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Might the Ryder Cup opt for four-play?
The last Ryder Cup was a tremendous spectacle, so much so that it’s easy to forget the havoc caused by the weather. But might that God-given factor affect the manner in which future matches are played

In this column the last time around, we looked at the issue of the likely venues for the Ryder Cup matches in Europe in the near future. Apart from anything else, it seems probable that the matches will not be returning to the UK any time soon after the match is staged at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014. No, the whole system is now set up in a proper fashion, with a formal bid-process structure in place. As we know from the stories surrounding England’s bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018, that is more a sure-fire recipe for controversy rather than a guarantee of pats on the back for administrative transparency. (What’s more, I’m sure that any of the five candidates in the Ryder Cup ring would be less than impressed to be dismissed with as few as two votes out of 22 in their favour.)

We shall see how this all pans out, beginning next April when we learn the identity of the host venue for (coincidentally) 2018. More immediately, it seems changes may be afoot regarding how the matches are contested.

In a recent piece in the Daily Mail, Derek Lawrenson quoted Richard Hills, the Ryder Cup director for the European Tour, saying this of the idea of a four-day Ryder Cup. “A lot of people seemed to like it [the four days at Celtic Manor]. The first step is to take soundings from the players in January and then there will be discussions at the Masters in April.” Depending on how those discussions unfolded, there might even be a possibility of the change being made in time for the match at Medinah, Chicago, in 2012, when José Maria Olazábal is favourite to be the European captain.

However, when talking to the press during the frequent and at times seemingly interminable rain delays at Celtic Manor, Joe Steranka of the PGA of America said those charged with operating the Ryder Cup were very aware that the three-day format was integral to maintaining the incredible, almost totemic, intensity of the competition.

The solution found this past October, after Friday’s near horror storms, in order best to complete the stipulated 28 matches – six series of foursomes followed by another two foursomes and then four more fourballs so as to do the requisite job in the most efficient time – was acceptable because of the atrocious weather, but it did remove arguably the most demanding decision the captains have to make. They effectively went from the first session of play until the end of the contest without having to make a significantly strategic choice as to which players they rated the highest; which of them they felt they could most afford to sit out a series of matches.

(Having said that, Colin Montgomerie was manifestly spot-on with his choice of Graeme McDowell to represent Europe in the bottom singles.)

On the other hand, planning on going to four days would seriously diminish the risk of the elements becoming a major factor in determining the outcome of events. Not least, it has to be said, the pace of play at modern Ryder Cups (as opposed to the weather at Celtic Manor) has become not so much torrential as glacial. The fourballs routinely take so long that Wagner’s Ring Cycle sometimes seems a quicker option. Even with good weather rather than near-permanent gloaming, a late September or early October date in northern Europe makes squeezing in four fourballs and four foursomes a tricky task on any given day.

If precedent counts for much in this context, nothing is set in stone. Between the Ryder Cup’s inception in 1927 until 1959, only 12 points were at stake in every match (although I have to admit that I can’t envisage 36-hole matches becoming the norm again) and the whole thing was completed in two days. The famous tied match at Royal Birkdale in 1969 was one of several thereafter contested with 32 points at stake, a hyper-inflationary ratcheting up of the points available.

At Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1977, the final match before the Great Britain & Ireland team was supplemented by continental golfers, only 20 points were played for. Since then, the advent of a European entity in the match, 28 points has been the number in play, 14½ the target to win.

There is also this, of course. A four-day rather than a three-day Ryder Cup might enable the relevant organisations to make, should we say, a third more income than they do now. But surely no one would take that into account. Would they?

January 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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