So Much for a Gentleman’s Game
Decorum took a big hit on both sides of the ropes at the Ryder Cup
By Michael Bamberger
This 44th Ryder Cup, I fear, was another nail in the coffin for golf manners. Join me as we say last rites for the game’s decorum. It had a good run.
But before we lower the casket, Luke Donald, take a bow. Donald, European captain who in his 45 years has logged more days in Chicago than his native England, was modest, appropriate, proportional. You could not say the same of many others.
I wasn’t there. Maybe the Roman (and far beyond) spectators, born and raised on the intense passion of European football, took Ryder Cup fan participation to a level the matches have not seen before. But even from what we could see on TV, this was way too much, on both sides of the gallery ropes. While we’re at it: The Olé song is a bore. Are there no other lyrics to it?
As for the players: A golfer’s hands should go above his head when he is tipping his cap (if he has one!) to the crowd, and otherwise not at all. I know, I know, quaint. Now where is my last sleeve of Titleist 384s?
As for a caddie’s hands, I think we can all agree: We’re in an era, in every aspect of modern life, where people overstate and overrate their value. Keep ’em down. I blame the selfie, Instagram and all those Apple products that begin with a lowercase i.
Yes, Joe LaCava and his Saturday-on-18 moment. Not like him. I’ve known Joe for 35 years. He grew up on the New York (football) Giants. He runs hot—he cares!—and that has a lot to do with why Tiger Woods hired him after the separation with Steve Williams. In the fourth round of the 1989 Masters, LaCava was caddying for his cousin, Ken Green. Green was paired with Seve. On the 10th hole, Ballesteros was looking for relief. There was no way his lie warranted it and Green was heading over to Seve to tell him so. “You stay there,” Green said to Joe, motioning toward their ball. Ken knows Joe.
In a long, long career, LaCava has been a model for other caddies. He had a bad moment, there on the 18th green, with Rory McIlroy reading a putt that could determine the match’s outcome. Who among us has not? (I raise both hands high.) But caddies, in general, are too much a part of the show right now. The job is a supporting role.
Some of this angst goes back to the 1999 Ryder Cup. When Justin Leonard made a 45-footer on 17 on Sunday, all manner of U.S. team members went running on to the green in celebration. There was one big problem. There was nothing to celebrate yet. Jose Maria Olazabal (about the most courtly golfer ever) still had a 22-footer to halve the hole. His line was trampled.
Alistair Cooke, the erudite British writer, wrote a prescient piece soon after, entitled The Arrival of the Golf Hooligan. The Europeans did not forgive and forget. Human Nature 101.
Had it not been for the rise of LIV Golf and the liberal spending of PIF/Saudi billions, I believe Phil Mickelson would have been the captain of this 2023 U.S. team, and Tiger Woods would have been captain-in-training, or whatever role he wanted. Maybe Mickelson would have had two bites of the apple, ’23 in Italy and ’25 at Bethpage Black on Long Island, paving the way for Woods to have two teams, too, ’27 in Ireland and ’29 at Hazeltine National, some dairy farms away from downtown Minneapolis. Yes, lots of guesswork here.
In any event, Tiger had no role in this Ryder Cup. Had he wanted to be the team captain, the job was his. If wanted to be an adviser or an assistant captain or whatever, he would have done whatever he wished and the team would have been delighted to have him. He played no role at all. I’m going to take a guess here and suggest maybe Tiger could see a lopsided U.S. loss coming. Tiger (I don’t like to use this word) hates losing. He has said it many times. He (one last time) hates losing more than he likes winning. When he was the U.S. Presidents Cup captain in 2019 in Australia, and the U.S. squeaked out a win with outstanding Sunday play, he sat in the front of the team van on its way out, singing an old Queen hit with everybody else:
No time for losers,
’cause we are the champions—
of the world!
After the 19-9 win by the Americans in the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, you would have never seen this 2023 Ryder Cup coming. But you didn’t see the LIV Golf billions turning the sport upside-down, either.
Nobody on the European team had any LIV affiliation, and maybe that contributed to a sense of team unity. The Americans had one LIV player, Brooks Koepka. He took the LIV money, a blow to the PGA Tour, and still was chosen for the team. Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, both members of the ’21 U.S. team, went LIV and were shunned from this team, as was Mickelson. I don’t think you can overstate the LIV shadow over this event.
Team camaraderie shows up most clearly in alternate shot. Golf skill shows up most clearly in the Sunday singles. The two better-ball sessions show both.
In the two alternate-shot sessions, on Friday and Saturday morning, the Europeans went 4-0 and 3-1. That is a slaughterhouse.
In the two better-ball sessions, the Americans won by a combined 4½-3½. In other words, it was close.
The Sunday singles went 6-6. Closer yet.
• The two teams were closely matched, for pure talent;
• The Europeans had better we-are-family chemistry;
• The Europeans had home-field advantage and used it;
• The Americans had various weird things going on, including (but not limited to!) Cantlay’s absent hat and Tiger’s absent self, and those things hurt.
But the ultimate question is this: Is golf, global golf at its highest level, better because of this 2023 Ryder Cup in Italy?
The Europeans won, 16½-11½. Golf’s otherness took another hit.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]
Michael Bamberger was briefly a caddie on the PGA and European Tours, invented a golf club (the E-Club) that Lee Trevino used in his final British Open, spent 22 years as a writer at Sports Illustrated and joined the Firepit Collective in May 2022.
email: [email protected]