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.
Captain Arnie was a bit concerned. He had ridden up on a cart to say to Lee and J.C.: "I don't particularly like your position at the moment."
So J.C. took matters into his own hands and holed out a 50-foot bunker shot on the 13th and a 25-foot putt on the 14th to put him and Trevino ahead to stay.
The Americans celebrated their 4-0 lead by having lunch with their wives and each other instead of agents and corporate execs. And they continued to engage in what passed for fired-up chatter. "Wouldn't it be great if we could beat 'em 32-0," Weiskopf said. Overhearing this, a British journalist said with sarcasm: "Yes, just bloody marvelous."
Weiskopf was in the process of becoming one of the 1975 Ryder Cup heroes. He played brilliantly throughout the three days, winning all of his matches (Graham would play almost as well in terms of low scoring and winning), and he claimed that it was going out with Nicklaus the first day that had put him in the proper mood.
Hitting the very first tee shot for America, Weiskopf flew his drive into a bunker. Nicklaus would have to play it out. Jack smiled as they went off down the fairway and said, "That was good thinking, T. These fairways are soggy and I'll have a better lie in the sand."
Later Weiskopf detailed a conversation he had with Nicklaus on the 12th hole. "He's the most positive guy that ever lived," Weiskopf said. "I hit a shot about 25 feet from the cup and I said, 'You can make that, can't you, Bear? You ever miss one that short?' Jack stared at me in all seriousness and said, 'I've never missed one in my mind. The ball doesn't always go in the cup, but I didn't miss it.' " Nicklaus made the 25-footer, incidentally. But then the U.S. team did not do too much of anything wrong.
Weiskopf's totals were imposing. After he teamed with Nicklaus to win the first match 5 and 4, he paired with Graham, and on Saturday, Miller, winning both times. And when he took the clincher Sunday morning he was six under par. Thus Weiskopf was undefeated and untied, always winning so easily he never saw the 17th tee. Moreover, in the two sessions he sat out, he was in the gallery rooting for his teammates.
Although the final score was a 21 to 11 U.S. rout, the visitors were not without a couple of mini-heroes. Oosterhuis defeated Miller and Snead in singles and teamed with Jacklin to defeat Casper and Floyd and get a draw with Casper and Miller.
And there was Brian Barnes, a big pleasant Scot who drives long and smokes a pipe even longer. He will forever be able to tell of that Sunday in Pennsylvania when he twice beat Jack Nicklaus (4 and 2, 2 and 1). Barnes, of course, can leave out the fact that the Ryder Cup was no longer a contest when he achieved this astonishing feat.
Somewhere in all this lies the real value of the present-day Ryder Cup matches. Anything that can get our heroes together sitting around in a grill room all dressed alike and being nice to each other is refreshing, if not necessary. For the British, it was an opportunity to compete head-to-head against the best golfers in the world, which is an honor if not necessarily a pleasure. And if their play did not lead to a sword touch on the shoulder, they avoided a boot in the behind. For the Americans, it was a chance to have some of the fun the game offers when the stake isn't $200,00.