SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 26
Because I always curse drivers in front of me at the Dartford crossing who don’t have the correct money, I’ve been clutching £5.50 in my sweaty palm for at least three junctions of the M4 before arriving at the Severn Bridge toll booth. Although my painstaking research revealed precisely the right amount, it lamentably failed to uncover the fact that the machine doesn’t accept notes. My crumpled fiver is consequently of no use. At least the lengthening queue behind provides plenty of change-giving opportunities and I’m grateful to the blue VW Golf four vehicles back for swapping my note for coins and sparing me further embarrassment.
A volunteer marshal at the 38th Ryder Cup, I report to the Celtic Manor Resort and pick up loads of distinctive blue and yellow gear including two shirts, a short-sleeve sweater, jacket and hat. There’s also an armband, poncho, notes on the art of marshalling and a Strokesaver-style guide to the Twenty Ten course. Apparently at the K Club in 2006, a lot of volunteer marshals collected the goodies and were never seen again. In an effort to elicit a commitment and avoid a repeat performance, each of us has forked out £50, but not necessarily in coins.
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 27
Mark, a good friend of mine, is kindly putting me up in his pretty cottage on the edge of an unpronounceable village (you need at least half-a-pint of phlegm in your throat to attempt it) near Abergavenny. Right alongside the River Usk in the heart of beautiful countryside, it’s idyllic.
Today’s a day off. I consider practising my marshalling skills on a flock of sheep in an adjacent field but climb a couple of mountains instead. It didn’t rain yesterday and hasn’t today, which is probably about as close to a drought as they get in Wales.
TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 28
Not the happiest of mornings. Well on target to make the 7am rendezvous for marshals, I miss the turn to the special park-and-ride facility near Usk, find myself on a motorway and am obliged to drive about ten miles to Newport and then ten miles back again.
Dozens of blue and yellow jacketed volunteers are eerily trudging through a floodlit field towards a fleet of buses. They look like an army of Swedish football supporters. Before boarding, everyone passes through airport-like security. My laptop causes some concern but I eventually make it through and join dozens of fellow blue and yellow people on the bus.
Having been appointed one of an elite corps of media marshals, I’m supposed to be meeting the other media marshals next to the media tent, but at 7.15am one tent looks much like any other and I inevitably end up in the wrong one trying to make friends with the wrong people. Eventually I find the right bunch, am given meal vouchers and told that today I’ll be working as a messenger in the media tent.
Despite being grateful to be anywhere other than outside in the rain, I’m now exposed to the ridicule of my fellow hacks who will surely laugh at both my garb and new role. Although I’m metaphorically wearing two hats, in reality there’s just a blue and yellow one perched on my balding head and it neither fits comfortably nor goes well with my blushing cheeks. It’s not so bad when I’m sitting quietly in a corner but I’ve been asked to help out at press conferences by passing the microphone to the next questioner. It’s horribly public but I do it with as much enthusiasm as I can muster.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 29
Although I again miss the turning to the car park (aaaggghhh!!!), I succeed in locating the assembly point for the media marshals much quicker and am only half-an-hour late. Instead of berating me, Marcel – my boss for the week – presents me with a prayer mat that will literally cushion the blow when I drop to my knees to avoid blocking spectators.
My chance to work on the move comes at 8.30 when I accompany an American group teeing off at the 11th. It’s Tiger, Stricker, Furyk and Fowler out for a practice round. Will Tiger remember me as the man with the microphone at his press conference the previous day and be impressed by my versatility?
My job is to ensure that only accredited photographers wearing the correctly coloured bibs are inside the ropes, that they stay within the designated areas and kneel so as not to block spectators. An easygoing bloke, I’m not really the sort to rebuke someone for straying a yard or two out of line but this is an opportunity to develop a ruthless uncompromising side to my character and on a couple of occasions when a tricky situation arises I very nearly say something.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 30
A major shirt crisis is developing, which I decide to resolve at 5.00am. Having been given two blue and yellow shirts that have to last for three practice and three playing days, I’m concerned that I’m going to run out of clean shirts even before the first fourball tees off tomorrow morning. Although it might encourage the crowd to keep their distance, wearing the same shirt for three days isn’t nice. Of course I could wash one but I’m already enough of an imposition on my good friend Mark and borrowing his washing machine could be a favour too far. So I decide to save my clean blue and yellow number for the competition itself and wear a non-official shirt today. Fearful there might be clothing marshals to ensure that other marshals are wearing only authorised gear, I shove the slightly malodorous blue and yellow one in my holdall.
