CHASKA, Minn. — Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin were a big part of the Ryder Cup’s opening ceremony on Thursday, each of them serving as a reminder that while this competition may be fierce, it should be conducted with both honor and integrity. There are some things, they pointed out, that are bigger than golf. Nicklaus conceding a 2-foot putt to Jacklin at Royal Birkdale in 1969 — ending the match in a tie when a miss would have given the United States the Ryder Cup outright — is now considered one of the most important moments in the history of the event.
While this is a nice reminder, and perhaps an important lesson we should always keep in the back of our minds, let us now offer a few words in praise of Ryder Cup trash talk.
Ryder Cup trash talk takes brotherly twist
Danny Willett’s brother just gave American golf fans one more reason to turn up the volume for Team USA at the Ryder Cup.
Clarke on the defensive after Willett abuse of U.S. fans
Danny Willett’s brother Pete has caused a stir at the Ryder Cup with an abusive blog about Team USA fans.
Willett remarks branded ‘horrible, embarrassing, insane’
The last thing Team Europe captain Darren Clarke needed was some stupid remarks riling the American fans, says former Ryder Cup skipper Mark James.
Just because the two teams agree to be friends afterward does not mean they can’t exchange some friendly barbs in the buildup to the event. It’s become increasingly absurd when people try to shame the players into acting like boring robots. The Ryder Cup is one of the best events in sports specifically because it can get a little heated, specifically because it’s not just a clash of personalities but also a clash of cultures.
England’s Danny Willett found himself on the business end of some of that shaming this week after his brother, Peter, penned an article for National Club Golfer that mocked American fans as “fat, stupid, greedy, classless bastards.” Willett and European captain Darren Clarke repeatedly mentioned how disappointed they were with the column and that it did not represent the views of Team Europe. They didn’t want to give American fans the wrong idea and apologized repeatedly. The controversy, silly as it was, even appeared to play a role in Clarke’s decision to sit Willett for the Friday morning session of foursomes.
Frankly, I wish Willett hadn’t apologized. I wish he’d fully embraced the role of Ryder Cup villain. Ian Poulter wouldn’t have apologized. Patrick Reed wouldn’t have apologized. I don’t think, for a second, that Seve Ballesteros would have apologized either. They would have soaked up the negative energy and produced some amazing golf. Willett certainly wasn’t shy about taking a little dig at Jordan Spieth in April, retweeting a photo of Spieth looking shell-shocked during the green jacket ceremony in Butler Cabin after the Masters, so I wish he’d just own it.
Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson have learned to own it over the years. Mickelson got in a clever dig at McIlroy and Graham McDowell in 2014 when he mentioned prior to the start of competition that one of Team USA’s strengths was “we don’t litigate against one another,” an obvious reference to a legal dispute between McIlroy and McDowell after their management company dissolved. And McIlroy couldn’t resist throwing a barb at Team USA this time around after he was asked about captain Davis Love III‘s comment this was the best American team ever assembled. “Definitely assembled the best task force ever, that’s for sure,” he said.
No one blinks an eye in football or basketball when teams goad one another or try to get under one another’s skin. It’s become part of the buildup to every NBA Finals and every Super Bowl, but when it comes to golf, it’s often seen as an ungentlemanly act, an affront to the gracious spirit of the game.
That nonsense. The Ryder Cup has always been at its best when the competition has gotten a little heated, the celebrations a little too rowdy, like when the United States went bonkers and ran on the green after Justin Leonard‘s putt in 1999, or when the Europeans were dancing in a conga line around the 18th green after they won the Ryder Cup on U.S. soil for the first time in 1987 at Muirfield Village.
We’ve talked a lot this week about how gracious Arnold Palmer was, how he made everyone feel loved when in his presence, but there is another side to Palmer that was an important part of his legacy too: He was a relentless competitor who wasn’t afraid of anyone in his prime. In 1963, Palmer was both the captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team and a participant, and he was so confident in his squad, he told the press prior to the tournament: “This team would beat the rest of the world combined.” He was likely right. The United States went on and won 23-9.
So bring on the trash talk. Dial up the intensity. That too can be a tribute to Palmer.
Shake hands when it’s over, and then start crafting a few barbs for 2018.