Ryder Cup: The free ticket that led to a special relationship

Serious sporting conflict can still have its cordial side. Dave Randall on a bridge across the water

Sunday 22 September 2002 00:00

One of the cruellest and most inaccurate remarks made about Americans abroad is that they have loud voices. This is absolutely not true. They have very loud voices, an entirely different matter altogether. And when I say very loud, I mean VERY LOUD.

Some, of course, can speak quietly, hardly ever rising above the level required for addressing an open-air crowd from three fields away, but others generate so many decibels that they can dispense with the telephone for local calls, and communicate with the deaf by sound waves alone.

It was one of these more powerful voices that jolted me out of my day-dreaming as I queued for a ticket at London's Euston Station one day in September 1989. "I don't believe it!" it yelled. And then added: "How the hell do I get a ticket for the Ryder Cup here!" People living three postal districts away must have heard this exclamation. I was a mere 20 feet away and caught it full blast. The railway official who had just told the owner of this very American voice that without a pass for The Belfrey he could not be sold a train ticket, had now backed off into the innermost recesses of his cubbyhole.

Thanks to an oversight by my newspaper, I was standing there with not one, but two, tickets for the bi-annual golfing grudge match between Europe and the United States. As the disappointed American walked away muttering to himself in a voice that echoed around the old station, my heart went out to him. "Excuse me," I said, "Would you like a ticket for the match?" He looked at me, then at the coveted piece of card I was holding , and then back at me. "How much?" he asked eagerly. "Nothing," I said, "free."

His mouth fell open and, for once, no sound came from it. "Please," I said, "be my guest." And I told him how it would be small return for the many favours Americans had done me when I was in their country. By the time I had finished, his mouth had closed and he was smiling. "This is great!" he said. "Name's Carl, what's yours?" I told him. "Hey Davy, we're gonna have one good day today." And with that he slapped me warmly on the shoulder. By the time we had got our tickets, drunk a coffee and were boarding the train, he was telling everyone within earshot that we were going to have a great day.

Over the first-class breakfast he insisted on buying, he told me about his work as a theatre producer, the meaning of life, and golf. He was fun. We laughed a lot, and people began giving the kind of disapproving looks the British reserve for anyone who seems to be having a good time. As Birmingham neared, I tried teaching him to say "Well done old boy" in a soft English voice and he coached me to whoop and yell "You're the man!" Even he, however, drew the line at "Get in the hole!" – especially when shouted as a tee shot is struck on a par five.

When we arrived, there was a bustling scene outside the station but no obvious means of getting the six miles to the course. "TAXI!" shouted Carl, and somewhere, in an adjacent postcode area, a cab driver must have heard him. Carl opened the door, got in, and told the man where we wanted to go. Despite not used to being addressed as "baby", he dutifully took us there.

Out on the course, we made an odd couple. With each success for his side, he would excitedly put his arm around my shoulder and say at full volume: "Don't look good for you, Davy!" Then, as the Europeans edged ahead, I'd smile at him and say, as softly as I could in my best Ealing Studios accent: "Oh dear Carl, what a very long way to come to lose a golf game." Then we'd both laugh.

The giggling stopped in the last half-hour as the tension became almost unbearable. Carl's language began to deteriorate. As the Couples v O'Connor match came down the last hole, one poor shot transformed his man from "Freddie baby!" to "That little schmuck", and, when the schmuck then hit his approach into the lake Carl let out an "Oh shit!" that may well have been heard across the Atlantic.

The match ended in a tie and we left the course slapping each on the back; me high on excitement, him on the considerable number of beers he had noisily swigged. We checked the complicated bets we'd struck earlierand found they worked out even too.

Then, in the first bad moment of the day, Carl asked me where we could get a cab. I looked at the thousands of people spilling into the street ahead of us and realised that even if there was a taxi line, it would be many hours before we would reach the front. At that moment, a car pulled up and a harassed-looking driver asked us: "Mr Robinson?" "That's us, baby," said Carl, banging on the roof We got in, began laughing and did not stop until we got to Euston. I wonder how Mr Robinson got home that day.

Even more I wonder where Carl is. And where, too, is the spirit of hard-fought but ultimately friendly contest that used to infect players and spectators alike at the Ryder Cup? Perished on the shores of Kiawah Island, I suspect. Let's see if we can revive it this year.

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