Not long now before the smoke signals thread around the minarets of Abu Dhabi to spell the name of Europe's next Ryder Cup captain. And you thought Oprah's couch might be where the action is next week. Two days before Lance Armstrong submits to the doe-eyed scrutiny of Ms Winfrey, the European tour convenes at the HSBC Golf Championship to conclude its own opera.
Such is the unprecedented interest in the outcome, the 15-man committee empowered to choose between Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley has dispensed with the convention of a formal declaration two weeks hence and will unveil the successful candidate at the close of the meeting. It wasn't like that in Bernard Gallacher's day. There wasn't much of a meeting. Gallacher combined his role as Wentworth's club professional with leading Europe on three successive occasions. His pre-tournament address at Kiawah Island in 1991 was scribbled on a scrap of paper in his blazer pocket and the team's kit for the week, if that is not too grand a reference, was cobbled together in the pro-shop during a tea-break.
Gallacher worked inside the ropes at Medinah as a radio pundit for the BBC where he was struck by how much the Ryder Cup had changed in scale and ambition since he first confronted the American foe as a player in 1969 and as captain at Kiawah. "We don't need to sell it here, but over there I don't think I have seen as many people. There were 46,000 there every day. Even the practice rounds were a complete sell out. From a safety point of view, you could not have got any more in. It was a big production. And for the captains it is huge.
"Tony Jacklin did it four times. I did it three times. In those days they wanted you to do a home and an away match. There were not many European players who had played Ryder Cup so it ruled out quite a few who might otherwise have been candidates and I kind of fell into it in a way. It wasn't really that big a job. I remember doing the clothing for the team in 15 minutes. The guy came in and asked what colours I would like and I said this for Thursday, that for Friday, a blazer and flannels, a white shirt and we will have a nice tie made. That was it. Ok, see ya. Now it's slick Italian suits and all the rest of it.
"For the speeches I brought out a piece of paper from my inside pocket and jotted a few things about the players. Now the captains speak from an autocue on the podium. It is a far bigger job than the one I did."
The emergence of Europe in 1979 to replace the anachronistic concept of Great Britain and Ireland had brought competition to the event and the beginnings of a commercial value but as Kiawah approached the new narrative had still to register with American broadcasters. NBC fell into it after losing the basketball coverage that autumn. The rights were cheap at $130,000 and they had slots to fill. They were not to know that Stormin' Norman Schwartzkopf was about to unleash shock and awe on Saddam Hussain in the first Gulf War. Advertisers fled the Ryder Cup as a result and NBC made a loss. Eight years later at Brookline the TV rights went for $13m.
The Belfry in 1985 marked the first occasion that the Ryder Cup broke even in the UK. Jacklin estimates the value of the captaincy alone in the 21st century to be £1m. He reckoned it was worth no more than £50,000 to him – plus a crate of sponsor's whisky if he won. From the American perspective, though Kiawah cost NBC money, it alerted them to the event's commercial potential. The match came down to Bernhard Langer's missed putt on the final hole, there was tension throughout with Seve Ballesteros and Paul Azinger the principal conduits. In keeping with the times the contest acquired a military sobriquet. "The War By The Shore" changed perceptions. Not even the financial holocaust of 2008 could stall the exponential growth, which at Valhalla saw European captain Nick Faldo snapped up as a brand ambassador by Adidas, TaylorMade and luxury car maker Maybach.
"There is a commercial side to it these days. The captain is expected to talk up the Ryder Cup for the next two years. He promotes the Ryder Cup. I know Tom Watson was a wonderful appointment. He brings experience, he's very popular, people like him in Scotland, etc. But also the American PGA are thinking about 2016 and what Tom Watson will do is promote the event from an American perspective. Win or lose at Gleneagles the American public will be looking forward to the match 2016. He was picked to keep interest high. They don't want the public to walk away.
"They have done it before when they appointed Arnold Palmer as captain to keep it bubbling along in an era when the Americans won it every time. In 1983 they put Jack [Nicklaus] in as captain against Tony. Companies want to be associated with the two captains. Faldo and Azinger were big guns on both sides. There is a lot of promotion involved on TV and at golf days etc. The captains have to be very focused on it. That's why you can't be a player as well as a captain now. There is just too much going on."
Gallacher believes the latter consideration militates in favour of McGinley. Though Clarke has endured a fraught 18 months since winning the Open at Royal St George's, there was some cheer at the back end of last year with a tie for eighth at the Australian PGA, which suggests, were that form to continue, he might yet play his way into contention. "I'm surprised Darren doesn't want to play. I feel he will still be good enough at Gleneagles. It is only a year since he won the Open Championship. And he is in all the majors until then.
"I would go for Paul at Gleneagles and Darren in America, where he is very well known. I think a twin appointment would be perfect. There is a precedent and it is a good way out when two players are in the running. Paul is just that bit older. He has a good record as a captain in the Seve Trophy. He has played in three winning Ryder Cup teams, holed the winning putt in 2002. It seems a no-brainer to me."
The twin ticket was the diplomatic device that saw Ian Woosnam and Faldo appointed for 2006 and 2008 respectively. After an initial flurry of what appeared to be campaigning on Clarke's behalf, led by his old mate Westwood in Turkey last October, some big voices, including those of world No 1 Rory McIlroy and European talisman Ian Poulter, have called for McGinley at Gleneagles and Clarke in 2016. Whoever gets the nod, he better have a speech prepared. It's show business now. He might even get a call from Oprah.
Ryder Cup in numbers: Then and now
13 Value of TV rights for the 1999 event in Brookline in millions of dollars – eight years after NBC made a loss at the 1991 Cup in Kiawah Island.
1985 Year the event first produced a surplus in the UK, making £300,000.
50 Thousand £s, estimated earnings for a captain in 1985.
£1m Amount the captain can expect to earn from the post today.Reuse content