Of competition and intimidation – Ryder Cup musings

The word ‘intimidation’ has been thrown around a lot in golf in the last few weeks, and the embodiment of the word begins Friday in the form of the 39th playing of the Ryder Cup, at Medinah Country Club in Chicago.

Golf is an intimidating game – ask anyone who has played for anything more than just a good time with friends – but it’s a solitary game. There are rare moments where the individual pressure one feels is multiplied, but the biennial Ryder Cup is one of those moments.

Tiger Woods & Rory McIlroy (Image: Getty)

Beyond personal agendas, sponsorship, and prize money, the Ryder Cup sees players from two sides of the Atlantic come together in golf’s ultimate test, playing for their countries and their teammates.

For many years the Ryder Cup was a mere blip on the golfing calendar. A ho-hum matchup between the oft-talent laden American team against a usually weak Great Britain & Ireland team.

And then, on the legendary Jack Nicklaus’ suggestion, golf’s governing bodies decided to include all of continental Europe to the matches – Spain, Italy, etc –  and the times changed.

The European teams have been on an intimidating streak for many years. So much so, that the greatest golfer of the modern age, Tiger Woods, has only been on one winning American squad.

They’ve shellacked the Americans by nine full points – the largest margin of victory in the event’s long history – twice, both on home soil and in enemy territory.

There are only two players on the European team who sport losing records in overall Ryder Cup competition. Whilst on the American side, not a single member of their team has a winning record.

The Europeans also have in their possession “The Intimidator” himself, the number one player in the world, Rory McIlroy. A nickname coined by Tiger Woods, of all people, for young McIlroy after comments surfaced from the former number one Greg Norman saying that Woods was indeed “intimidated” by McIlroy.

Not so, said Woods in retort.

But now, a mere week after the media quarrel, the matches are set to begin. And the golf world waits to see if these titans will square off.

Will there be others who are intimidated, by the sights, the sounds, and the pressure?

Of course – take Luke Donald for instance. A hometown Chicago boy (although English, Donald now resides on the north-side of Chicago) and former world number one,  Donald pushed his opening drive at the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in Michigan 50 yards right of his intended target.

Talk about intimidation.

There will be a total of five rookies across both Ryder Cup teams – four on the United States team to only one on the European side – but most are battle tested champions in their own rights.

Will the nerves of these debuting men trump the skills that they have? Perhaps, but Davis Love III, the venerable captain of the American squad hungry for a victory, has the most intimidating factor of all going for him, in my opinion.

He set up the course to fit the eyes of his players, and I say, let them play. On Friday morning, send off the longest hitters in the world to do what they do best.

Whose hands will be on the Ryder Cup come Sunday? (Image: The Guardian)

Love has at his disposal three of the top-15 longest hitters in the game, along with Tiger Woods, to send out off the first tee Friday to intimidate the Europeans with opening shots of incredible length.

Down the fairway, swagger in their step, past their competitors – “Bubba Long” and “Driver Love” may have originated as marketing slogans, but they may end up being the deciding, intimidating, factor to determine whom the trophy gets raised by on Sunday.

Perhaps it will come down to who is the least intimidated, or perhaps history will repeat itself once again. Either way, it will be a fun couple of days in the windy city.

Swing away, gentlemen.

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