatre that has been waiting patiently all week for meaningful action will erupt, a kaleidoscope of noise and little flags and emotion. Silly? Yes, a tad but wonderful also, a jolly antidote to the humdrum tedium of everyday life. The Ryder Cup is important and it is important because we choose it to be so.

Whoever prevails on Sunday (although some very smart money has been placed on a halved match) we will all have had fun. High and competitive and passionate but fun nonetheless. These collisions between a continent and a country, albeit the most significant country on the planet and where close to half the world's golfers live, are now to sport what a naked light is to gas or an ignition key to a Ferrari...perfectly combustible.

So when the fire is lit, the engine gunned, on that first tee for the opening foursomes we can all relax, sit back and enjoy the dramas about to unfold, the heroes poised to emerge from Sam Torrance's shadows, the occasional pantomime villain hopefully lurking somewhere.

For days now it has been talk and more talk. Several hundred journalists demand this, the captains and players do their best to oblige. The talking has stopped now and everyone is relieved. When either Rory McIlroy or Graeme McDowell (their choice, says José María Olazábal) hits the first ball in this Ryder Cup the games will have begun.

Who will win? The honest answer is who knows. These matches surely will be close, a missed putt here, a pitch-in there probably deciding everything. It will be a rollercoaster of delight and occasional despair and we'll all feel better for witnessing it.

Medinah offers a tough examination paper, make no mistake, with a compelling finish that invites those twin imposters on every shot. It is here that this rumble will be decided, here that some will reach deep inside themselves to deliver the shots of their lives.

But this is not the usual Medinah, not the place that has staged United States Opens and PGA Championships. For one weekend only this is a course without any rough. This is Davis Love's decision. It is his right as home captain to have Medinah set up as he wishes and what he wishes of course is to deliver some small advantage to his team.

Sam Torrance, however, is surprised that the rough has been removed from the equation. “I can't believe it,” said the 2002 European skipper. “We've been doing exactly this at home for thirty years now. When Tony Jacklin asked us what we wanted all those years ago we said 'take out the rough, especially from around the greens'. It seems that Davis maybe is playing into our hands. We'll see.”

It is the “we'll see” that is important here because no-one, not even as astute a judge as Sam, knows. This is the beauty of all sport, its unpredictability.

But what we can say for certain is that these are probably the most accomplished 24 players ever gathered for a Ryder Cup. What we may legitimately request is that they now proceed to play out of their skins. Does anyone really doubt that they will? Thought not. Enjoy.