George Bush searches for a decent swing as the hawks seek eagles in election year

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The Independent Online

If i had a bottom dollar, I would bet it on President George W Bush making political capital out of the United States winning the Ryder Cup this weekend. If they do win. Which remains a sizeable "if". But should it happen, Bush will feel entitled. His father's father, Prescott Bush, was secretary of the United States Golf Association, and his father's mother's father, George Herbert Walker, gave his name to the Walker Cup. So George W is golfing aristocracy. And he sure could do with a boost to his re-election campaign.

If i had a bottom dollar, I would bet it on President George W Bush making political capital out of the United States winning the Ryder Cup this weekend. If they do win. Which remains a sizeable "if". But should it happen, Bush will feel entitled. His father's father, Prescott Bush, was secretary of the United States Golf Association, and his father's mother's father, George Herbert Walker, gave his name to the Walker Cup. So George W is golfing aristocracy. And he sure could do with a boost to his re-election campaign.

Moreover, he wouldn't be the first politician to leap on the bandwagon of sporting success. There was a right old ruck and maul last November as MPs jostled to have their photograph taken with the Webb Ellis Cup.

Intriguingly, this is the first time the Ryder Cup has taken place in the same autumn as a US presidential election campaign. From the inaugural competition in 1927, to 1999, it was always held in years ending in odd numbers. Elections, as far as I am aware, have always fallen in even-numbered years.

But as you will recall, the 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed for 12 months because it was due to take place, at The Belfry, just a few weeks after the terrible events of 11 September. The American players, claiming slightly disingenuously that a sporting confrontation was inappropriate in the circumstances, declined to take part. The truth of the matter was that, perhaps understandably, they did not wish to cross the Atlantic.

Whether the 2001 contest would have gone ahead had it been taking place near Birmingham, Alabama, let's say, rather than Birmingham, England, is a moot point. Either way, because the staging of the Ryder Cup alternates between the US and Europe, the postponement three years ago means that, from now on, whenever it unfolds on American soil it will do so against the backdrop of an election campaign. This is significant, because a US victory in the Ryder Cup, if not this year then in future years, really might have political ramifications.

American sport is mostly a parochial affair, offering little outlet for nationalism. Obviously the Olympics are an exception but generally speaking the US is more accustomed to beating foreign countries with missiles than with bats or balls. Maybe that is why, even in such a relatively sedate game as golf, crude military imagery is sometimes invoked.

Before the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island - the so-called "War on the Shore" - Paul Azinger ventured over-excitedly that winning back the trophy would be like "going over there to thump the Iraqis".

Golf was prey to this hyperbole because it had an international dimension, which the most popular sports in America - football, basketball and baseball - do not. The sheer size of America has bred an insularity that the nation's sporting life reflects perfectly. Baseball's World Series, for example, is anything but.

Some weeks ago in these pages, incidentally, I defended American sport from the charge of absurd self-aggrandisement by explaining that the World Series is so called because it was originally sponsored by a newspaper called The World. Several readers have since e-mailed to tell me that I had fallen for an urban myth: in the case of the World Series, apparently, the charge of absurd self-aggrandisement sticks.

But the Ryder Cup offers a genuine opportunity for 12 patriotic Americans to beat 12 foreigners live on CBS Television, which brings me - with apologies to Hal Sutton, who feels that America has apologised enough - to Brookline 1999, when golf's supposed values of sportsmanship and decorum went conspicuously missing.

The American team that year was whipped into a patriotic frenzy by a pre-match address from the Governor of Texas, who read out a letter written by Colonel William Travis before the defence of the Alamo.

The message - "victory or death" - was appropriate for 200 Texans besieged by 3,000 Mexicans with guns; less so for 12 chaps in tasteless leisurewear about to play golf. But the Governor of Texas didn't see it that way. And that Governor is now the President.

It would be stretching a point to suggest that a US Ryder Cup win tomorrow would greatly improve Bush's prospects of a second term: golf isn't that popular over there, and besides, most golf enthusiasts in America are already confirmed Republicans.

Arnold Palmer was once assured by some of the richest conservatives in the country that they would back him to the limit if he decided to run for high political office.

But nor would victory at Oakland Hills do the Bush campaign any harm.

Whereas, if the pesky Europeans once again triumph on American soil, some folks might just decide to vote the other way, reasoning that maybe there'd be more chance of seizing back the Ryder Cup under a guy who served in Vietnam.

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