Golfers' wives

At next week's Ryder Cup, the most-watched battle will be between the players' partners. Tom Lappin reports on a very ladylike rivalry
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The Independent US

Here's the American Dream and it is sitting demurely inside the ropes, a look of fierce patriotism briefly flickering across perfectly glossed lips. It's a vision at once ultra-modern and strangely redolent of the 1950s, manicured, made-up, garbed in couture that manages to seem domestic rather than soignée, faux-sophistication regularly betrayed by the temptation to holler encouragement in hearty corn-fed mid-American gaucheness. It is the American golf wife, and she is pristine.

Here's the American Dream and it is sitting demurely inside the ropes, a look of fierce patriotism briefly flickering across perfectly glossed lips. It's a vision at once ultra-modern and strangely redolent of the 1950s, manicured, made-up, garbed in couture that manages to seem domestic rather than soignée, faux-sophistication regularly betrayed by the temptation to holler encouragement in hearty corn-fed mid-American gaucheness. It is the American golf wife, and she is pristine.

She has become part of the Ryder Cup's emergence as one of the most satisfyingly elemental of contests, an event when the normally narrow Atlantic gap becomes a cultural chasm. Over the past couple of antagonistic contests at times it has become easier to identify what we find so noisome about the Americans not by making reference to the golfers, but with a quick, telling shot of their regiment of wives, blonde, implacable überdamen.

There is something about them that antagonises the Europeans, or more specifically the British. The froideur has been growing for about 20 years now, since Muirfield in 1985. At the Belfry in 1993, British newspapers made astringent references to their Stars and Stripes, their cheerleader routines, the impossibility of telling them apart. On home soil at Brookline, Massachusetts in 1999, the Stepford wives comparisons were rife. The uniform supplied by the wife of the US team captain didn't help, as each of the four days of the competition was characterised by the parade of the clones to the first tee.

European antipathy reached its zenith when some of the wives joined the US team's premature jig of joy on the 17th green after Justin Leonard had sunk a putt. It was bad enough having the putting surface damaged by golf spikes without high heels getting in on the action.

In 2002, piqued by criticisms that they had looked like a bunch of Barbie dolls, the wives got serious. They turned up at the Belfry in blue polo necks, calf-length skirts and tailored jackets with a silver star in the lapel, like sensitive businesswoman who had been told they had to toughen up their act. The steeliness lasted a couple of days until they broke just like little girls as their partners headed towards defeat.

Now they have become a focus of interest almost to the exclusion of their homely, sweater-wearing spouses. Next Friday in Michigan, Hal Sutton's team will march past and the cameras will pan to the wives with the sort of feverish sartorial interest usually reserved for the Milan catwalks. Europeans will do what Europeans do best, and sneer.

Part of the reason is that the European wives can't compete. That's nothing to do with an absence of pulchritude, rather cultural disparity. Trying to get a Swede, an Englishwoman, a Spaniard and a German to agree on anything is tricky enough; asking them to adopt identical hairstyles, expressions and outfits would be an exercise in futility. In 2002 there was an effort to match the American style, but it was half-hearted, characterised perhaps by Sergio Garcia's decision to invite his mum in place of his girlfriend, Martina Hingis.

This is where the cultural chasm opens up. Back in Brookline five years ago, the name of the course was the Country Club, two words that for many Americans of the affluent or aspirant, conservative, God-fearing, Bush-voting kind amount to a whole way of life. This is the social circuit that spawns the golf spouses, their world revolving around the husband, the Lord, Dr Atkins and the hairdresser with the bottle of Doris Day tint.

If sport mirrors its society, the American Ryder Cup team is the perfect reflection of pleased-with-itself suburban America. Those who dismiss the fragrant blondes clinging to arms of their million-dollar husbands as trophy wives are overlooking the whole sporting culture of the US, where the prettiest, blondest cheerleaders date the outstanding athletes from their earliest teen years. It's a form of all-American natural selection, and the Country Club is just where the gene-pools merge.

