The Ryder Cup: Can Chi-Town rival Bean Town?

By Wil Barnes

As Brendt Snedeker, the FedEx Cup Champion was rolling in his season-long victory final stroke, early falling maple leaves breezed across the green, a reality of autumn. Another reality of fall is the Ryder Cup, the best event in the game of golf. If you were at Brookline CC in Boston in 1999 you would know why. While we cherish our individual victors in single participant sports like golf and tennis, when you become team, represent your city, school or country, the feelings change. Championship takes on new meaning. The drama becomes electric. That’s why the Olympics are what they are. Team baby! In the case of the Ryder Cup team seems to be the winning factor, including the 13th player, in this case the fans at Medinah CC and the city of Chicago that could well be the difference. The only winning Ryder Cup team that Tiger Woods has ever been a member of is the 1999 squad that came from a considerable and seemingly insurmountable deficit on that Sunday (10-6) in what many consider one of the greatest comebacks in golf is not sports history

These two cities share some distinct similarities as in the tradition of great sports towns with rabid fans where rivalries reign; Red Sox vs. Yankees,  Cubs vs Cards, Packers vs. Dah Bears. Like Boston, Chicago is a golf nuts city where this weekend the chants of “USA! USA!” will ring across the fairways and through the trees. Whether Chi-Town can rival Bean-town remains to be seen. With the American squad trying to wrest the cup from the Euro’s for the second time since ’99 (2008 Valhalla), including the worst drubbing in 2004, 18 ½ to 9 ½. So we’ll see if a weekend in the Windy City is a remedy for victory.

Having had the opportunity to cover numerous Ryder Cups, let me share a little of how the affairs of Boston made it so phenomenal. First, one of the contributions by the city was allowing for anyone who had a ticket, pass or credential to the Ryder Cup free rides all weekend on the popular public trolley system referred to as the “T,” that traveled west from downtown out to Brookline, dropping passengers and fans right at the doorstep of the Country Club, a very nice gesture. The Red Sox were actually in the midst of a playoff race and were playing at Fenway against division rival Baltimore. With fall making its annual arrival the weather was sensational, clear, cool and breezy. My three person clan included two former Bostonians who then resided in Southern California. Our accommodations were first rate sharing a 3 bedroom condo on the Back Bay just minutes from downtown owned by a friend who made visits to Southern California each summer. With these locals, Boston was more than just a visit.

On the course the PGA of America had it set up beautifully both from the player’s standpoint and for the fans. Like Boston, Chicago is steeped in history and ethnicity, with many Irish, Polish, English, German and other foreign neighborhoods. Like most Ryder Cups, a major portion of the fans are from Europe, making the trip across the pond for the event, others taking the opportunity to visit relatives or friends. And this grows every two years as many new friendships are initiated at this biennial event. Like most major golf tournaments there nightly golf associated galas followed by trips downtown in search of fresh lobster and seafood, eventually strolling about Newbury Street and the array of bars and restaurants. Closing Daisy Buchanan’s became a nightly affair as did a couple of after hours in Chinatown for “cold tea.” It would be reasonable thinking to assume Michigan and Oak Avenues will take on a similar role this year. Oh, and it just so happens the Chicago White Sox are in the midst of a playoff race this season. Ironic?

At the conclusion of daily play and after the press conferences were over I made it a point to visit the Brookline Holiday Inn where the caddies from both sides were holed up. One night sadly it was the scene of an ugly brawl between a few drunken Bostonians who showed up on Saturday night to pummel Jerry Higginbothom “Higgie” for his allegiance in caddying for European star Sergio Garcia his regular loop on the Tour. It was Garcia’s first Ryder Cup being the youngest to ever play in one after a superb rookie season that included a Sunday duel with Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship that was ironically held at Medinah CC. The Holiday Inn bar there was a swarm of conversation between the two sides culminating on Saturday night. Just  a short while before making my way over, Captain Ben Crenshaw held an emotional press conference when he delivered the famous line while wiggling his finger at the corps of reporters stating emphatically, “I have a good feeling about tomorrow – That’s all I’m gonna say.” He then rose and exited the room. With a handful of copies of the Sunday pairings I arrived at the Holiday Inn where caddies were grabbing them up and returning to their beers for review. What makes this moment so memorable is immediately after I handed one to my friend Bruce Edwards, the late, longtime caddy for Tom Watson who was working as a captain’s assistant for Crenshaw, he immediately let out, “Oh I love these pairings,” as he ran toward a couple of the Euro caddies. Bruce had not seen the Crenshaw conference and after I let him on it, he was highly ignited, yelling across the bar, “Higgie you thought you got beat up last night, wait til tomorrow!” He was laughing out loud as he often did. Ironically it would be Bruce who was first to hug Justin Leonard after his winning putt on the 17th fell. Well, the first one after the imposter in the red shirt.

