5 reasons why the Ryder Cup is the best event in sports
There is nothing like the Ryder Cup.
Chills. Butterflies in the stomach. Hair raising on the back... And I'm just talking about the fans.
The atmosphere at these biennial matches pitting 12 of the best golfers from the U.S. against 12 of Europe's best is riveting theater. If you're lucky enough to be on the grounds, you can feel the energy.
Do you know someone who thinks golf is boring? Have them tune into a Ryder Cup for five minutes. The tension. The chants from the crowds. The emotional swings. The actual swings in the status of the matches.
There are countless reasons why the Ryder Cup is the best event in sports. Here are the top five.
5. The first tee.
Reason: It's a spectacle. A sight to be seen. There's singing. There's chanting. Thousands of spectators lined up 20-30 deep and packed into the stands. This isn't the type of reserved, quiet, golf-clap first tee players are used to at a regular event. This is intense. Players admit that hitting that first tee shot at a Ryder Cup is like nothing they've ever experienced in golf. When he was announced as a Captain's Pick earlier this week at Hazeltine for the 2016 matches, American Ryder Cup veteran Matt Kuchar relayed a first tee story he had heard many times before:
"I had heard stories of the guys, when we were starting off in alternate-shot and had their plan of guys taking odds and even holes, and the guy that was set to play the first drive on the first hole said, 'Too nervous, too nervous, I can't do it,' and so they switched the format."
That's what the magnitude of the first tee at a Ryder Cup can do to even the best players in the world.
4. The fans.
Reason: They're tastefully rowdy. Unlike regular golf events, they play favorites -- and they let the players know it. If the Ryder Cup were a movie and the players are the main characters, the fans would be the supporting cast. Without the fans, the Ryder Cup isn't the Ryder Cup. They show up in the tens of thousands. Have you ever been that person too cool to wear a costume to a costume party and then feel out of place when you arrive at said party and you're the only person not dressed in an ensemble? That's the Ryder Cup. Look around at the spectators and -- based on their getup -- there's no denying which side they're pulling for. What other event in golf can you think of where the fans sing/chant in unison? Sure, the Phoenix Open has the par-3 16th hole. Every hole at a Ryder Cup is like that.
Reason: With golf being, primarily, an individual event, people sometimes argue that it lacks personalities or character. That isn't the case in a Ryder Cup. For one week every two years, players aren't playing for themselves. They're playing for a team and they're playing for their country. They live and die with every shot, they wear their emotions on their sleeves and they feed off the energy of the crowd. Best of all, when a player finishes his match, his work isn't over... he drapes himself in a flag and heads out to cheer on his teammates battling it out in other matches. The Ryder Cup is an event that has been known to frequently bring the winners -- and losers -- to tears. You can't fake that.
2. The level of play.
Reason: It's off the charts. That's the beauty of match play though, isn't it? It's a format that not only encourages but demands that players are aggressive and keep the pedal to the metal at all times. There's no prevent defense in the Ryder Cup. You push all the chips to the middle of the table and take a gamble. And, when those gambles pay off, you can become a national hero. Just ask Justin Leonard. That photo above is when Leonard holed an improbable 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., during the 1999 matches that would assure him nothing worse than a halve against Jose Maria Olazabal and -- in turn -- guaranteed the Americans a miracle, come-from-behind, final-day victory. Crazy things happen at the Ryder Cup.
Reason: Just win, baby. That's the primary goal of both sides heading into a Ryder Cup. However, as it all plays out, the game's core value of sportsmanship is still ever present. Is there gamesmanship? Sure there is. But, at the end of the day, upholding the gentlemanly foundation of golf is what it's all about. Look no further than the 1969 Ryder Cup where a common match-play term -- "concession" -- became the enduring nickname of those matches, as in, "The Concession."
Riddled with unsportsmanlike conduct throughout the matches -- players from one side not helping players from the other search for lost balls; deliberately standing too close to an opponent to distract him while putting; etc. -- it was ugly and in danger of putting a serious black eye on the Ryder Cup.
That's where then 29-year-old, Ryder Cup USA rookie Jack Nicklaus swooped in to save the day. After making a par on the final hole at Royal Birkdale, Nicklaus' opponent -- Tony Jacklin -- was faced with a 2-footer for par that would either end the Ryder Cup in a draw if he made it (the Americans would retain), or result in an outright loss for Europe if he missed.
"I was terrified," said Nicklaus of his own putt that day. "I wasn't just putting for me, I was putting for my country."
If that's how Nicklaus felt, imagine the weight of that moment for Jacklin. An Englishman, playing the Ryder Cup in his home country, with the outcome riding on his putt. What if he missed?
Ever the gentleman, Nicklaus shocked everyone when he wouldn't allow Jacklin that opportunity.
Much to the dismay of some of his teammates -- and especially U.S. Captain Sam Snead -- Nicklaus picked up Jacklin's coin and extended his hand for a handshake resulting in the first of two draws in Ryder Cup history (again, the U.S. retained the Ryder Cup having won in 1967).
"He was a national hero," Nicklaus said later of Jacklin. "I felt like the United States was going to retain the Cup either way. I didn’t think it was in the spirit of the game to make him putt and have a chance to miss a 2-foot putt in front of his fans."
Moments -- most notably that one -- are what make the Ryder Cup the best event in sports.