Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland

If only Pop Pop and Payne could be here

Friday, September 22, 2006 11:03 AM

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- The pipes, the pipes were callin', and not even a hopeless smart aleck could resist. The opening ceremony at the Ryder Cup today was awesome.

The truth is, I'm even more of a sucker for big moments than I am a wiseguy. So I'm partial to both pomp and circumstance. And there were copious amounts of each today at the K Club.

The whole time, I kept wondering what others were thinking or would've thought. I saw scores of little kids in the crowd today and could only imagine what it must be like for a lad from bucolic County Kildare to watch the world land in his backyard with the fireworks and the TV cameras and the superstars of golf, not to mention the President of Ireland.

I thought of Payne Stewart. He would've played a Ryder Cup on Pluto, if it were still a planet. He would've really loved playing in Ireland. Stewart would sometimes prep for the British Open by coming over a little early to Waterville in the southwest corner of the Emerald Isle. Shortly before he died in a plane crash in October of '99, Stewart accepted the Honorary Captaincy of Waterville Golf Club for the year 2000. He never served, but a bronze statue of his likeness still welcomes all comers to the Waterville links.

Stewart also got it when it came to the Ryder Cup. Having spent the first few years of his career playing everywhere but the U.S., Stewart had a deep appreciation for the privilege of playing for his country. Which is why he was so livid at the suggestion by some U.S. players, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, that they should be paid for their participation. As much money as the respective governing bodies milk from this event, I think even Stewart would now concede that it's only fair for the players to at least get something to give to the charities of their choice. But he didn't think with his head. In such matters, Stewart always thought with his heart, which always bled Red, White, and Blue.

I also remember how giddy Stewart was after winning the '99 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. It wasn't just that he'd won the Open. He'd done the math and figured out he was at that point a lock to make his first Ryder Cup team since 1993.

And then I remember at that Ryder Cup at Brookline, an event teetering on the edge of civility, how Stewart conceded the 18th hole and his match to Colin Montgomerie after Monty had endured merciless heckling all day, despite Stewart going so far as having security escort some out-of-control American fans off the premises. The sportsmanship has been better in the two Cups since, in part I think because of Stewart's gracious gesture, but the competition itself is worse for his absence.

And the other person I thought of during the festivities today was my grandfather, Billy Brewer, though I never called him anything but Pop Pop. When I was in fifth grade, my grandmother (you guessed it: Mom Mom) and he visited Great Britain and Ireland and brought me back a few little Irish trinkets. He loved golf, and I learned to love it by playing with him. He died 20 years ago this month. I thought about what a pure and holy man he was, way more than I'll ever be. And I thought about how much fun we'd have had together had he been with me on this day.

As much as I've enjoyed the opening act, I'm ready for some golf. Jim Furyk says Monday through Thursday of Ryder Cup week seem like they take three years, and Friday through Sunday seem like three minutes. Well, Furyk's wait will be among the four shortest. He'll pair with Tiger in the Ryder Cup's opening match, a fourball against Montgomerie and national hero Padraig Harrington. The waiting is over. Let the games begin.

Signup for Email Updates

Video Highlights

Colin Montgomerie Sunday Highlights
Europeans clinch a third consecutive Ryder Cup victory.Watch

Ryder Cup Message Board

Ryder Cup Message Board

Ryder Cup Store

Show Your Colors - Get Exclusive Ryder Cup merchandise

Film Loop

You need the latest Flash Player to view this content.

Get exclusive Ryder Cup images delivered to your desktop daily -- for free. download