Sunday morning came and fans packed into the bleachers of the closing holes watching the action of big screens amusing themselves with song and drink, waiting for the groups to arrive. Other throngs were on the course following the action and the ever changing scoreboard. Inside the expansive International Pavilion, thousands were glued to the big screens, drinking and singing, many sporting kilts or wild radiant hats. Chants of USA! USA! were rivaled by the harmony of Ole, Ole, Ole Ole, the preferred song of European fans. With the Americans making their dramatic charge, the tension grew to a crescendo and when Leonard rolled in his 45-footer, well all hell broke loose, some of it later described as embarrassing and unfortunate when the players and some wives stormed the green prior to Jose Maria Olazabal attempting his tying putt. Still, the day belonged to the Americans and when Payne Stewart conceded his putt on the 18th to the much too often abused Colin Montgomery, it was time to ramp up the party.

Making my way with some members of the team and media off the final green, I noticed some players already on the second level of the clubhouse popping and spraying champagne, showering fellow teammates and the crowd below. I actually held onto Sport Illustrated Rick Reilly’s belt onto the lawn below where we smiled, laughed and marveled at the unfolding scene. It was hard to tell what was pouring more, emotions or the bubbly. The noise emanating from the huge gallery surrounding the green and clubhouse was astonishing. Outside of maybe when Tiger Woods aced the 16th hole at the 1997 Phoenix Open, it remains the loudest ever.

To the side of the clubhouse by the bag room, many of the Euro caddies were gathered preparing for the closing ceremonies. Some were complaining about the actions if the U.S. players on the infamous 17th hole, others were simply congratulatory. It took a while for those in charge to get the teams prepared for the closing ceremonies as more and more players and wives began appearing on the balcony of the clubhouse. It seemed like it would never end. Never in golf was a comeback of its kind ever achieved and these players weren’t about to let the party subside. Eventually the teams made their way to range where the Americans were handed the Cup. While thousands had already taken to the streets or the “T,” thousands more remained into the dark of night not wanting the feeling to end.

Our clan of four headed out for some dinner and drinks and one last visit to Daisy’s. While walking through the Marriott lobby, I passed Paddy Harrington who was signing an autograph for a young boy. I seized the moment to ask him what he thought of the actions of the Americans on the highly criticized 17th. He quietly said, “I thought it was a bit over the top actually. We all did.” The he paused. “Then again I suppose if we had come back from a similar deficit and it happened on our soil, my guess is we may have done the same thing.” The classy Irishman shook our hands and off he headed towards the exit, even sharing a smile in the midst of the devastating loss still so fresh.

There were plenty of over served and boisterous people walking the streets still chanting USA! USA!  as well as jovial Europeans who were licking their wounds while speaking of how great an event this Ryder Cup was. The historical comeback was sensational and most poignant of the weekend, but Boston showed off its ability to host a major golf event with such a sense of welcome shared by those of both sides. I never got to tell the story of our Red Sox experience of Friday night, a classic that is another story itself. The weekend in Massachusetts was memorable for sure and Chicago has a long way to go to match it. With the best roster of top players on both sides in the events history teeing it up this weekend, the possibility exists for another such historic Ryder Cup. Then again, for this one to equal Boston, that would only once in a blue moon. Oh, this weekend just happens to be the second full moon of September. How ironic?

They are all memorable and after what happened in Wales in 2010, the last weekend in September in Chi-town should have every golf fan excited about the massive potential for greatness. And that greatness is sure to be entertaining and thrilling as well as another historical one. With that said, to top it a 14-14 tie and Europe retains the Cup would generate quite a lot of discussion until they meet again in Scotland in 2014. It could happen.

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