The post-World War II era has seen a demise of the purest form of golf, match play. Match play, much more than medal play, pits player against player in a true athletic contest. Unfortunately, match play has totally disappeared from the professional circuit due mostly to its incompatibility with television. Ultimately, match play comes down to just two players, creating significant “dead time” as players move from one shot to another. There can also be situations where the “wrong” players could reach the finals, thus creating a disaster for networks so dependent on advertising dollars.
For those of us who count ourselves among the golf purists, we wait in great anticipation of the biannual Ryder Cup matches. These matches are conducted using both a match play format and a team concept, both of which are foreign to most of this generation of American golfers. Players that spend most of their careers competing for weekly multi-million dollar purses are now thrust together as teammates. It is often stressful in the early stages. For example, the relationship between Tiger and Phil can be described as cordial, at best. In the weeks leading up to the matches and, of course, during the competition itself, the team concept does begin to evolve. It seems to come more readily on the European side. I guess it is probably attributed to their underdog status, which in itself is interesting, since they have held an edge in the most recent competitions. It is also a tribute to their players and captains that this camaraderie extends across international borders.
The Ryder Cup has evolved into two separate competitions. The Europeans dominate the team matches, while the United States dominates the singles. This is no surprise, nor is it rocket science. As youngsters move through junior golf, they always play as individuals. Experience remains the greatest teacher, and it really shows come Ryder Cup week. Warren Kempf, Cosby’s golf coach, and I are doing our part in exposing kids to the beauty of both match play and the team concept. Earlier this season, we went 12-on-12 in a match play contest and then we followed it up with an alternate shot format to end the season. The kids loved it. I hope more high school coaches will follow our lead.
This year’s Ryder Cup was marked by horrible weekend weather. There were delays and suspensions, with the singles round being put off until Monday. It was worth the wait and the 4 a.m. wake-up call, as the players fought down to the last hole of the last match. With the 17th hole halved by Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan, Europe secured a 14 ½ - 13 ½ victory. The American team really battled over the back nine. With youngster Ricky Fowler leading the charge, the U.S. nearly seized victory from the jaws of defeat.
I saw two positive outcomes in the matches. European captain Colin Montgomery sealed his fate as the greatest of all Ryder Cup players. Monty has had a tough history with American golf fans. The fact remains that has been a great player, a great match play competitor and a leader who demonstrates the greatest respect for the game. Forever imprinted in my brain will be the leadership also demonstrated by Phil Mickelson. We have waited a long time for an American player to step up and be accountable in these matches. I was impressed by Phil’s demeanor in the post-match press conferences and have gained a newfound respect for him.
With no argument that “these guys are good,” we head back to medal play. We’ll focus on the West Coast swing, as we anticipate the 2011 Masters. For those who love match
play, we will long remember the thrills provided at Celtic Manor and will wait in eager anticipation of Medinah in 2012.