There’s much to look forward to in 2011. This does not, obviously, include looking forward to a Ryder Cup. Despite this, the old rumble is set to figure prominently when the story count for the year is totted up by someone with nothing better to do – to wit, someone like me – in 12 months’ time.
For a start there is the fact that some people are lobbying already for a four-day competition. Before Celtic Manor this four-day thing was a theory, but now we have seen it in action and a lot of us like it. I say ‘us’ but, for what it’s worth, I am not one of the supporters of any such change.
I can see the advantages. If bad weather hits then there is more time to play with. It is also easier to get 40,000 people on to the course for the start of matches at, say, 11am, rather than as dawn breaks sullenly. What is against it is (a) tradition (always important) and (b) the intensity that playing five segments in three days brings.
This last point is the really big one. The Wales gig ended up being brilliant because it was brilliant at the end. Most Ryder Cups are not like this, most finish as a contest somewhere in the middle of the last day, and do so with a low whimper rather than a loud bang. In my experience a Ryder Cup like Celtic Manor comes along, at best, once every half dozen matches.
Monday in Wales could have been as anti-climactic as the final bit in any two-part, cliff-hanging TV drama by which time the writer has run out of things to say, struggles to pull all the strands together in a cohesive, believable manner and is panicked into revealing that almost all the loose ends were exactly that, loose ends.
By keeping it to three days the Ryder Cup offers rare, undiluted pressure. Unexpected heroes spring out of the shadows, occasional villains are unmasked by tiredness and everyone has fun and goes home knackered, but happy. Four days gives everyone too much time to think. Especially the captains.
Watching the captains turn increasingly bonkers – usually around 1pm on Saturday – is one of the great joys of the competition. Giving them time to consider things and the players time to rest should not be a consideration. These matches are intended to be an action-packed slog and to benefit from the errors on and off the course that such intensity brings.
My old friend Richard Hills has overseen brilliantly several Ryder Cups now on behalf of the European Tour, and knows all of the above only too well. So I was surprised to see him appear to encourage the thought that a change may be on the way. “A lot of people seemed to like it,” he said. “The first step is to take soundings from the players and then there will be discussions at the Masters.”
In my house we think these discussions should be short and of the snorting sort. I hope so anyway. Just as I hope that no player is ever again humiliated in the way Paul Casey was when the team was finally announced on a Sunday evening in Scotland. This was done, understandably, for maximum effect. This worked, for the effect it had on Casey was certainly maximum when he learned he had been passed over while playing in America with Padraig Harrington.
“I felt like shaking Paddy’s hand and walking in,” he said. “That’s got to change. It is unfair.” It was unfair Paul and it will change. Mind you, it will also help if Europeans based in America turned up more often in Europe. I’m not saying if Casey had played at Gleneagles that week he would have been picked…oh, hell, yes that is exactly what I am saying. However, two wrongs still don’t make a right.
Meanwhile, can Tiger Woods do anything right any more? I ask this because of the general derision he has suffered following his recent attempts at a public reconciliation via a contrived public relations exercise. Joining Twitter feeds and the rest might seem a smart thing to do but, you know what Tiger, all the majority of us want to see is a return to something like the old genius on the golf course. We don’t have to like you much as a bloke, but we do want to admire you as a golfer. In the end you are here for our entertainment, not to be our friend. You never were the latter anyway. Still, I wish you, and you dear reader, a better new year. Happy hacking everyone.
The Last Word: More from Bill Elliott