Depending on how you like your golf, the Ryder Cup is either the purest expression of the sport or the tackiest.
If your idea of great golf is stuffing a dozen beers in your bag in the parking lot, then the Ryder Cup is for you. If you think yelling ‘get in the hole!’ during someone’s follow-through is hilarious, you are a Ryder Cup man. And if you think winning isn’t everything, it’s the bro-ly thing, the Ryder Cup is your Xanadu.
This year’s Ryder Cup – the backward-baseball caps of America vs. the very tight pants of Europe – ended on Sunday. Actually, it ended on Saturday. They played the final round because the broadcasters paid up front.
The United States didn’t just beat Europe, it beat up on it 19-9.
This continues the trend of the home team winning on its own patch. It continues a more general trend of pretending that no one plays golf in, say, Asia. Also, while we’re at this, why are there English players on Team Europe? Didn’t they vote on that over there?
As usual, the least noteworthy thing was the score. What really caught your imagination was watching America’s most American instincts loosed in the safe space of golf.
If you acted the way the American golfers did at Whistling Straits in, say, a football game, someone on the other team would fold up your leg and put it in your pocket. Ditto hockey. Maybe even baseball and basketball.
Those other sports have a chivalric code. It’s old-fashioned and may not make sense to the rest of us.
But these codes exist to maintain order in pursuits that are chaotic and often violent. Golf is never violent, which explains why so many golfers feel free to go out in public and act like complete doughnuts.
This in turn allows golf to maintain its place as one of the last fortresses of bro culture, even while the armies of progressivism close in.
The Ryder Cup is impervious to the winds of change. In fact, it’s moving in the other direction. It is a bunch of guys paying a small fortune to congregate with other baseball-cap aficionados, drink from sunrise and go full boor ahead. It’s the Gathering of the Juggalos if everyone drove there in a Volvo.
This isn’t a good or bad thing, but it is gloriously stupid. Remember when sports didn’t feel the pressure to lead us anywhere? When we figured these guys were all a bit thick, and so didn’t look to them to inform us on how to think about the pressing issues of the day?
At the Ryder Cup, that is still possible.
It’s the only major golf tournament at which the announcer at the first tee has to tell the crowd to shut up before he can do the introductions. It’s the only one at which half the golfers are booed. And it’s the only one where the crowd cheers whenever the other side shanks a shot.
This air of buffoonery spreads osmotically to all the competitors, though it really gets into the head of the U.S. pros.
That’s how you get Brooks Koepka berating rules officials because he doesn’t want to take a perfectly legal shot near – but not in any danger of hitting – a metal obstacle.
“If I break my wrist, it’s on the both of you,” Koepka threatened, adding another very unsporting word that cannot be printed here.
Would Koepka act that way at Augusta National? He would not.
If he did, an alarm would go off and a members-only strike force of Bill Gates, Roger Goodell and Condoleezza Rice would come rushing out, get him in a headlock and black-bag him out of the country. These are powerful people. They can do that.
At the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, would we have guys eyeballing other guys over putts given or not given? We would not. Because you don’t walk into a cathedral and start a slap fight.
Would Europeans anywhere chant “GER-MA-NY” or “FRA-AA-ANCE” at the Americans? They would not. Because, unlike Canadians, they’re happy enough just being smug about public health care.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, would we have Rory McIlroy – who wasn’t very good this weekend – tearing up on television after his Sunday round because he loves the Ryder Cup so, so much, man.
“I’ve never really cried or got emotional over what I did as an individual. I don’t give a …” and here McIlroy did another thing he wouldn’t do at a major and dropped a curse word.
On Sunday, with the result inevitable, all the aggro did a sudden U-turn into maudlin displays of brotherly love. Guys on opposing teams laughing, joshing, rubbing each other’s shoulders and so much fist-bumping they’re going to need to start asking a knuckle doctor to stand by.
All these inchoate attempts at emotional release are of a piece, because the Ryder Cup is where dudes can be dudes. That includes weeping which inevitably leads to hugging and – I’m just warning you – group singalongs to Free Bird.
At the next Ryder Cup in 2023, maybe they can have a drum circle on the 18th green. Lose the shirts. Really go deep on their feelings. Televise some world-class masculine breakthroughs.
The Ryder Cup is that ridiculous, and long may it be so.
Despite what it thinks, it does not showcase either the best of golf or of athletic competition. What it does instead is highlight the cross-cultural stupidity of standing around, yelling at people who are our physical betters, while all involved congratulate themselves on doing something really, really important.
But given how puffed up sports has got recently about its place in the world, there is value in being reminded how much fun this sort of dimness can be.