Hats off to golf's Ryder Cup

Showdown between US and Europe unfolds this weekend

The major championships are big. The Ryder Cup is bigger. Golf's showcase event for transatlantic bragging rights tees off today on a course that goes by a threadbare name: The Country Club.

But it's no ordinary locale.

There's legend. The episode most relevant to this Ryder Cup involves onetime caddie Francis Ouimet. The unheralded Ouimet beat two of the best players in the game and broke Britain's hold on golf by winning the US Open here in 1913.

On these same storied fairways, the present American team hopes to emulate Ouimet and break Europe's domination in the Ryder Cup.

The American team reads like a Who's Who of contemporary golf: Tiger Woods, David Duval, Payne Stewart, Davis Love III, Mark O'Meara, Justin Leonard, and Jeff Maggert, among others.

The Europeans, meanwhile, are represented by Sergio Garcia, an affable and talented 19-year-old; Colin Montgomerie; Lee Westwood; Jose Maria Olazabal; and seven rookies. This low-key lineup is a striking contrast to the high-profile team of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, and Bernhard Langer who represented Europe for almost two decades.

American golfer Stewart appraised the no-name European team and kick-started the traditional war of words. "On paper, they shouldn't even be caddying for us," he recently told Golf Digest.

Europe has been the dark horse in eight of the last nine Ryder Cups. Yet they responded fabulously to win six of them, bringing accusations that the US team has little passion. Woods responded to charges, saying, "I don't go to a tournament to lose. I don't think any of these guys do either."

Whether Europe or America wins, the Ryder Cup will add to the growing profile of the sport. Ten years ago, it wasn't must-see TV. USA Television bought the broadcast rights, which no network wanted, for just $200,000. This year, NBC paid $13 million.

The crush of fans, 10 rows deep at the fourth hole during Tuesday's practice rounds, bespeaks golf's growing appeal. The process was set in motion by Bobby Jones in the '20s, accelerated by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in the '60s, and now is embodied in Tiger Woods.

Sometime over the next three days, golf's future will make its first appearance. The seemingly inevitable matchup: Woods versus Garcia.

Let the irons swing.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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