Most of the casual observers of golf here find the Ryder Cup's matchplay format as puzzling as the absence of prize-money

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The Independent Online
More pertinent than anything else you can say about the Ryder Cup is that it still does not mean very much to the majority in our former transatlantic colonies. Other than locally, by which I mean the host city of Rochester, it receives scant attention in American newspapers. For example, the New York Post which puts out 14 sports pages daily has yet to give the event a mention.

Another pointer to American sporting tastes generally is that NBC, who are televising the Ryder Cup in conjunction with Sky, have suspended coverage on Saturday in favour of college football. What you may think to be a curious state of affairs is emphasised by the fact that Sky, at a cost of around pounds 500,000 is maintaining continuity for British viewers.

A thing to remember is that most of the casual observers of golf in this vast theatre of operations find the Ryder Cup's matchplay format as puzzling as the absence of prize-money. A widespread view, and I have to say typical, is that if the guys are not out there attempting to improve their bank balances what is the point of playing.

It has been suggested that the Ryder Cup first penetrated America's sporting consciousness when it was no longer a walkover against players selected from Great Britain and Ireland but a real match involving such notables as Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Jose-Maria Olazabal. This is on a 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 subway," I recall a cynical New Yorker saying.

You see, we can be as insular in our view of some things, as a great number of Americans are about the world generally.

That the Ryder Cup has indeed gained in importance over here is probably due to American toilers in the sportswriting profession. The US captain, Lanny Wadkins, can find no other reason for an upsurge in interest. "Down the years, all our players have thought the Ryder Cup to be a great event, but it didn't take off until you people discovered it," he could be heard saying to them this week. "I remember in 1977, who was likely to be selected coming up in conversation with Gene Littler when we were in a play-off. That's how important it was to us."

A few differences are quite staggering. This week's match has attracted hundreds of reporters worldwide, facilities are excellent and all tickets were sold within a few hours of going on offer.

Indeed, the Ryder Cup is barely recognisable from 20 years ago when Great Britain and Ireland were defeated 21-11 at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania. Then you could have walked the course without finding any difficulty in observation. Only small groups followed the matches. A golf enthusiast who had taken a week off to serve as the driver of a courtesy car, actually posed the question: "Tell me, what is the Ryder Cup?"

Press facilities were of the barest. A few small tables, no television, no leaderboard. As I remember it, all but two of maybe a dozen reporters were British. A common assumption was that the US players were taking a week's rest from the tour. Hardly referred to in print, the Ryder Cup was dismissed as a quaint anachronism. Even when Brian Barnes saw off Jack Nicklaus twice in the singles, only the British got excited. "Guess Jack couldn't concentrate," an American bystander said. "Next week he'll be back to the real business."

As Wadkins stressed this week, that was far from being the true nature of things. "All the players who had taken part in the Ryder Cup, guys like Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Tommy Bolt, would speak about it," he said. "They all had stories and I grew up with wanting to play a part. There's a lot of pride involved. It's representing your country, a team effort, a great honour."

Recently, some players, including Ballesteros, have complained about the emphasis given to the Ryder Cup in golf reporting. "We're sick and tired of hearing about it," is, more or less, what they have been saying. "The players don't build it up, you people do," Wadkins added. Well you can't have it both ways, Lanny.

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