Sacre Blues Near Paris, an ambivalent European tour played on despite an uncertain future

September 30, 2001

A few pro golfers don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy
world, but no one escaped the fear and confusion in Europe last
week as war clouds gathered. In Paris, where the leaves were
beginning to turn crimson and gold, players at the 32nd Trophee
Lancome struggled with their emotions. The postponement of the
Ryder Cup, scheduled to be played this week in Sutton Coldfield,
England, had shaken their confidence and left them wondering if
tournament golf, as they know it, can continue. No loudspeakers
on trucks were announcing the imminent arrival of an occupying
army, but a notice on the doors of the empty party tent at
Saint-Nom-La-Breteche Golf Club conveyed the impact of the terror
attacks on the U.S. Due to les evenements dramatiques, the note
explained, all manifestations of a festive nature were annulees.
Canceled.

To the players of the European tour, who live in a world in which
the Scandinavian Masters follows the Dutch Open as surely as the
7th hole follows the 6th, the game suddenly seemed puerile, their
efforts insignificant. "There's a lot less laughter," said Colin
Montgomerie. "We are all quite flat, and it will take a number of
weeks, months, years to get back to where we were." During the
first round last Thursday, when a blast from an air horn signaled
players to stop for a minute of silence, the golfers bowed their
heads and stood motionless while it rained. Sergio Garcia, who
would win the tournament, said, "It was as if the sky was
crying."

The funereal mood was not confined to France. At the Belfry in
Sutton Coldfield, where organizers had been putting the finishing
touches on the Ryder Cup site, work crews dismantled grandstands
and hauled off acres of white cloth from the tented village.
Forty thousand Ryder Cup-logoed Glenmuir polo shirts sat in boxes
on the floor of the monster merchandise tent, destined for
storage. Behind the sprawling brick Belfry Hotel, where the flags
of seven nations flew at half-mast, a gardener snipped at a hedge
with clippers, getting it just so. The unspoken message: There
will always be an England.

Symbols had to do for expression, because officials of the
European tour, the British PGA and the Belfry refused to discuss
the impact of the postponement--the first disruption of the Ryder
Cup since war wiped out the matches from 1939 until '47. One
publication put the financial losses at $29 million, but that was
speculation.

The emotional fallout was easier to gauge. Whereas in the months
leading up to the Ryder Cup the match was characterized as a
confrontation between bitter transatlantic rivals, tragedy
produced an Anglo-American unity not seen since U.S. servicemen
billeted with British civilians during World War II. "Everybody
here has been overwhelming in their sympathy and support," said
Jeff Erickson, a young American working in the golf shop at the
Belfry. "People who hear my accent come over and say how sorry
they are."

Only the chattering class, as some Brits call the media, defied
the spirit of unity. There was criticism of Tiger Woods, whose
withdrawal from the Trophee Lancome and reluctance to travel to
Europe were blamed for forcing the PGA of America to ask for a
postponement. There was criticism of European captain Sam
Torrance, who had said, "I don't think canceling or postponing is
giving in to terrorism. Golf is nothing, nothing." There was
criticism of U.S. stars Mark Calcavecchia and Phil Mickelson,
whose manager, Steve Loy, had said, "A golf course would be an
easy place to commit mass murder." Wrote a columnist in The
Mirror, a British tabloid: "Someone needs to explain to these
people they live in the real world. Someone needs to explain that
we are all at risk, not just a few cosseted individuals who can't
see anything beyond the end of their egos."

Fortunately, the finger-pointing lasted only as long as it took
to count heads in Paris, where the players were every bit as
concerned as their American counterparts--none of whom played in
the Trophee Lancome--for their personal safety. "I know a lot of
guys are deciding to go home," said Adam Scott, whose mates from
Australia and New Zealand were cutting short their European
seasons. "I'm happy to go on, but only if things don't take a
turn for the worse."

Jean Van de Velde, the suave Frenchman who blew a three-stroke
lead on the last hole of the '99 British Open, speculated that a
wartime European tour might consist solely of tournaments to
which players could drive in their cars. "If we go to war, if
something happens, what kind of security will we have?" Van de
Velde said. "It's going to be hard."

European tour executive director Ken Schofield and his staff, had
they been willing to break their public silence, might have
accused Van de Velde of understatement. The first four months of
the Euro tour, 14 tournaments in all, are played outside of
Europe. It features a four-event swing through Australia and
Malaysia, three weeks in South America, two weeks in South Africa
and two stops in Arab countries and ends with a week in Rabat,
Morocco. It's no trick at all to imagine the quick cancellation
of the Dubai Desert Classic, the Qatar Masters and the Moroccan
Open.

That was the sort of feverish thinking that prevailed as the
players gathered in Paris. The tournament's co-owners, Lancome, a
perfume and toiletries company, and International Management
Group, were in angry disagreement. Lancome wanted to call off the
tournament. IMG insisted that it be played, pointing out that
90,000 tickets--three times normal--had been sold in anticipation
of Woods's appearance and that many of the spectators had
traveled across Europe and were already in Paris. "For 31 years
the Lancome Trophy has been a big party," a statement from
Lancome said after a compromise was reached to hold the
tournament but cancel the fete. "The tents and pavilions will not
be used by Lancome." The giant party pavilion behind the 18th
green remained dark all week, and a banner on Lancome's private
grandstand testified to a larger emptiness felt by all: LE 11
SEPTEMBRE 2001--SOLIDARITE.

Golfers and spectators alike were conflicted, and it didn't help
that heavy rains at midweek cast a palpable gloom over
Saint-Nom-La-Breteche, a picturesque complex a few miles west of
the town of Versailles, where the armistice ending World War I
was signed. "It is right that we are playing, and it is good that
we are playing," said Montgomerie, one of four European Ryder
Cuppers in the field (along with Garcia, Niclas Fasth and Phillip
Price). Montgomerie opened with a 75 and didn't survive the
36-hole cut, but his opinion held up. Saturday brought blue skies
and the kind of gauzy autumn air that makes the French
countryside irresistible.

Thousands of spectators, many of them blissfully unfamiliar with
tournament etiquette, treated the course as a bois, wandering
across fairways with children, walking onto greens to pat the
grass and shaking apple trees to catch the sweet, reddening
fruit. "We had a dog running around on the 9th tee, and there
were enough telephones and crying babies to muck up a few shots,"
said U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, the third-round leader,
"but it was good. Everybody seems to be a bit happier now."

For a few hours, then, the distant horrors were put aside and
future troubles willfully ignored. On Sunday, Garcia and Goosen
ran away from the field and staged what was, in essence, a
brilliant singles match. Goosen made five straight birdies and
led by four shots with four holes to play. Garcia, undaunted,
birdied holes 15 through 17 and won the championship when Goosen
bogeyed 17 and 18. The win, worth $218,000, was Garcia's third of
the year.

"It meant a lot after what happened in America," said Garcia, at
21 too young and full of life to grasp that it meant nothing at
all after what had happened in America. An observer could only
stand in Garcia's jubilant orbit and share his dim understanding
that whatever comes next, however dark and uncertain the future,
he will always have Paris.

COLOR PHOTO: STUART FRANKLIN/ALLSPORT Garcia finished with a rush to provide the subdued fans at Saint-Nom-La-Breteche with a touch of excitement. COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN BELFRY BREAKDOWN According to one unofficial estimate, postponing the Ryder Cup until next September will cost $29 million.

"If we go to war, if something happens, what kind of security
will we have?" said Van de Velde. "It's going to be hard."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)