Golf

Ryder Cup battle lines are being drawn out between players v officials

Ryder Cup battle lines are being drawn out between the players vs officials… at the heart of the debate is whether it can really take place without fans

    Four months to go to the Ryder Cup and, as ever, the battle lines are being finely drawn, and the speculation ramped up. The composition of the two opposing sides is coming into sharp focus.

    What’s different this time is that the two sides are not Europe versus America. It’s the players versus the administrators, over whether the contest should take place at all in late September at Whistling Straits.

    At the heart of the matter is whether a meaningful Ryder Cup can take place without fans. The administrators want to see what the game looks like without spectators when the PGA Tour resumes in the middle of next month, and are urging everyone to keep their counsel until then.

    There are doubts over whether the Ryder Cup, which Europe hope to retain, should take place

    For once, it is not Europe vs America… but instead the players against the administrators

    The PGA of America – who run the contest when staged in the US – want to keep their options open because they’ve bills to pay and cottage industries to think about. They tried to keep the ball rolling by wheeling out a couple of vice-captain picks last week.

    The PGA Tour – a separate body, running the most powerful circuit in world golf – will not want the Ryder Cup postponed for a year, because that would have a knock-on effect for their own Presidents Cup affair in 2021, when a US team takes on the Rest of the World.

    On this side of the Atlantic, captain Padraig Harrington suddenly changed tune and started talking about the Ryder Cup having to take ‘one for the team.’

    Paul McGinley, a member of the Ryder Cup committee, heaped praise on a BBC blog by golf correspondent Iain Carter that painted a rosy picture of people still leaping around their living rooms even if the contest is played without fans.

    At the heart of the matter is whether a meaningful Ryder Cup can take place without fans

    How would the players react to all this subtle coercion? Would they come on board with the move towards reserving judgement? Last week, we had the answer. The two best players on either side dug their heels in. Brooks Koepka said he mightn’t even bother playing if there were no fans. Rory McIlroy said it would be unfair to ask players to turn up in such circumstances for a contest in which they would be reluctant participants.

    You can see both sides of the argument although, as so often these days, it’s McIlroy who presents the most persuasive case. After all the momentum built up by a string of compelling Ryder Cups, there would be a real danger of causing lasting damage with a soulless charade.

    No doubt the debate will rumble on for another month or so, although this might end up as one of those old-fashioned one-sided Ryder Cups. It’s hard to see how the administrators can win if the players remain resolute that they will not walk alone in Wisconsin.

    WE’RE STARTING TO SEE HOW THE TOURS WILL WORK 

    A vision of how golf will operate for the foreseeable future moved into view with the charity skins game in Florida on Sunday night, and it was clearly workable. As far as regular PGA Tour golf goes, I think we can cope without the hospitality structures that sometimes lead to the players receiving outrageous free drops, and the boozed-up sections of the American crowd shouting weird remarks every time a golf ball is airborne.

    Sure, we’ll miss the usual atmosphere at the weekend, but the fields will be strong and the first couple of venues are two of the best on tour in Colonial in Texas and Harbour Town links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

    Perhaps the clincher was the sight of world number one Rory McIlroy, clearly in his element at simply playing again. What a reminder that was of what we’ve been missing.

    Rory McIlroy celebrates with Dustin Johnson after winning the charity skins event in Florida

    Meanwhile, on the European Tour, there has been only silence in recent weeks as they try to put together a revised schedule. Expect an announcement before the end of the month, with a behind-closed-doors British Masters kicking things off a week earlier than currently scheduled in July.

    All told, the revised schedule should run for five months featuring around 21 events, including a run in the British Isles in August and a strong cluster of tournaments in October. But it’s a sobering reminder of the effects of the pandemic that half of those tournaments are likely to feature total prize money in the region of the $1.1 million that McIlroy won for his charity on Sunday night simply for a shot that finished closest to the pin. 

    QUOTE OF THE WEEK

    ‘You’re going to have a Masters pretty soon that will be a little unusual. There will be slightly less than the usual crowds that you have. We want to see the big crowds but right now that’s not what they’re planning.’

    US President Donald Trump, speaking during the charity Skins game telecast on Sunday, offering perhaps a sneak insight into what we can expect at Augusta National this November.




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