Ryder Cup: Cancelling makes sense

Read the following e-mails and weep. They are from people who believe that the Ryder Cup should not have been cancelled in the wake of the recent terrorists attacks on the United States.

Some background first. The Ryder Cup is a biennial event between teams of 12 pro golfers from the U.S. and Europe. It was to be held September 28 to 30 at The Belfry near Birmingham, England. The PGA of America decided not to send a U.S. team following the attacks, citing concerns over security and a general feeling that it was impossible and inappropriate to play the matches. European officials concurred, and the matches have been rescheduled for September 2002.

Privileged golfers?
“The terrorists must be cheering,” one correspondent wrote me. “Whatever is in the minds of privileged golfers that they believe themselves so important in the overall scheme of things?”

Somebody else wrote: “It is unbelievable that while other Americans are or will be using regular planes soon, these pro golfers somehow think they are better than the rest of their countrymen. How does this compare with the NFL, baseball and other sports?

I shuddered when I read these tters. I’ll address the points individually.

Golf’s biggest event
First, the cancellation of the Ryder Cup has nothing to do with so-called “privileged golfers” believing they are so important. The U.S. golfers in particular were quite properly concerned for their safety, not so much from flying but from the possibly horrible consequences of playing in the Ryder Cup.

The U.S. could well be engaged in military action by the end of the month when the Ryder Cup was scheduled to be played. The Ryder Cup is one of sport’s biggest international events nowadays, right up there with the World Cup of soccer and even of the Olympics. For sure it’s golf’s biggest event, an international team competition second to none.

Note that word “international.” Obviously the e-mailers don’t appreciate what this means. The Ryder Cup has become a huge event largely because of the passions generated because one country-the U.S.-plays against a continent-Europe. National pride is involved. Sometimes it’s been over the top, but the passion has been the very reason the Ryder Cup has become so big, so popular.

No competitive passion
So imagine how ludicrous it is to even think that this year’s Ryder Cup would have had any passion at all. How could it have any? No European fan would say, “Beat the U.S.A.,” or cheer when an American missed a crucial putt. No American could have possibly high-fived his playing partner after a good shot.

There’s no place for any of this now. The players know it. The officials know it. The fans know it. So you tell me, e-mailers, how it would be possible to hold the Ryder Cup this year.

There isn’t a golfer on either the U.S. or European team that feels like playing an international competition after the terrorist attacks. What does this have to do with thinking about players as “privileged” golfers, or players thinking they are “better than the rest of their countrymen?”

Tiger as target
And let’s be sure: The Ryder Cup would be an ideal place for terrorists who seek another venue for their mayhem. Tiger Woods is the most high-profile athlete in the world. He’s a target wherever he goes. Now is the time for extreme prudence, and that means not playing in the Ryder Cup.

Yet golfers are still flying this week. But they’re not flying to an international competition between teams from different countries. What they are doing is flying to, and playing in, regular medal play tournaments where teams aren’t involved.

The passion of a Ryder Cup isn’t there in the individual tournaments. It’s just golf, one player against the course and the field. It’s the regular kind of competition, just like in the NFL and in baseball and in other sports.

“You think about those people, what’s going to happen with everything for the future,” Curtis Strange, the U.S. Ryder Cup team captain, said from the PGA Tour event in Pennsylvania the week after the attacks. That is, how could anybody think about playing the Ryder Cup?

Not right time
Strange added that he knew some people felt the Ryder Cup would have been worth playing if only as a show of U.S. patriotism at this terrible time. “But on the other hand,” he said, “where they’re still digging out the rubble and everything with that, the people, it would have been really, really tough to get into.”

U.S. team member Paul Azinger had this to say: “From the European perspective, do you think they would have been motivated to beat the tar out of a bunch of Americans right now? Probably not.”

Definitely not. For that reason alone the Ryder Cup needed to be cancelled. It’s not the right time to play the matches. Let’s see how the world is in a year. Just now it’s hurting, and golf, even the Ryder Cup, especially the Ryder Cup, isn’t important. Maybe the people who e-mailed me will come around to this point of view. I hope so.