Dan Walker reminisces about past Ryder Cups, and the excitement of the upcoming event at Le Golf National.
Dan Walker: The Ryder Cup Is A Magical Three Days
I have deep love for the Ryder Cup. If every golfing weekend provided that level of drama then golf would be the most popular sport in the world. The only problem with that slightly flabby statement is that playing the Ryder Cup every week would detract from the magic of the event.
My parents came to stay at ours over the weekend of The Miracle at Medinah a few years ago. I should point out that I was not responsible for the diary disaster but it was wonderful to see my mum, who has absolutely no interest in golf, become increasingly engrossed in the battle. By the time Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy were seeing off Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson in the Saturday four-balls, her eyes were almost as wide as Poulter’s.
A few years ago at a dinner I had the pleasure of a seat next to Paul McGinley – the Ryder Cup captain at Gleneagles in 2014. Getting his account of the level of planning required was a fascinating insight into the story behind the eventual 16.5 to 11.5 European victory. McGinley and his team provided us with another chapter of magnificent memories and this magazine is filled with many more.
One of the best features of the Ryder Cup is that it further opens the window on some of the world’s top golfers. Many have the appearance of a slightly different animal away from the usual stroke-play events.
Martin Kaymer always looked like a golfing robot before he holed a putt to seal the deal in 2012 and was later seen conducting jubilant Europeans in a chorus of “Walking in a Kaymer wonderland”. The game’s biggest stars seem happy to show us the men behind the masks in this near-perfect team event. We mentioned Poulter and McIlroy at Medinah. McIlroy might have been a passenger for that wonderful finish, but it’s hard to think of him looking happier on a golf course.
Against the glorious backdrop of Le Golf National – particularly the last four holes – we’ll be guaranteed another supply of cheers and tears. Despite Brexit, there will be thousands of UK golf fans crying out “Europe, Europe, Europe” draped in the blue flag with the yellow stars.
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I also look forward to the increasingly provocative jingoism which accompanies these events, although it will be hard to beat Bubba Watson who, when asked what it was like to represent the USA at a Ryder Cup, once said… “Well, it’s the United States flag… and it’s the military that wears our flag everywhere they go. They give us the freedom to play golf, to play in the Ryder Cup.” If you listen carefully to that quote you can hear Bruce Springsteen playing in the background. Throw in the horrific outfits worn by the wives and girlfriends, the opening ceremony and a few Patrick Reed finger-pointing incidents and you are well on your way to another classic.
Both captains will carefully select their ‘picks’, but we can be certain Thomas Bjorn will not be calling on the services of any Russians. I spent about five weeks in the country this summer for the World Cup – I went there with my clubs and a healthy dose of scepticism about the standard of golf I would find. Russia only opened its first 18-hole course in the mid-1990s and the freezing winter prevents anything like 12 months of golf. There are only around 25 courses – in a country which covers one-eighth of the globe – and 2,600 handicapped golfers.
The game is still an oligarch’s paradise, which makes it quite distant from real life in Russia but does mean that the standard of course is excellent. We were privileged to get the chance to play at Skolkovo – the stand-out course in Moscow.
It’s only 11 miles from Red Square but is easily one of the best five courses I have ever played. There aren’t many tracks you play which could easily host a tour event the following week… that’s how good a condition it was in (it probably helped that I finally managed to defeat Alan Shearer on a golf course at Skolkovo).
This Russian beauty was designed by Jack Nicklaus and has five par 3s, five par 5s and enough water and sand to terrify the very best. Moscow is very much the heart of everything in Russia, including golf, and another Nicklaus-designed course – Raevo – opens next year.
We spotted the smooth swing of former tennis World No.1 (and wannabe pro golfer) Yevgeny Kafelnikov on the range at Skolkovo, but the club also has a thriving junior section and, who knows – in a country where golf is beginning to grow, one of those may one day feature in a Ryder or Solheim Cup team somewhere.
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