I go out with Mickelson and Fowler, who tee off the first just after 8.30. There are six of us in my team. Marcel puts us in pairs with two in front, two in line with play and two at the back. Partnered with a very nice chap called Neil, I’m in front. On most holes, photographers can go on either side and so Neil and I split to shadow them.
Remembering that he’s the enemy, I try and develop a dislike of Phil Mickelson, but it’s not easy because he’s such a nice guy. Fowler looks like he should be in school and I half expect him to burst into tears when he misses a putt. More importantly, I’m beginning to get the hang of this marshalling business. The photographers appear to know where to go and are altogether nicer than the ruthless paparazzi I was anticipating having to control. Everyone is polite and pleasant, especially the spectators, and there’s a wonderfully friendly atmosphere.
After the practice round comes the opening ceremony. An emotional person, the sense of occasion combined with loads of Welsh singing proves too much for me but I’m careful not to add to the greenkeeper’s woes by allowing my tears to fall onto the course as I trudge back to the bus park.
FRIDAY OCTOBER 1
Not wanting to be responsible for delaying the start of the Ryder Cup, I set the alarm for 4.45 and arrive on time. Whoever’s responsible for the marshals opts to front load and assigns me to the first match – Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer versus Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Despite the damp conditions, the crowd behind the 1st tee are wonderfully enthusiastic and the atmosphere is terrific.
Seeing the opening tee-shot is a real thrill and watching Europe go two up after five is even better. But the rain that’s been dribbling down my neck for the last couple of hours finally overwhelms the course and I retreat into the media tent for a break that lasts more than seven hours. Another few hours and I might even have dried out before going back out to the 6th. We progress as far as the 12th before, with Europe a hole up, we stop because of failing light. It’s the only match Europe is winning and I return to Mark’s house a little subdued and very wet.
SATURDAY OCTOBER 2
After what feels like about half-an-hour’s sleep, the alarm goes. It’s 4.45 and thankfully not raining. I steer Westwood and Kaymer to a comfortable three and two victory over a surprisingly lacklustre Phil Mickelson and big-hitting Dustin Johnson. ‘Our’ victory is Europe’s only success in the opening fourballs. Although willing to go out again straightaway, I’m rested from the afternoon foursomes presumably to have me fresh for the opening game of the later fourballs.
I’m assigned to Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher’s match against Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson. The excitement is amazing, the golf is sparkling and my marshalling is immaculate. Even on the 5th, where previously I’d missed the media exit on the left just short of the green, I’m flawless and escort the one snapper who opts for this unorthodox route through to the 6th fairway. In doing so I miss Fisher’s brave birdie putt but that’s the sort of sacrifice we selfless marshals are occasionally called upon to make. After eight holes and with Harrington and Fisher one up, the day’s over.
Despite blisters on both feet, I’m happy because not only have I steered my pair into a lead but the scoreboard is awash with blue and Europe are up in every match. Spurs beating Villa completes a great day. Bring on Sunday.
SUNDAY OCTOBER 3
It’s very soon apparent that not all is well when I step out of the front door at 5.30 in the morning into a massive puddle. There’s so much standing water on the narrow country lane that I’m worried that I may have inadvertently taken a wrong turn and driven into the River Usk. Despite the appalling conditions, the mood on the bus is surprisingly cheery but clearly play won’t be possible for some hours and so I once again seek refuge in the media tent and wonder whether the on-course pharmacy will accept meal vouchers in exchange for a tin of plasters for my blistered feet. As the singles have been postponed until tomorrow, I will only have to limp through a maximum of nine holes this afternoon. Asked if willing to work on Monday, I politely decline on medical grounds.
The rain finally ceases around mid morning and the course is miraculously prepared for play to resume at 13.30. Despite genuine pain, I hobble out to the 9th and pray that Harrington and Fisher can polish off Furyk and Johnson quickly. Mercifully, the match finishes on the 17th with a 2&1 victory for the Europeans and my 100% Ryder Cup record remains intact.
With a massive accumulated sleep deficit, I start the long journey back home to East Sussex late in the evening. Weariness overtakes me and I kip in the car for an hour or so at a couple of service stations – one on the M4, the other on the M25 – before eventually arriving home at just after 4.00.
MONDAY OCTOBER 4
Watching the singles matches on TV, I’m relieved that my marshalling colleagues seem able to cope without me but feel responsible as Europe begin to falter down the stretch. Just like Poulter, I’m confident that I could have delivered a point. Will my blisters have cost Europe the Ryder Cup? Quite possibly the only person on the planet watching the thrilling climax to fall asleep, I miss the denouement and wake up to hear Monty praising the marshals. Although he doesn’t single me out, I’m sure he’s aware of my significant contribution to the European cause. If my blisters heal in time, I’d love to do it again at Gleneagles.