James Lawton: Calm after savage storm should induce a sense of perspective in Valhalla captains

A sports event is not the best reason for grown men to behave like teenagers

In the interests of perspective – a commodity not always rampantly apparent at the Ryder Cup – the captains of America and Europe might usefully open their first official team talks this morning with a weather report.

Well, perhaps not a full report – not all the depressions over the Ohio valley and the isobars and details of the last venomous gasps of Hurricane Ike – but maybe a brief reference to the fact that behind the massive clean-up here over the past 24 hours and the valiant efforts to get power back to a quarter of a million Kentuckians, there has been some gut-wrenching tragedy.

Among the fleeting stone-age inconveniences of trying to shave with the help of a suddenly prized flashlight and fantasising over a cup of warm coffee, there is indeed maybe the need for Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo to tell themselves and their players that if the Ryder Cup is a major sports event, and capable of inspiring great passion and wonderment at some exceptional skills, it should never misinterpreted as the outbreak of the third world war.

From time to time this has been a real danger and such fears have not exactly been soothed by the presence of Azinger and Faldo at the head of affairs.

Both men are imbued with more than average combative instincts and Azinger has clearly been charged with what he sees as a solemn duty of restoring native pride now that Europe appear to have taken what might be described as an iron grip on the tournament. It is one, of course, that the old St Albans garden seed salesman Sam Ryder saw mostly as the chance for golf professionals from either side of the Atlantic to get to know each other a little better – and also recover some of the pride that was inevitably lost when they were so often treated like junior members of the household staff.

Yet both men have offered re-assurance over recent days that their well known differences – largely based, we are told, on Azinger's belief that Faldo was less than compassionate after grinding the American to defeat on the last round of the Open at Muirfield in 1987 – will do nothing to reignite the bitterness of competition which reached its nadir at Kiawah Island in 1991 and Boston eight years later.

It is a resolve that will surely gain quite a bit of resonance in the ears of a community that, while not devastated like so many on the coast of Texas, has been reminded that winning or losing a sports event is perhaps not the best reason in the world for grown men to behave like overgrown teenagers.

That was certainly a legitimate accusation back in South Carolina when Corey Pavin and Steve Pate donned Desert Storm caps and whipped up their fans to ferocious levels of partisanship. Nor was it out of place when the late Payne Stewart remonstrated with American supporters for their treatment of Colin Montgomerie – and suggested that if the Ryder Cup was capable of provoking such extreme reactions he was not too sure he wanted much more to do with it.

Here, such reaction seemed unlikely on the beautiful morning after the storm had passed and repair work on the superb Valhalla course was briskly performed, most arduously on the 12th green, where a television tower came crashing down at the peak of Sunday's threshing final throes of the hurricane. Two years ago at the K Club in County Kildare, some kind of crashing edifice might have been welcome as a brief interlude in the triumphalism that hit comic levels when Europe's captain, Ian Woosnam, declared that we had just witnessed the greatest weekend in history – not golf history, just history.

On reflection, no doubt even Woosie conceded that the slaughter of the undermotivated Americans might have occupied a slightly lower rung of human achievement.

Here, though, it is not hard to understand the instinct of Jack Nicklaus when he says that American pride may be at the point where the possibility of a fourth straight defeat is likely to provoke the most serious resistance, with or without any of the psychological warfare that most expect Azinger to produce at some critical point.

Faldo, of course, has a needling instinct that is in a class of his own and it is maybe such realities that perhaps do point out the value of some reference to the rigours – and the heartbreak – suffered here in the last few days.

In the latter category nothing that happens on the golf course will impact remotely on the Louisville community as much as the fate of a 10-year-old boy named Frederick Wilson. A promising golfer, and grandson of a local celebrity broadcaster and gardening expert, he went out to work on the family lawn just before Hurricane Ike produced the last of its power. The branch of a tree was stripped away. It hit Frederick, fatally.

At the same time a version of the Ryder Cup known as the Humana Fightmaster was being concluded at Louisville's Cardinal Club. America beat Europe by 19 and a half points to eight and a half. In winds that reached 75mph the handicapped golfers were determined to finish the contest and, at the end of one of the most keenly fought singles, the American David Hensley called a penalty shot on himself on the final green. The game ended all square.

Of course, such gallantry was displayed in the Ryder Cup proper when Jack Nicklaus conceded a three-foot putt to Tony Jacklin, though some, charting what they see as an alarming descent into gamesmanship, believe that the 1969 incident might be part of ancient sports history.

Maybe, maybe not, but here certainly there is a sense that this is a match that, after all the years of fast-developing prestige, is in need of a new look at itself – a new gauging of where it is in relation to the image of golf as a game of manners and hard-won dignity.

As much as a sense of its own need for competitive maturity, though, is also the demand for a stronger sense of properly balanced competitive motivation. This, the suspicion must be, is where Azinger comes in and Faldo is on his guard.

The absence of Tiger Woods can never, on the face of it, benefit any team but perhaps it could just be the catalyst for renewed and more serious competition. Woods, famously, likened the concept of team golf to canoe racing – no good if your team-mates were not wielding the paddles powerfully enough. Azinger is likely to inject, into the honest cynicisms of one of sport's supreme individuals, some of the old American golf hauteur so pronounced in the primes of Hogan and Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson. There is, no doubt, a groundswell of belief here, shared by Nicklaus no less, that this is indeed America's time, when such thrusting young pros as Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan and the gung-ho local J B Holmes will come blazing off the first tees.

But then how hard it is to imagine Nick Faldo living comfortably with the idea that his own magnificent playing career, and record achievements in the Ryder Cup, would for ever carry the blemish that it was he who relaxed Europe's hold on the great old tournament.

Plainly, there will no easy concession of Europe's supremacy – a fact that is only underlined by the superb emergence of Ireland's Padraig Harrington. His lustre is so strong now that it compensates, surely, for the fact that Montgomerie, so long the force and the spirit of the European effort, is missing.

Yet beyond such pressures of competition, here in the calm that comes after the most violent of storms there is also that other hope – indeed, some of the Ryder Cup's fondest admirers would put it higher than this. It is really the need for this Ryder Cup to grow beyond some of its most recent expression. The obligation is to retain the best of its edge and gain, maybe, a little more sense of what it should mean to all those who watch it for the splendour of the stage and the skills it provides. Here, no doubt, such qualities will be saluted as warmly as ever. However, there will also, maybe inevitably, be some other demands, not least that the Ryder Cup, after all this time, should finally grow up.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'