In the run-up to the 2016 Ryder Cup, a friend of mine sat in a meeting during which a senior official on the American side wondered aloud about the possibility a U.S. team member might take a knee during the ceremonies. It was a laughable notion, as though the official believed Colin Kaepernick were protesting slow play or high taxes — those being the only issues on which PGA Tour players are apt to take a public stand.
That reality was reinforced last week as some of the world’s best golfers competed in the Saudi International, a tournament created solely to cast Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s regime in a positive light. The players received stout appearance fees, which was only fair since they had to navigate awkward questions about war crimes in Yemen and that bone saw murder in Istanbul. The payment was more for performing in the media than on the golf course, and the well-compensated chorus remained steady of voice all week.
When Rory McIlroy recently answered a routine question about his schedule for 2019, it was treated as golf’s equivalent of Brexit – a shocking and foolhardy distancing from Europe.
“I am starting my year off in the States and that will be the big focus of mine up until the end of August, and then we will assess from there,” he said. “I want to play against the strongest fields week-in and week-out, and for the most part of the season that is in America. If I want to continue to contend in the majors and to continue my journey back towards the top of the game, then that’s what I want to do.”
McIlroy was speaking at the European Tour’s season-ending event in Dubai and knew he would draw incoming fire for his candor.
“Everyone has to look out for themselves,” he said. “And next year, I’m looking out for me.”
The Ryder Cup had its share of weekend thrills for fans, but for players the drama began much earlier. Tuesday evening, to be exact. And not at Le Golf National but seven miles away at the Trianon Palace hotel, which was home to both the U.S. and European teams. That’s when officials from the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD) arrived unannounced to conduct random drug tests.
The players had reason to be surprised. It was the first time drug tests were administered at a Ryder Cup. That it happened in Paris should be less surprising. The French take their anti-doping laws seriously. That’s why Lance Armstrong now owns as many Tour de France victories as Jack Nicklaus.
I chatted recently with a caddie who had the misfortune of being grouped with one of the PGA Tour’s slowest players for the final round of an event in which his boss was contending. Just a few holes in, the twosome was put on the clock. The caddie, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, simmered quietly. The Tortoise quickened for exactly as long as the rules official remained and ground to a near-halt immediately after he departed. The caddie boiled over and angrily whispered directions to the Tortoise on how he ought to go forth and multiply.
Some folks will consider such a comment out of order. They’d be wrong.
A man gets accustomed to hearing that things are out of his reach when he stands just 5-feet, 4½ inches or when he’s the blue-collar son of a Welsh dairy farmer with dreams of making it in a black-tie world.
Ian Woosnam is both of those things, but Tuesday night — four decades after he took to the road chasing the European Tour in a beat-up VW camper van stocked with a frugal diet of baked beans — he arrives at a berth in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The European Tour’s ‘Golf Sixes’ format has a lot of positives—and a few things that could easily cheapen the product. I discussed the radical new tournament format on Golf Channel’s ‘Morning Drive’ with Whit Watson and Charlie Rymer.