The Ryder Cup in Paris is a gamechanger
The first Ryder Cup to be staged in Europe outside the UK since 1927 was in Valderrama in 1997. As it happened, besides my job of managing Seve as Captain that week, our company Amen Corner which I owned with Seve promoting European Tour events in Spain, was the co-organiser with Edward Kitson from the European Tour.
It was pioneering stuff in the Costa del Sol, with the dictatorial owner of Valderrama, Jaime Patino looking to put on a world class show. Running events in Spain, believe me, is an experience. You learned the hard way and I suppose the best way to describe it was the big sign we had in each tournament office for the 30 events we ran: it stated simply: ASSUMPTION IS THE MOTHER OF A ****UP!!
That was the modus operandi – never ever assume that the gates will be open, the balls will be on the range, the locker room will be open, the busses would turn up etc. etc. We had hatchets for opening locked doors at 0600 for the practice ground and maintenance buildings when nobody showed up. It was an endless learning curve of putting in 20 hour days for 10 days straight to get the show on the road. On that week in Valderrama we also had a deluge of rain compliments of Mother Nature and my abiding memory of the billionaire Patino was on the 9th green with a squeegee in his hand trying desperately and in vain to push the rising tide of water off the green.
I have been to every Ryder Cup since 1993 and watched the event grow and grow. From Ireland to Wales to Scotland and now France it has doubled in size and infrastructure each year. The Ryder Cup in Paris was without question the best-staged event on either side of the Atlantic since its inception. From the 8,000 seat amphitheatre grandstands around the first tee to the natural earth mounding stadium built around every hole over the last 8 years to the huge television screens all over the course to the dozen large hospitality complexes dotted around the course – it was truly spectacular. The viewing for the spectators was unimpeded and it reminded me of the ‘old’ days at the Belfry when people came with their tea and sandwiches and a ladder on the back with the hope of seeing some golf.
This all led to an experience at a sporting event over three days that is unrivalled in any sport. From 8 am on Friday morning to around 4 pm on Sunday it’s like being at a world cup football final or a world championship title fight. The roars and sheer volume of noise from the crowds cheering are at a consistent level not achieved in other sports, especially at other golf tournaments. It is truly unique.
There is little doubt that the stadium set up contributed significantly to the home side advantage. Three days of listening to a biased crown of 60,000 people cheering their home team would wear most mortals out and it did.
The course set up was also a stroke of genius from the Captain, Thomas Bjorn, whom I underestimated totally. He ran the greens speeds at 10 in the stimpmeter, about three points slower than the Americans were accustomed to in recent weeks in the US Fed-Ex series. The rough of fescue grass was grown on every fairway to 12 to 15 yards wide to diminish the length advantage held by the American players. It is also of a texture that they are not used to where the ball cannot be muscled out.
Bjorn also outsmarted Furyk in many ways. His Captain’s picks of Poulter and Garcia were inspired. They brought incredible passion to the theatre which incited the crowd and this fed through to the other players. Putting Rory with Poulter after Rory’s head had dropped in the morning fourballs on the first day was a stroke of genius. It pulled Rory out of his funk. The pairing of Fleetwood and Molinari was a match made in heaven and one felt that Fleetwood with that Jesus look could walk across that lake on the closing holes if he so chose to do so. Rahm nearly exploder on day one with the adrenalin rushed going through his Spanish veins but had learned to control it for his swansong against Tiger. He let it all out as he holed that winning 10 footer to beat him.
It was all pure magic for three days and I was lucky to be a part of it.
Well done to Pascal Grizot and his team for staging what has to be the Greatest Golf Show on Earth to date.
October 1st 2018