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FIRST-PERSON: Golf event seeks renewed dignity

MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)–The Ryder Cup might be the most exciting event in golf. No other tournament has provided quite as much drama over the past few years as the biennial showdown between the United States and Europe.

This year’s Ryder Cup should be no different. Although delayed a year because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the tournament will pit the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, David Duval and other Americans against Europeans like Sergio Garcia, Jesper Parnevik, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie.

All the elements are in place for a thrilling weekend of match play. Let’s just hope this year’s Ryder Cup features something that was sorely lacking from the 1999 version — sportsmanship.

Here’s a bit of a recap. Trailing by a seemingly insurmountable four points going into Sunday’s matches, the United States stormed back. Justin Leonard nailed a 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to seal the victory for the Americans.

That’s when it got ugly. Golf is normally a game known for its etiquette and decorum, but this time it quickly degenerated into something akin to the WWF when the American players, their wives and their caddies all charged across the 17th green in a frenzied celebration. Europe’s Jose Maria Olazabal could have tied the match if he had made a 25-footer on number 17. But he missed the putt — after the American victory party had died down.

“It’s about the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” Europe’s assistant captain Sam Torrance was quoted as saying in an ESPN story following the Ryder Cup. “This is not sour grapes. The whole American team, and spectators ran right across the green over Olly’s line. He still has a putt to tie the hole. We could still take the Ryder Cup home. It was disgusting.”

Indeed it was. The Americans have since apologized repeatedly for their behavioral breach, as they should have. They violated one of the practices that sets golf apart from most other sports, and their lack of composure was a stain on the country in the eyes of many Europeans.

The Europeans, however, aren’t blameless in the matter. While Americans may be seen as people who have no respect for what’s proper and orderly, Europeans can often be considered too uptight and stuffy. The Americans apologized, and it should have ended there. But the Europeans have continued to whine and complain about the actions of the American team long after the tournament was over. Instead of acting so childish, they should have been men about the ordeal and gotten over it.

Maybe it’s because the tragedy of Sept. 11 has put a different perspective on things, but team captains — Curtis Strange for the United States and Torrance for Europe — have promised to curtail the emotional outbursts that have become increasingly common over the past few years. They say the Ryder Cup will return to its roots, when golfers played for the enjoyment of competition and acted like gentlemen throughout.

That’s fine with most of the golfers, including Woods.

“The edge has been taken off the tournament a little bit, and I think it’s going to be a good thing for the Ryder Cup,” Woods said in a story on espn.com. “I think we’re going to see how it used to be played. Granted, this is a competition between Europe and the United States, but this is supposed to be a celebration of golf. It’s not life or death, and I think that’s what a lot of the public, and as well as the press, make it out to be, and even some of the players.”

Restoring the class, dignity and sportsmanship to one of the best competitions in the world will only make the Ryder Cup better. But it’s a shame it may have taken a catastrophe like Sept. 11 for golfers to realize that.
Ellsworth writes this column from his home in Mulkeytown, Ill. His column appears weekly at BPSports, www.bpsports.net.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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