Inside the Ryder Cup, Where Champion Golfers and Hooligans Coexist
Writer Jim Finnegan shares his experience at the biennial men’s golf competition, which brings together the world’s top players and thousands of rowdy fans.
Photo by Jim Finnegan.
Experiencing a Ryder Cup—especially one on European soil—has always been on my golf bucket list. When I unexpectedly got that chance this past September, I took a left turn at the Louvre and headed out to Le Golf National course outside Paris for the first day of the biennial men's golf competition.
Because I’d originally planned to be in France a week prior, the serendipity of the change of plans put me right smack in the middle of Ryder Cup week—albeit with just one hurdle to overcome: a sold out event and no ticket. Sacré bleu!
I’d have to rely on my scalping wiles, which I’ve done in the past to gain entrance to the NBA Finals, Eagles playoff games and Bruce Springsteen concerts. Like the French culture I’d already been enjoying, the process was equally civilized. With my half-French and the scalper’s half-English, we settled on 80 euros. Minutes later, I was on a train toward Versailles and an 8 a.m. tee-off.
From a pure golfing perspective, the course was beautiful—even if was set up short and tight to favor the home team. The golf skills on display were as amazing as you’d expect from a lineup of the world’s best. The French were also gracious hosts, if not mildly amused by all the fuss this event generates.
What makes the Ryder Cup a must-see event is what happens around the course—the action both outside the ropes and in. For a few days every two years, the Tigers, Phils, Jordans and Rorys share the spotlight with 10 guys with horns on their heads. And it’s quite the spectacle.
I got the sense that the Ryder Cup is where golf gets to let its hair down a bit, as the individual sport becomes a team event. Mix in healthy doses of nationalism, alcohol (the French made sure there were as many champagne tents as beer tents) and a match-play format of multi-continental personalities, and you get pro golf’s version of the Super Bowl meets the Olympics for four days of match play.
In a sport that’s usually defined by individual play and vertical signs shushing us to be QUIET, the Ryder Cup brings us genuine camaraderie, with team and country first. Where else in in the sport can you see men dressed as Vikings, or in bright, matching European zoot suits, or in giant Uncle Sam hats, chanting, singing, drinking and taunting. Basically, I went to a golf match and an English Premier League soccer game broke out (apologies to Rodney Dangerfield).
The Ryder Cup is not an event for the thin-skinned. When the Americans would start their ubiquitous U-S-A chant, the Europeans would mockingly drown them out with the ABC song (“now we know our ABC’s”). When Paulina Gretzky followed boyfriend Dustin Johnson’s play along the course, some serenaded her with Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him.” When American golfer Tony Finau got a lucky bounce off the wooden bulkhead on the par-three 16th hole, caroming his tee shot five feet from the pin, the crowd chanted, “Nice wood!”
But this is golf, not football—and maybe because the sport’s fans are usually so well behaved and respectful, a little goes a long way. They’re still knowledgeable, quiet at the right time, and respectful of the game and its traditions. Maybe that’s why, every two years, the Ryder Cup makes golf fans seem like straight-A students having their first run-in with beer.
But the heck with beer, this is France. Où est la tente de champagne?