The Ryder Cup: Not Life and Death

“I hope these Ryder Cup matches will encourage people to try our great game. In that vein, we should remember that these matches are not life and death. Golf has to be played with a certain spirit of graciousness or it’s not golf at all…Let’s remember what we’re doing here…Nobody should confuse these matches with any kind of battle, except an athletic one.” —U.S. Team Captain Davis Love III at the Opening Ceremonies

After a long day of watching the exciting finale of the Ryder Cup on Sunday, I received one of those late night phone calls one always dreads. On the line was a friend telling me that Kevin—our big-hearted, bear-hugging high school classmate, good guy and longtime pal—had died earlier that day on a golf course in northern Michigan. In spite of lingering chest pains, Kevin had insisted on keeping his golf date and with plans afterwards to catch the Ryder Cup on television. (Note to all: Please see a doctor ASAP if you feel chest pains.)

At the course, Kevin and his friend were on the practice putting green. All of sudden, Kevin collapsed and fell to the ground. I can only imagine the shock, fear and chaos that happened next as course and emergency personnel attempted for over 45 minutes to revive Kevin. But he was gone. And right then, the always-spinning-take-it-for-granted world stopped and changed direction.

I share this story because it lent a timely slap-in-the-face perspective to the Ryder Cup. Yes, it’s an incredible sporting event and one that’s unrivaled for its emotion and excitement and drama. But as Davis Love III properly reminded us in the Opening Ceremonies, “these matches are not life and death.” It’s a game and an entertaining diversion from the more pressing issues of the day. And I must add: the finger-pointing, second-guessing and over-the-top punditry about how certain players and captains performed and underperformed bordered at times on the absurd. Come on, Man!

Events happened one way and not the other. Shots fell one way and not the other. Steve Stricker’s final putt on Saturday could have “lipped in” but it didn’t. Ian Poulter’s final putt on Saturday could have “lipped out” but it didn’t. Justin Rose’s momentous putt at 17 on Sunday could have just missed as did Phil Mickelson’s incredible chip shot only a few minutes before. Looking back and overanalyzing what could or should have transpired in the matches is a silly exercise. So long as the players gave it their utmost and showed in Love’s words—“heart and soul and leaving it all on the line”—that’s all that really matters.

As a member of the media, I’ve been privileged to cover seven Ryder Cups starting in 1987 at Muirfield Village in Columbus, Ohio when the Europeans won for the first time on American soil. My most cherished sporting event was covering the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline when the U.S. overcame a seemingly insurmountable four point deficit to win the matches in as stunning a fashion as did the Europeans on Sunday. I feel thankful to have been a part of both events and to witness how when individuals give it their all, amazing things can happen. Let’s leave it at that and forego the often unseemly dissection.

I’m also thankful for knowing Kevin, someone who loved golf and knew how it engendered good times and laughter and camaraderie.  Last Thursday at Medinah on the eve of the competition, Love said it best: “We started these matches on a note of friendship and we will end them the same way. In this world, we need all the friends we can find.”










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