Countdown to the Ryder Cup: Jolly green giant-killers cast triumphant shadow in Europe's greatest moments

Stout hearts of Ireland's golfers beat strongest when driving to victory over the US, writes James Corrigan at the K Club
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Nobody markets themselves quite like the Irish. They hold the monopoly on drinking, folk music and rugged coastline. And of course, the Ryder Cup. Actually, those wily leprechauns in the PR department have had a rather simple task in convincing the world of the last fact, as the Blarney Army have indeed had a stranglehold on the Ryder Cup; obviously not the entirety of this match between a continent and a superpower, but certainly its pivotal moments.

Christy O'Connor Jnr, Eamonn Darcy, Philip Walton, Paul McGinley... these are the men who most famously won the Ryder Cup for Europe in the past two decades and they are the heroes wrapped in the tricolour of folklore.

Of course, it does not matter much whether this week's central character is blessed with green blood or not as the green blood of the land will define it as Irish anyway. But that is not to rule out that a Padraig Harrington or (whisper it) a Darren Clarke will make those smiling Irish eyes weep with the patriotic perfection of it all come Sunday evening.

In fact, Darcy seems convinced that is nothing short of an inevitability. "Tell me, has it been coincidence, destiny, or simply fate?" asks the maestro of Muirfield Village, when scanning back through the Ryder Cup's recent history books and seeing the overwhelming Irish influence.

"When you think of all the wonderful players we have played with and against in the Ryder Cup, they were world-beaters. Don't get me wrong, we were good, solid players, yet we were often the ones thrown up on to the hot seat. And, thankfully, we came through."

To prove his point, Darcy is willing to go through the individual cases of the jolly green giant-killers to show the uncanny nature of it all. "When we won in America in 1995, Philip missed a little putt on the 17th to close out the Ryder Cup, then it all came down to the last hole and we won it there, in front of everybody, instead. It was as if it was meant to happen that way.

"And what about me in 1987 when [Ben] Crenshaw had that 12-footer up the hill on the 18th when we were on the verge of our first away victory? After breaking his putter earlier on in the round Ben was using his one-iron on the greens, for Jeep's sake, and if he had missed my tricky six-footer downhill wouldn't have been as nearly as important and as I'd already, essentially, have won. I know Christy's two-iron was a little different as it was to retain the trophy rather than win it [the sides drew 14-14] but it was such a wonderful shot and completely took the wind out of [Fred] Couples' and America's sails.

"And then we had Paul holing the winning putt across the 18th green at the Belfry in 2002 after a series of events which included Paul Azinger holing his bunker shot at the last to keep the whole match alive a little while longer to allow Paul the glory. It's like the scripts were already written."

As Darcy mentioned, the best evidence of a celestial green quill being at work is that none of the Irish match-winners were among the star names on their respective teams. In fact, it is fair to say that all of them scraped into the starting line-ups and were expected to be making up the numbers and not the legend.

Furthermore, it is not as if Ireland has a pedigree of golfing talent rich enough to justify their Ryder strike-rate. True, such names as Christy O'Connor and Harry Bradshaw are fit to grace any roll of honour but the cold statistics say that the island has only one major winner to boast about - Max Faulkner at the Open in 1951. There have been a few World Cup wins also to get all nostalgic about - O'Connor and Bradshaw in 1958 and McGinley and Harrington in 1997 - but it has often seemed that they are the only nationality who bother to get worked up about the criminally underrated event. Even the champions, themselves, realise this.

"We did go madder than anyone else when we won, but I think it's a small-country syndrome and when we do get a hero we tend to raise him to the stars," Harrington said.

But how does that account for the anomaly of Irishmen winning the Ryder Cup? "Well, perhaps it's because we all love team events and thrive on them," Harrington ventured. "Everybody in Ireland follows Ireland in all team sports and that inspires us. Personally, I love team events and play in any I can. The camaraderie, the craic as we call it, is right up our street. No wonder so many of our mob have done so well in the Ryder Cup."

Harrington, however, does not share Darcy's faith in Good Lady Fortune to continue here saving the best for the Emerald Isle. Like all of Irish golf he sees this week as more than just the staging of the world's third biggest sporting event, but as a once-in-a-generation chance that cannot be wasted. The astute Dubliner is not talking about the £85m the Ryder Cup is worth to the Irish economy or even the many millions it is to the Irish golfing infrastructure.

In these first two days of practice here at the Palmer Course, Harrington has recognised something far more lasting to get excited about. "You know the one thing I've noticed is that this is not just a golf tournament coming to town when only golfers get up for it," he said. "Non-golfers are interested, too. The whole purpose of this friendly exhibition is to promote the game outside of the normal arena and it's certainly succeeding in doing that in Ireland.

"Take an example out there today. I was going down a fairway and a kid shouted 'mister'. You just wouldn't hear that at a golf event. He's a kid that probably wouldn't have got into golf without coming here this week. And who's to know where his interest and those of others like him will end up?"

Probably, on the final green at a Ryder Cup venue holing the winning putt. Doing an O'Connor Jnr, a Darcy, a Walton, a McGinley...

Forecast favours Europe after gales ruffle Americans

Criticisms of the course chosen to stage the Ryder Cup in Ireland were looking a bit foolish here yesterday. In fact, if anything was dismantled in the high winds which blighted the second day of practice, it was the theory that the K Club is an American-style layout which will suit the visitors.

"This weather gives us the edge," said Europe's Sergio Garcia, almost giggling himself silly as the gales continued to rage and the American team became more and more ruffled. So much for the Palmer Course suiting them. They looked about as suitable as a bride with her dress blown up around her midriff.

Of course, the unpredictability of Mother Nature means that the conditions could still turn out to be benign when the match begins tomorrow and the fears of those such as Peter Alliss will be realised. The BBC commentator is not so worried by the organisers playing into the Americans' hands by choosing a parkland course over a links course as their reasons for doing it.

"The greatest course to stage the Ryder Cup for the first time in Ireland would have been Portmarnock, but the European Tour have sold it to the highest bidder," said Alliss. "And with it their souls."

James Corrigan

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