Right now it feels like being eight years old again, having just had the best Christmas Day ever, with the best presents ever, then wandering down on Boxing Day to find what could be an even better present lying still wrapped under the tree. We’ve had the Olympics, and the Paralympics; a Briton won the Tour de France; a Belfast boy won the PGA; and now a Scotsman has won Olympic gold at Wimbledon and then the US Open at Flushing Meadow. And meanwhile the Test cricket side was battling it out with the best team in the world for the No. 1 position. All extraordinary; taken together pretty mind-blowing. And next week, almost creeping under the radar, is the Ryder Cup at Medinah, outside Chicago.
Europe have won only three times on American soil, but with José Maria Olazábal as captain could there be a spirit of Seve in the first Ryder Cup since the death of the European team’s spiritual father? This is the strongest ever Ryder Cup, and should be the best. All 24 players are ranked in the world’s top 35. The only time there’s been a stronger US team would have been in 1981 at Walton Heath, with Nicklaus, Watson, Miller, Trevino, Kite, Irwin and Crenshaw among others — all Major champions — but the Europeans weren’t anything like as good as today and we were duly whipped.
Of today’s Europe team, Sergio Garcia is back in form, Rory McIlroy just can’t stop trousering enormous winner’s pay cheques, and Westwood and all the others are in decent nick. There do not seem to be any of those players you won’t be able to remember in a few years’ time — whatever happened to Philip Walton, who sank the match-winning putt in 1995? If it was measured purely in Majors, the US would be home by a mile, with 23 to Europe’s six, though our trans-atlantic cousins would look a damn sight feebler without Tiger Woods’s haul of 14. And for once this US team clearly doesn’t feel they are there to be cheer-leaders for Tiger; and it will make them a much tougher unit.
It’s good to have a Ryder Cup in the US in election year, too. Obama loves his golf, and aides are reportedly worried that he spent too much time on the golf course and not enough in the West Wing, though the brilliant TV series The Newsroom has convincingly disputed those figures. Bush father and son have been to Ryder Cups, Pop to the Belfry in 2002 for the match postponed after 9/11. His boys lost. And Dubya of course famously said ‘Now watch this drive’ after briefing the media about the hunt for bin Laden from the first tee of his local course.
Clinton was and is a passionate golfer, and was never averse to a bit of sharp practice. He took ‘mulligans’ galore (the peculiar American system where you arrange for a certain number of free shots for each player) and would pick up any ball within 6ft of the hole, claiming it as a ‘gimme’. One weekend he had booked Jack Nicklaus to play with him. Nicklaus got so exasperated by his opponent’s relaxed approach to the rules on the first day, that when Clinton hooked his opening tee shot on the Sunday and nonchalantly set up another ball free of charge, he grabbed Clinton by the arm and said, ‘Mr President, why don’t we just play golf today?’
In a recent interview the Test captain Alastair Cook talked about the cricketing talent, past and present, available to England: ‘Straussy, Trotty, Belly, Swanny, Finny, Broady and Matt Prior….’ Well of course Priory means something else altogether, but clearly you improve your chances of playing for England if your name can take a ‘y’ on the end. (Must be why I’ve never got picked.) Anderson? Well, no prob, he’s ‘Jimmy’. Eoin Morgan? Hmm, tricky. ‘Paddy’? Somehow I doubt it.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times