The Ryder Cup: call it a soap opera for men

Ryder Cup fans will be cheering for either Europe or the United States, but what about the rest of the world?

Ryder Cup fans will be cheering for either Europe or the United States, but what about the rest of the world?

And now comes a familiar but screwball sporting event, the one in which tough-gutted men get huffy and weirdly nervous and even bizarrely patriotic over a 17-inch trophy that has its elegance but does not tell us much.

It is the biennial Ryder Cup, and even to someone who adores golf - hi - it is like watching two fusspot cats from far-flung neighbourhoods convene to have a banquet and a spat.

You watch, sure, but you do not expect that the outcome will have much significance except to the cats or to family members of the cats or to pro-cat extremists.

Yet somehow this golf team competition has sprouted into a goofy mastodon on the calendar even though it manages both to remain provincial in a globalised world and to pit an apple against an orange.

If it were not so pernickety, it really could benefit from some grand and global redesign, the way the European Tour has gained liveliness from its fresh Race To Dubai concept. In case you do not know, which at times in Ryder Cup history would have been blissful, the Ryder Cup has one side known as "the United States", representing a country. It has an opposing side known as "Europe", representing a continent.

With loathing the other side such a beautiful part of sport, this event suffers from oblong loathing. While it is easy to loathe a country from time to time, it is much trickier attempting to loathe a whole continent with the possible exception of Antarctica, which some might loathe in full over personal climate preferences.

If that sounds eccentric, so is the Ryder Cup. Some say the idea came from a journalist, and everyone knows those people never have any ideas, but the official Ryder Cup history claims it hatched in 1920 from a circulation representative at a golf magazine.

A team called "Great Britain" played "the United States" beginning in 1927, and once people figured out that one of those entities was a lot larger than the other one so kept winning in near-dullness, a team called "Great Britain and Ireland" began playing "the United States" in 1973.

When humankind steadily ascertained that even when adding Ireland, the United States remained decidedly larger, "the United States" began having to oppose "Europe" in 1979, when "Europe" could bring along one Severiano Ballesteros but still did not win until 1985.

Now Europe has 731 million people to 302 million for the United States, which could make "the United States" wonder during the European domination of 1995-2006 why it could not incorporate Canada, South Africa or maybe even Fiji.

Meanwhile, as golf oozed its way around the world, the Ryder Cup thrived mysteriously even as its very construct excluded four other inhabitable continents plus 22 of North America's 23 countries.

Since 2000, men from places other than Europe and the United States have won 13 of the 44 major tournaments. The current top 50 players include 13 from six different countries who by design cannot participate in the Ryder Cup, so seeing this regularity, the world had to go and invent a "Presidents Cup," which pits "the United States" against "International", which translates loosely as "every other place in the world except Europe".

It is also hard to muster loathing for "International". In that light and others, the Ryder Cup's growth in noise and coverage seems mysterious. It is often good television, but its last episode in 2008, with a loud US victory, earned a US television rating of 3.3, which means 3.3 per cent of all television households tuned in for the catfight.

That is well below ratings for the majors - as it should be - and wee next to the American football Super Bowl's 46.5 last February.

Maybe we could help out the uncommonly nervous participants. Maybe we could have helped avert embarrassments such as the current US captain, Corey Pavin, wearing a military-camouflage cap in 1991 or teammate Paul Azinger that same year relating victory to that in war and stating absurdly, "American pride is back," as if 90 per cent of the people had even noticed or would look to team golf to replenish lost pride.

Maybe somebody should go around whispering it is not that big a deal. It does carry charms. In 2004 while "Europe" destroyed "the United States" in Michigan, the 150 or so patrons at the Dunvegan Hotel in St Andrews, Scotland, hilariously obeyed QUIET signs when Colin Montgomerie lined up a putt 5,600km away.

It curiously unites Scotland and England. And it makes fun little dynamics like when Nigel Farage, the member of the European parliament and British UK Independence Party and outspoken Euro-sceptic, said in 2006 he roots heartily for "Europe" but bristles whenever the "disgusting blue EU flag" appears during television coverage.

It just does not prove much sport-wise. It does not tell us which players are better or which tour is better. File it among "soap operas for males".

Maybe it could benefit from some sort of newfangled construct incorporating the entire globe, though then I might worry sympathetically about the underrepresentation of Antarctica.