Golf: Ryder Cup: A long way from Laurel Valley and a quaint competition

America fails to share Europe's addiction while world No 1 is determined to help hosts win event for first time in six years
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AT THE risk of coming across as more of a cynic than is good for any man, I feel obliged to report what an American friend in this dubious trade had to say when it was recently put to him that the Ryder Cup is generating enormous interest in our former transatlantic colonies. "I haven't heard many people speaking about it," he said.

Well, this is where I left it four years ago, that is to say the morning after Europe under Bernard Gallacher's captaincy defeated the USA at Oak Hill, New York. During a three-hour journey by rail from Rochester to Albany I mingled with fellow travellers seeking a line on how they felt about this blow to sporting prestige.

Of around a dozen questioned only two were aware that a great golfing event had taken place, never mind that the US had taken a beating. "Sorry, can't help you," one of the others said. "If our guys lost it must have been something they ate."

The trouble with covering an event like the Ryder Cup is that you can lose sight of the fact that there is a great big world beyond the sphere of operations.

It has been loosely concluded that the Ryder Cup first penetrated America's sporting consciousness when it was no longer a walkover against a team representing Great Britain and Ireland but a real match involving such notables from continental Europe as Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal. This is at par with the ludicrous idea of a nation in mourning when Australia sailed off with the America's Cup. "Yeah, well I didn't see any suicides on the E train," I remember a typical New Yorker saying.

Even for someone as passionate about golf as this reporter, the hyperbolic build up to the Ryder Cup on Sky Television and in some newspapers is a painful reminder of how easily perspective can be lost when reporting descends into a twilight of reason and language.

The argument of some American golfers, including Tiger Woods and his friend Mark O'Meara, that members of the US team should at least have a say in the dispersal of profits has brought up in the minds of many people the question of whether it is possible to maintain a Ryder Cup tradition exemplified by Jack Nicklaus's famous concession to Tony Jacklin of a difficult putt rather than let him run the risk of failing to secure a tie.

You only have to think about that memory for a moment to realise how much the Ryder Cup has changed, the extent to which it has been transformed by an explosion in the tele-communications industry.

It is barely recognisable from 20 years ago when Great Britain and Ireland were turned over 21-11 at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania. With no great encouragement from my employers at the Sunday Mirror I stopped off at Laurel Valley on the way to watch Muhammad Ali defend the world heavyweight championship against Joe Frazier in Manila.

This week's match at Brookline near Boston will be attended by around a thousand reporters worldwide, doubtless facilities will be excellent and all tickets were sold within days of going on offer.

Twenty four years ago it was possible to walk the fairways of Laurel Valley without any difficulties in observation. Only small groups followed the matches. I was driven to the course by a golf enthusiast who had taken a week off to drive a courtesy car. "Tell me, what is the Ryder Cup?" he asked.

Press facilities amounted to a few small tables, no television, no leaderboard. As I remember it, all but three of a dozen correspondents present were British. Barely referred to in American newspapers, the Ryder Cup was seen as a quaint sporting anachronism. Even when Brian Barnes saw off Nicklaus twice in the singles, only the British got excited. "Guess Jack wasn't concentrating," an American bystander said. "Next week he'll be back to the real business."

We have come a long way since then but nobody should run away with the idea that the Ryder Cup grips America's imagination as much as it does ours. Understandably big in the Boston prints and given prominence by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, it raises only mild interest elsewhere. The New York Daily News has carried only one Ryder Cup story in the past 12 days. "There is so much else going on," my friend said. "Pro football, college football and baseball building up to the World Series."

Invited to comment on the amount of attention given to the Ryder Cup in this part of the world, he groped around for an adjective and came up with "asinine".

Nice guy though, speaks well of everybody.