We scowl in Britain because golf was devised as a sport that lasted long enough to guarantee men a respite from domestic duties. There are many clubs that still deny women the right to go into the bar, let alone step inside the hallowed ropes and cheer a 12-foot putt. That's the bedrock of our suspicion of those American wives. That, and their daunting erotic allure.

Peter Alliss, the honeyed voice of the clubhouse buffer, remembers Ryder Cups from five decades ago, when the British wives were at home making the tea, while the Americans brought their women. "We always marvelled at how attractive they were and well turned out in mink coats and diamonds and high heels."

Mink coats are unlikely to be in evidence in Michigan, although the high-profile presence of the wives will continue to be a feature until some determined old-school figure becomes a captain. Jack Nicklaus has been a little disparaging in the past, pointing out that the competition is "between two teams of guys. I don't think the wives need to be in the middle."

The present US captain is more positive. "Wives are very important in the Ryder Cup, because we feel pretty alone out there. It's you against the world," Sutton said. The former European captain Sam Torrance concurred, suggesting that the wives provide a useful ally against the pressure of the tournament. (It might be pertinent that he is married to Suzanne Danielle, a former actress.)

One certainty is that the cameras will be there to observe. The other certainty is that any American success will be immediately greeted with a beaming hug and kiss with the waiting wife. (Just make sure you kiss the right one, guys).

The unpalatable truth is that the European game of the troubled loner has become the American pastime of the family man. The European team includes a high-profile exception. Colin Montgomerie's ex-wife Eimear was once the belle of the European wives party, more gracious and beautiful than any of the opposition clones. Now Colin broods alone.

It's not difficult to imagine him stepping up to that first tee, and looking askance at the baker's dozen of toned blondes sitting just inside the ropes, all grinning nervously, showing perfect teeth, wondering if the camera is on them. And Colin glowers as only an Ayrshire-bred Scotsman can, steps up and smites the golf ball harder and straighter than ever before.

THE EUROPEAN TEAM

Key players: Caroline, wife of Padraig Harrington; Alison, wife of Paul McGinley, pictured right; Jocelyn Hefner, the American girlfriend of Paul Casey; Vikki, wife of the captain Bernhard Langer, pictured far right.

What they wear: Armani, Prada, Christian Dior, Valentino, Yves St Laurent and John Galliano. Some let the side down with cardigans, beige wool tops and frumpy skirts. They are also partial to pashminas with "Ryder Cup" embroidered on one edge.

Hair colour: Subtle auburn, blonde highlights.

Self-indulgences: Groomed during one Ryder Cup by Daniel Galvin hairdressers and Maggie Hunt, one of the world's leading make-up artists.

Teeth colour: NHS off-white (if they can find a dentist).

Where they go on holiday: Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Ravello.

Favourite meal: Grilled tuna salad, glass of white, pudding, but only if everyone else is having one

Where they live: Surrey, Malaga, Berkshire, Woburn

Jobs: Showjumping, having children, personal assistant to the Queen's private secretary.

Favourite film: Fahrenheit 9/11.

THE AMERICAN TEAM

Key players: Elin Nordegren, fiancée of Tiger Woods, Tabitha (pictured right), wife of Jim Furyk, Amy, wife of Chad Campbell, Ashley, wife of Captain Hal Sutton

What they wear: A uniform, as a sign of solidarity while on foreign soil. It has often earned them comparisons to Barbie. Tend to favour designer shades, but these are seldom worn on their noses.

Hair colour: Blonde

Teeth colour: Snow-blind white

Self-indulgences: At a party hosted by Hasso Plattner, the billionaire owner of the Fancourt golf estate in South Africa and host of the Presidents Cup, items ranging from a R1.3million (£109,716) diamond to a R157,000 (£13,246) paid of ear studs were reported to have been snapped up from a jewellery stand by the golfers' wives.

Jobs: modelling, charity work, having children, breeding horses.

Where they live: Charlotte, North Carolina, Rancho Santa Fe, California, Elizabethtown, Kentucky

Where they holiday: (US) Virgin Islands, the Hamptons.

Favourite film: The Stepford Wives

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