Scary Icons Create Tee Times

Whenever rain is in the forecast, even if it’s only a 20 percent chance of showers, play at my club goes way down. Seeing a thunderstorm icon in their web browser apparently causes many members to make non-golf plans for the day. On Sunday, twenty guys showed up for our regular game—a good turnout—but we had the course to ourselves until noon, I think because the Weather Channel icon that morning had lightning bolts in it. There was enough drizzle at one point to make me put on rain gloves, but there was never any lightning or even real rain, and the sun was shining by the time we finished. Our club’s website has a weather app. Maybe someone could modify it to show lightning bolts all the time.

In honor of the Ryder Cup, we used scorecards from Medinah, which Hacker (real name) had downloaded from the club’s website. (We did the same thing during the PGA Championship with scorecards from the Ocean Course at Kiawah.) The only real effect was to shuffle the holes where the handicap strokes fell, but using the scorecard of a major venue is a respectful way to acknowledge the efforts of the big boys, and, besides, variety is interesting.

We also randomly divided into Ryder Cup teams—ten guys representing the United States and ten representing Europe—and played five four-ball matches, for one point each. I was on the U.S. team, which won, 4½ points to ½. We all assumed that the real U.S. team would win, too, by annihilating the Europeans in the singles matches, in the afternoon. Imagine our surprise. The Sunday Morning Group’s record in using golf to predict important events is now 2-1-0; matches of ours correctly called the outcome of the 2008 presidential election and the 2012 Super Bowl.

We’ll play our Presidential Special game again on Election Day. It was created by Tim, who is the inventor of several core concepts, including negative skins, “shooting your pants,” and the mathematical formula by which we predict the winning team score in our regular Sunday games (13 minus the lowest handicap in the field, times -1). Half the field will represent Obama and half Romney, and each hole will have an Electoral College value equal to the sum of its number and its handicap stroke index.(Our 16th hole has a stroke index of 17, so it’s worth 33 electoral votes—16 plus 17.) An entire golf course adds up to 342 electoral votes—172 needed to win.

Future trivia question: Who made the winning putt in the 2012 Ryder Cup Matches? Answer: It wasn’t Martin Kaymer, whose 1-up victory over Steve Stricker guaranteed only a 14-14 tie (and thus a European “retention” of the trophy). The winning putt was the short par putt that Tiger Woods conceded to Francesco Molinari on the eighteenth hole, because their halved match gave Europe a 14½ -13½ victory. If Tiger had made his putt, 2012 would have been the third tie in Ryder Cup history.

The Best Way to Watch the Ryder Cup

No, that’s not a medical office building. It’s the premium grandstand beside the eighteenth green at the 1993 Ryder Cup, which was held at The Belfry, in England.

The best way to watch almost any golf tournament is on TV. That’s especially true of the Ryder Cup, because at any moment there’s hardly anything going on. I’ve been to just one Ryder Cup in person—in 1993, on the Brabazon course at The Belfry, in England—and it was a spectator’s nightmare. The most coveted seats, initially, were in an enclosed multistory grandstand beside the eighteenth green, and people who had passes for it began arriving long before the first match teed off. They then waited for almost twelve hours with nothing to watch except one another getting drunk, because on the first day only one of the eight matches—the afternoon four-ball between Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, for the Europeans, and Paul Azinger and Fred Couples, for the United States—made it to the eighteenth hole.

The Belfry, like most of the courses where the Europeans hold the Ryder Cup, is a dud. The nicest thing that Ron Whitten could find to say about it, in Golf Digest’s 1993 Ryder Cup preview, was that its blandness would prevent it from intruding on the golf—perhaps the faintest possible praise for a championship layout. It’s also the opposite of a stadium course. There are no hillsides or mounds for spectators to stand on, and in 1993 the trees  were way too small to climb. I saw one man standing on a paint can, which he had somehow smuggled past the guards at the gate, and I saw many people standing on small stools, also smuggled. Because the viewing opportunities were so meager, there were crowds surrounding the few available television sets. There was one in the Lloyd’s pharmacy tent, and one in the exhibition tent, and one in a rowdy refreshment tent near the tenth fairway. Medinah Country Club is far more spectator-friendly, but if you’re watching from home you should still count yourself lucky.

You should also be grateful that the broadcast isn’t being handled by the BBC. In 1993, Tom Kite would be putting for eagle somewhere, but on the screen you would see Colin Montgomerie practicing a putt he had just missed, or Nick Faldo standing by his golf bag, chatting with his caddie. The camera operators couldn’t track balls in the air and had trouble finding them when they were on the ground. The producers would suddenly cut to Barry Lane, picking him up in mid-follow-through, and the sound equipment on the course looked like Second World War surplus. The BBC has improved since then, but not enough. In the TV Cup, the USA wins every time.