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Commentary: Why Is The Ryder Cup So Special?

By Stephen Moskal, PGA   |   Sept. 24, 2012 at 5:02 PM
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History and tradition are always key elements to the making of a great event. Though the Ryder Cup has modest origins, its success reflects the enthusiasm of the businessman who donated the trophy, and in so doing, gave the competition its name: Samuel Ryder. His infatuation with golf was without bounds. In this respect, Samuel Ryder's spirit reflects that of all the golfers who undertake the challenges of learning the game.

Important Ryder Cup Dates:

1926 and 1927: The Ryder Cup started out as an unofficial contest between two professional teams from the U.S. and Britain. For convenience of scheduling, they played a match just prior to the Open Championship, which the Americans had already arrived for. The match was won by the British team. The event became official the next year when the first British team traveled to the U.S. to compete in Worcester, Massachusetts. This time, the Americans won.

1959-1977: Ten successive victories for the U.S. during this time period contributed to the decision to change the British team to one comprised of European golfers. The idea was backed by Jack Nicklaus and was adopted for the following contest of 1979.

1979: Although the U.S. won the first three Cups against the new European team, the addition of Seve Ballesteros to the Ryder Cup formula was one of the most important factors in making the Ryder Cup what it is today. The energy and emotion that Seve would devote to the Ryder Cup created some of the most exciting (and controversial) moments in the history of the event. Much like for Samuel Ryder himself, the Cup became a very personal matter for Seve. Though he didn't always agree with PGA Tour officials concerning eligibility, Ballesteros used the Ryder Cup to prove a point -- Europe was capable of producing golfers that could rival the great Americans.

It is in large part due to the energy and efforts of Seve that the Europeans now have the most victories since 1979.

1991's War by the Shore: The U.S. finally matched the enthusiasm that the European team had been showing in their three previous victories. One of the Cup's most dramatic ever finishes ensued as the matches stayed close throughout the final day. The American victory was not decided until the second-to-last match ended on a lipped-out, 6-foot putt by Bernard Langer.

The drama of the 1991 Ryder Cup and the jubilation of the victorious America team has set the tone for the event ever since.

History does not in and of itself make for a great event. The spectacle, unique format and star appeal of the matches create the perfect environment for compelling drama.

A Team Effort

As championship golf has become a 72-hole, individual, stroke-play routine, the Ryder Cup's team format adds a team element that golfers do not usually get a chance to experience. Even though the U.S. players have often been more exposed to team golf through university experience, they tend to play the mixed formats poorly. Nonetheless, the team aspect adds a dimension that is welcomed by all players after the grind of a season on tour "alone."

Add the pride that comes with playing for one's country (also lacking in golf as it has up to now remained excluded from the Olympics) and the drama essentially writes itself.

Match Play

One might think that match play would always make for good drama, but this is not the case. There are other match play events that are played during the year, but the uncertainty of the results that match play produces often keeps the stars out of the spotlight. Without the main stars being present, an event will always lack drama.

The Ryder Cup has a way of holding the stars hostage. Rarely does a player decide NOT to play in a Ryder Cup. The combination of match play and playing as part of a team adds an element of tension that players don't feel in any other event. Most of the champions agree that playing in the Ryder Cup isn't more stressful than playing in the majors, but it's definitely a different kind of stress. It is not the magnitude of the stress but the uniqueness of it that takes players out of their comfort zone and adds to the drama.

Great Golf

Of course, without great action, there would be no interest in any championship in any sport. I believe that the Ryder Cup provides an environment so unique that it creates the perfect environment for amazing, nearly miraculous, shotmaking. Despite all of the added pressures that comes with playing in the Ryder Cup, it is ultimately a liberating experience for the players.

Take a champion athlete -- while he is at the peak of his game -- out of his normal routine of playing against the course (as he does in stroke play). Have him compete head-to-head against one of his peers, play in front of and not against his friends in a team setting, and create a situation where winning and losing is all that matters without any real consequences for failure.

Then you have the ideal environment for a player to be able to forget about all that can go wrong and is actually forced to see only what is possible. When a champion athlete starts to imagine what is possible, he tends to make the impossible happen.

Above all, I believe what makes the Ryder Cup so spectaular is the amazing golf that is produced by placing the best players in the world in an environment that also allows them to tap into the raw talent often hampered by the normal grind of life on tour.

With so many of the players at the top of their game, this year's Ryder Cup promises to be one of the best ever.

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Stephen Moskal is currently the Director of Instruction for Golf Swing Exchange, an innovative on-line coaching platform whose goal is to revolutionize the ability for people to learn golf. A former professional golfer in Europe, Moskal turned pro in 1993 as a member of the French National Circuit and also spent time on the United Kingdom Mastercard Tour and the European Challenge Tour. Following a seven-year professional career, Moskal turned to teaching full-time in 1999. A 1990 graduate of Furman University with a degree in philosophy, Moskal was a four year letter winner with the Paladins and was a member of the academic honor roll. Most recently, Stephen studied under Top 100 instructor Mitchell Spearman, best known for working with major champions Nick Faldo and Ian Baker Finch. Stephen is also the Head Golf Coach at Marymount University in Arlington, VA.

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(United Press International's Commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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