Golf’s Ryder Cup is uniquely irresistible. Like most show-stopping spectaculars, the biennial challenge boasts ‘a full supporting cast’, in this case the two distinctive dolled-up distaff teams — a shapely sorority of Stepford Sindies vs a bevy of Barbies — devoted cheerleaders geeing up their frowning fellows as they go about the sombrely obsessive business with mashie and putter. The phenomenon is a new one to international football, as the English learnt in the World Cup this summer when the late-night antics of the Wags — the players’ wives and girlfriends — were wincingly, shamelessly documented each morning by the London tabloids. But I was surprised this week to discover that America’s golfing Wags (though I assume more maturely and decorously) have a history when, by nice fluke, I came across this telling forecast in an ancient London Evening Standard of June 1937, before the sixth Ryder Cup teed off on the Southport and Ainsdale links. The paper’s tyro golfing writer predicted a home-side victory: ‘The nine-man foreign team’s distractions allow the British to begin the match on a general note of restrained optimism. The Americans have too many wives. Not that they have brought more than one each, but they have brought six in all, and it is my experience, or rather I have observed it to be other people’s, that women on these trips are an encumbrance equivalent roughly to conceding two shots per round.’ The writer was a 26-year-old bachelor, name of Henry Longhurst, wouldn’t you know. King Henry the First was way out, too — the US won the match in a stroll by 8–4.
Might the Wags tone it down a touch this year? Increasingly too ready show-stealers, dressed (and hair-dressed) identically, they daintily tiptoe the first couple of fairways to stand by their man as he fretfully wiggles and waggles and worries over his opening lie. Then back in the chauffered buggy to the beauty salon for a check and a change and a recharge before, as the finales begin to encircle the 18th hole, they will have Busby–Berkeleyed themselves into collect-ively strict and serried ranks around the apron of the green — all teeth and smiles, sexy sighs and squawks. To love and to cherish, in sickness and in health …and in sport. At Brookline, Boston, at the millennium match six autumns ago, ungallantly I wondered how many of the whooping spouses would still be attached to the same fellow when he teed off today in Ireland. I’d done the count for real at Kiawah Island’s notorious 1991 match in South Carolina — the ‘war on the shore’ — and of the 18 golfers who had also played the Ryder a decade earlier at Walton Heath 11 were already with different wives. At golf, it’s tough at the top for monogamy.
At Birkdale in 1969 and at 16–16, still the tie of ties, the best US player in the match was matey Florida veteran Dan Sikes. He said he wouldn’t be back, cheerfully confiding, ‘Unless it’s as one of my ex-wives …. At seven on the dot I’m on the first tee and beginning to sweat blood. As I get to the turn about 9.30 she’ll have opened an eye to ponder sleepily her first momentous decision of the day — whether to breakfast in bed or in the hotel coffee-shop. And just around the time I finish my 18 holes and I’m either wretchedly depressed or on a high of elation, well, she’s still carrying on her paroxysm of internal debate as to the eggs Benedict or the waffles.’