A TRULY GOLDEN ERA

Our edi­tor-at-large picks out some of the high­lights from his time cov­er­ing The Ry­der Cup in what has been a won­der­ful few decades for the com­pe­ti­tion

Golf Monthly - - Rory Mcilroy -

t’s been a trip, a long, wind­ing, won­der­ful trip. From my first Ry­der Cup matches at Lytham in 1977 through to this lat­est rum­ble back in the US of A, I’ve watched them all, writ­ten about them all and, most im­por­tant, en­joyed them all. Some more than oth­ers. This 2016 Min­neapo­lis gig will mark the 40th matches since Sam Ry­der had his big idea in be­tween sell­ing seeds to gar­den­ers. Turns out I’ve cov­ered 18 of them, a posse of Ry­der Cups that, when traced back, show how much the old tus­sle has changed.

For a start, Lytham turned out to be the last of the Great Bri­tain & Ire­land teams, a side stud­ded with fu­ture stars like Ken Brown – who, when turned on his side, be­came hard to see he was so skinny back then – and Nick Faldo, whose wil­lowy swing was to be de­con­structed be­fore be­ing re­built sev­eral years later as he em­barked on his own epic jour­ney.

The Amer­i­cans whacked us at Lytham – as they al­ways did – and so two years later I found my­self at Heathrow and stand­ing be­side Seve Balles­teros as he and I checked in to fly to Wash­ing­ton. The Euro­pean team was born and, to cel­e­brate, we all flew to­gether, jour­nal­ists and play­ers and of­fi­cials. At the back of the BA plane in econ­omy. Yes, all of us.

Ken Schofield, the Euro­pean Tour boss, was two seats away from me, and cap­tain Tony Jack­lin was in the row be­hind. It was all a long way from the style in which the play­ers travel now and when a chippy stew­ardess (they weren’t cabin at­ten­dants yet, leave me alone) spilled red wine down Jacko’s new chi­nos the great man’s idea to fly Con­corde next time was ig­nited.

Be­fore then, how­ever, I watched in awe as surely the great­est team ever was launched at Wal­ton Heath by the Amer­i­cans in 1981. Here we go... Lee Trevino, Jack Nick­laus, Tom Wat­son, Ray Floyd, Johnny Miller, Ben Cren­shaw, Hale Ir­win, Bruce Li­et­zke, Tom Kite, Larry Nel­son, Bill Rogers and Jerry Pate. They won by nine points. Fab­u­lous. By the way, our PGA and the Euro­pean Tour paid – yes, paid – the Sur­rey club £10,000 to hire the course for the week; a slight con­trast to the mil­lions now paid by clubs to host the event.

Four years later the most won­der­ful matches of mod­ern times took place at The Bel­fry. Jack­lin, com­plete with new, un­stained trousers, was skip­per of course and in front of a hugely en­thu­si­as­tic crowd the Amer­i­cans were fi­nally

Ibeaten for the first time since 1957. A lot of peo­ple cried, a mil­i­tary band played Land Of Hope And Glory, Con­corde did a fly-by in salute and the era we now en­joy so much was ush­ered in. Later that evening my quiet game of snooker was in­ter­rupted when Sam Tor­rance burst in and while I scarpered, my op­po­nent, the late, great Frank Clough of The Sun, found him­self lifted away by Sam and tossed mer­rily into the ho­tel swim­ming pool where he joined other play­ers and their wives, by now stripped to their bras and pants. On re­flec­tion, maybe I shouldn’t have scarpered.

From here on in – once ev­ery­one dried off – the Ry­der Cup be­came a se­ri­ous con­test with Europe edg­ing it more of­ten than not. With suc­cess came money, lots of money, and the Euro­pean Tour pros­pered. Peo­ple who could not have cared less about pro golf cared about these matches, and they still do. The for­mat is per­fect, the three days long enough, the con­trast to 72-hole tour­na­ments as vivid as silk to con­crete. The mem­o­ries of them all flood my happy head. Ki­awah Is­land and the non­sense that went on there; Valder­rama and a crazed, in­spi­ra­tional Balles­teros; vic­tory for the first time in the USA at Jack’s place, of all places, in Ohio; Brook­line, Bos­ton, and the nas­ti­est sports crowd I’ve wit­nessed in golf. Not good for the game, maybe, but great for pub­lic­ity and in­creas­ing that fan base.

Yes, it’s been ter­rific fun as well as, at times, ex­haust­ing. A chal­lenge, too, for the play­ers, es­pe­cially the truly tal­ented ones who have al­ways had to shore up the rest of the side. I re­call, for ex­am­ple, the 1989 matches at The Bel­fry again and a halved con­test that meant Europe re­tained the tro­phy.

Faldo, by then ac­knowl­edged as the world’s best, played in ev­ery segment that week­end and when I spoke to him on that Sun­day evening in the Mid­lands he looked ten years older than when he had started three days ear­lier. “Tired?” he said. “Tired? I’m com­pletely and ut­terly bloody ex­hausted. In fact, I have never felt so ex­hausted be­fore and I hope I never will again.”

The im­por­tant thing is that he was grin­ning as he told me this, re­ally grin­ning. Happy, happy days for us all. Bill El­liott is Golf Monthly’s edi­tor-at-large and Golf Am­bas­sador for Prostate Cancer UK

“Faldo played in ev­ery segment that week­end and when I spoke to him on that Sun­day evening in the Mid­lands he looked ten years older”

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