Ryder, Brooke and a last word on Arnie

No point in my echoing anything to the thousands of words written about the Ryder Cup… except three things… I was glad that the US won, even though I was, as always, rooting for Europe.  The Ryder Cup, as a competition, needed a US victory, for the good of the event, the parity of the competition, and the continued support of US viewers.

Secondly, I tip my hat to Sergio and Phil for their incredible match… to Rory and Patrick Reed for providing some excitement (albeit bordering on nastiness at times)… and above all, to Zach Johnson for being such a good sport and good sportsman.  His post-match compliments about his singles opponent, Matthew Fitzpatrick, reassured me that at least someone on the US team understands the importance of acknowledging and praising your opponent.

And finally, I was very impressed with the Hazeltine Golf Club (pictured above), which I had always had the impression wasn’t much of a course.  It looked awesome and played well.  But I’m really excited that the next Ryder Cup is being played outside of Paris.  At last, a European golf course!

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While the Ryder Cup had everyone’s attention, I was keeping an eye on the LPGA this weekend.  The ladies were playing in China, several time zones away, and in case you didn’t notice, Brooke Henderson was right up at the top for the first three days.  A so-so final round had her finish T-4, albeit 21 under par, which is an amazing score.  Brooke stays at number 3 on the LPGA Money List with $1.514 million… quite a season!

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In all the thousands of tributes paid to Arnold Palmer since his passing last week (and there can never be enough tributes to that man), one statement came up a few times in the ones that I read.  And that was the view that Arnold made golf universally popular, where it had only been a marginal, country club game before that.

There may be SOME truth in that position, but I think many people exaggerate Arnie’s influence in the area of popular participation.  His arrival definitely coincided with the advent of golf on television, and started a phenomenal boost in audience ratings.   But golf had been televised since the early 1950s.  Some of you may remember the famous coverage of Lew Worsham holing a blind, 100-yard wedge shot to win the Tam O’Shanter World Championship by one stroke, in 1953.  This was the first network broadcast of a golf event, and it was about as spectacular a debut as you could imagine.

To think that golf only attracted a fringe crowd, and minimal publicity, before Arnie arrived is just not accurate.  You may have noticed some footage of Bobby Jones winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur at Interlaken, in Minnesota, on the Ryder Cup telecast on Saturday.  It was clear that there were at least 20,000 people around the green back then, and it was in the middle of the course.  And remember that Jones had, I believe, TWO ticker tape parades in New York City that year, with crowds six-deep along the sidewalk and hanging out of buildings.

When my mother died over twenty years ago, my brothers and I found a few canisters of film that we never knew existed, in her basement.  It was super-8 footage that her father had shot in the 1920s, a real rarity for individuals back then.  Included in all the family picnic-type shots was about five extraordinary minutes of footage of a golf exhibition that my grandparents and some friends attended in Pinehurst, North Carolina, in 1923 or 24.   It featured four women players, and there had to have been at least 10,000 people watching them play.

Who these women were is, sadly, lost in the sands of time.  I mentioned this footage and the mystery of who these ladies were to a well-connected American friend of mine a few years ago.  He said that the only person alive who might be able to identify these women would be Peggy Kirk Bell, a giant of Women’s Golf, who lives in Pinehurst and, I believe, still owns Southern Pines, one of the fine courses in that historic resort.  I promised to dig out the videotape (we had the film transferred years ago) and send it off to Miss Bell, who’s still teeing it up at age 94, but alas, the cassette seems to have disappeared, and the treasure that I owned may well be buried for the rest of time.

But the point is, golf was entrenched in American popularity by the time President Taft became a regular player well over 100 years ago.  Arnie gave it a shot of heroin, to be sure, but millions were already addicted.

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