As cups go in sporting circles these days, doing whatever cups do, like getting glanced at by wheezing, gray-haired gentlemen in blazers or being dusted off and polished by the help, the one known as the Ryder has hardly ever been more than a demitasse in the public mind compared to the Davis in tennis or the Stanley in hockey or the World in soccer, or even the America's in sleeping—er, sailing. The Ryder Cup belongs to professional golf and while the competition for it between the U.S. and the British used to be fairly even, depending on how much Walter Hagen had to drink, it has long since become a biennial interlude in which Jack Nicklaus and his fellow Americans show a bunch of guys from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland where the Vs are supposed to point.
Last week at Laurel Valley in the dark hills of western Pennsylvania, the U.S. was represented by Captain Arnie and his Flying Birdie Machine, the strongest team ever assembled if you counted major championships won, money accumulated, tour titles collected and all that. Among the 12 American all-stars were such people as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Billy Casper, Gene Littler and Al Geiberger as sort of an unspoken first string, with a bench of Bob Murphy, Ray Floyd, J. C. Snead and Lou Graham. Against this, the British sent Tony Jacklin, Peter Oosterhuis and several nice chaps answering to Brian, Eamonn, Maurice and Bernard. It was said to be Britain's youngest and worst team, and the only way the three-day event could even be close would be if Palmer, a nonplaying leader, sent his troops into combat with hickory shafts and guttapercha balls.
Even that might not have done much more than hold down the score. As it turned out, the Americans were as good on the long, rain-drenched swales of Laurel Valley as they were on paper. Rather than take the whole thing for granted and perhaps get sloppy, they were admirably enthusiastic, wearing their uniforms properly, hanging around together, cheering for each other and going out to fire so much blazing good golf that they had the matches won almost before they learned how to pronounce half of the visitors' names.
The Ryder Cup matches, which are held every two years either at home or abroad, are as different from, say, the Citrus Open, as golf is from cycling. In simple terms, there are two days of doubles matches and one day of singles, and the doubles are played in two different ways. There are foursomes, in which a Nicklaus and a Weiskopf will hit alternate shots against a British pair—if Jack drives, Tom hits to the green, etc.—and there is best ball, with which Americans are more familiar: two against two, low score on each hole wins. In all, the Ryder Cup is played for a total of 32 points, 16 in doubles and 16 in singles.
In testimony to the power of the U.S. team, Tony Jacklin said before it began, "If we don't score more than nine points that's the Ryder Cup equivalent of a butt-kicking. If we win, then we ought to be knighted."
Well, the matches were over at just about the time everyone thought they would be. When Weiskopf closed out Guy Hunt 5 and 3 Sunday morning, the Americans had 17 points, more than necessary to hold the cup. There were nine matches left, including all eight in the afternoon, but they were important only as far as individual pride was concerned.
In many ways there was more drama surrounding the naming of our lineup for the first event on Friday morning than there was about anything that might follow. Which players would Captain Arnie pair together, what logic would he use, what uniforms would they wear, who would sit out? That first event, after the solemn opening ceremonies, would be the alternate shot thing, a style of golf which most Americans refer to, inaccurately, as "Scotch foursomes."
Palmer insisted he did not ask his team for volunteers to sit out the first match, and he claimed he did not seek their advice on whom they wanted to play with. The captain insisted this was true long after he had been sighted having private conversations with Nicklaus and others. One thing he did ask, however, was whether Billy Casper had "slept well." Casper, who was setting a record by being in his eighth Ryder Cup, blew the opening ceremony at 7:30 a.m. He did not get to hear a local band play the national anthems. Casper might have overslept because he already knew that, along with Graham, Floyd and Murphy, he was not playing.
Palmer was amusing on the subject of how he arrived at his pairings. Nicklaus and Weiskopf were together because "Jack inspires Tom." Trevino and J. C. Snead were together because "they're best friends—and nobody else can play with Lee." Irwin and Littler were together because "they're both quiet." And Miller and Geiberger were together because "they're both tall."
Those morning pairings of Palmer's turned out to be just dandy. Nicklaus and Weiskopf got the old U.S. of A. started off just swell by drowning Brian Barnes and Bernard Gallacher. They were five-under through 14 holes. Early on, it was clear that Irwin-Littler, playing Norman Wood and Maurice Bambridge, and Miller-Geiberger against Jacklin and Oosterhuis, would have no problems. Trevino and Snead trailed Tommy Horton and John O'Leary for a while, being one-down through 11 holes.