Sports doesn't get better than this: the finest golfers in the
world grinding under 10 atmospheres of pressure for nothing more
than honor, team, country and a couple of free pairs of slacks.
In fact the Ryder Cup, which begins next week in Valderrama,
Spain, has become the single greatest event in sports. Why?
Wanna go a quick 18?
1) Ryder Cup play is always tighter than Jesper Parnevik's
pants. Since 1987, in fact, the aggregate score has been a dead
heat--Europe 70, U.S. 70--and the five matches have gone like
this: Euros win by two, then a tie, then the Yanks win by one,
then the Yanks by two, then the Euros by one. Since '87, the
Super Bowl is NFC 11, AFC 0. The World Series hasn't gone to a
seventh game since '91. And the NBA Finals don't actually exist
anymore--they're stored in Michael Jordan's basement.
2) It's one of the few things in life that is better than
advertised. The Super Bowl is two weeks of hype and three hours
of tripe. The Ryder Cup is three days of blast furnace. How
tense is it? One year Corey Pavin was so nervous he couldn't get
the tee in the ground--and nobody had hit a shot yet.
3) Things happen at the Ryder Cup you just don't see anywhere
else. Millionaires putting out and then sprinting back three
holes to cheer on their teammates. Jack Nicklaus kissing Lanny
Wadkins's divot. Players jumping into the Atlantic Ocean.
4) Tiger Woods will be playing in it for the next 25 years.
5) There is no place to hide. If you aren't getting your serve
in at Wimbledon, you go home the first day and nobody notices.
But if you're in the Ryder Cup and your swing has left you for
another golfer, tough titanium, because your every shank,
smother and skull will be broadcast to more than 100 countries.
Can you say "choke" in Farsi?
6) Did we mention these guys do it for nothing? Unfortunately,
there is some grumbling among the players to be cut in on the
reported $2 million proceeds generated by the Cup. No, no, no.
As soon as you pay them, the Ryder Cup becomes just another cash
grab by guys in pleats playing for their fourth house.
7) Usually, when you go to a Ryder Cup, you are
somewhere--Kiawah Island, Valderrama, the English countryside.
Usually, when you go to the World Series, you are in the Bronx.
8) The envelope. No other sporting event has anything as heroic
as "the envelope." Before Cup play starts on the final day, each
captain must put one of his players' names in an envelope in
case of an injury to an opponent. The injured player and the
player named in the other team's envelope remove themselves from
the matches, and the teams split a point. Wadkins volunteered
his name in 1993 and inspired the U.S. to victory. Can you see
Emmitt Smith, with the crew for an instant Reebok commercial
waiting in the end zone, volunteering to sit out the Super Bowl?
9) The Ryder Cup is usually completed without loss of ear
10) There is not all that much at stake for the players except
their place in history. Curtis Strange won back-to-back U.S.
Opens but will be remembered for his bogey-bogey-bogey finish
that lost the Ryder Cup in 1995.
11) There is no Poulan Weedeater Ryder Cup. No Budweiser
kickoffs. No torturous halftimes during which the California
Raisin is constantly bumping into Snow White.
12) No one announces afterward that he's signing a free-agent
deal with the New Zealand Ryder Cup team.
13) Players beg the captain to get in the Ryder Cup. The captain
begs the players to get in the Davis Cup.
14) It is a week's worth of matches, 28 in all, smashed into
three days, sunrise to sunset, utterly exhausting, and the
stress gets to everybody. Last time, at the end, the emotionless
Nick Faldo broke down and cried. (And he won.)
15) Unlike soccer's World Cup, the Ryder Cup doesn't take a
month, 32 countries and three riots to play.
16) Ask Michael Douglas if he'll miss it. Ask Sly Stallone if
he'll miss it. On second thought, don't bother. They'll be there.
17) It gets even better when it's done. Nobody sells his moment
of utter jubilation to Disney World. The losers do not disappear
into a tunnel and smash the clubhouse toilet. Instead, the
players put on coats and ties, shake hands and sit in front of
the world, the winners' heads woozy, the losers' wounds
fresh--absolutely unzappable stuff.
And best of all...18) No annoying mascot!
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Europe's Costantino Rocca (left) got carried away with Ian Woosnam in '95.