The Case for ... The Ryder Cup

September 15, 2014

GOLF HAS BEEN spoofed in Studio 8H, home to among other things NBC's Saturday Night Live, for years. Tracy Morgan has played Earl Woods on the show, and Kenan Thompson has played Tiger. In a 2010 bit Tina Fey was a Vegas stripper named Ashlyn St. Cloud, working the Masters' broadcast booth with Jim Nantz, played by Jason Sudeikis.

"Who's that?" Ashlyn asks.

"That's Tom Watson," answers Nantz.

"How old is he?" she asks.

"Well, he's 60."

"If this were a real sport, he'd be on a gurney," Ashlyn says.

Well, golf is a real sport. You know it is because the real Tom Watson, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, now 65, was in Studio 8H last week for some obligatory live promotional TV on Golf Channel, part of the NBC empire. Watson announced his three captain's picks. Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson—is nobody named Bob anymore?—were beamed in from various remote places. The show itself was a grand example of keeping up with the Joneses. Right next door, you see, is Radio City Music Hall, where the NFL draft has been conducted for nearly a decade.

Everything's a show these days, and the Ryder Cup, which will be played Sept. 26--28 in Scotland, is a good one. With the USGA bolting for Fox funny money, the Ryder Cup is now the biggest golf event in the NBC Sports portfolio. For you crossover fans coming in from the World Cup: Ryder Cup is a long-running reality show that features two teams, the Europeans and the Americans, playing hotly contested, jingoistic golf that usually finishes with the Europeans winning by a slim margin only after Englishman Ian Poulter agrees to return his eyeballs to their sockets. It doesn't mean much, but it's fun.

Hold it, we just got pinged by the "PGA of America marketing department." The Ryder Cup does mean much. From their text: Why else would Donald Trump, of NBC's The Apprentice, be in historic Studio 8H for Captain Watson's live announcement? Good point.

Also, if it weren't important, why would Watson get all tight when asked if he had considered Tiger Woods as an assistant captain? ("No," replied Captain Curt.)

So there will be no Woods at Gleneagles, in any role. He wasn't one of the nine guys to make the U.S. team on points, and he took himself out of consideration as a captain's pick last month. He said he needed to strengthen his glutes before returning to competitive golf in December. Further proof that golf is a real sport.

His absence is surely a disappointment to both NBC and the PGA of America, which runs the U.S. team. Woods still draws a crowd like nobody else.

Another American star, Dustin Johnson, a golfer who can dunk a basketball, is not on the team either. Johnson is on a self-described "leave of absence" following reports of a failed drug test for cocaine earlier this year. Yes, golfers fail drug tests, just as athletes from other sports do. Are you reading this, Ashlyn?

Somehow the Euros, winners of nine of the last 14 matches, still cling to their underdog reputation. Captain Watson has been in the writers' room trying to change that story line. He wants the Americans to be the underdogs, and he's been fiddling with a wacky ending: Team USA goes to a Scottish resort, blows by the haggis buffet and wins a road game for the first time since '93. They do it with a lovable wedding band, fronted by Bubba and Phil, backed by Keegan, Hunter and Webb and a seven-man horn section. Ready for prime time or not, here they come.

Golf Channel will show the first day's matches on Sept. 26. Live from Gleneagles! The action begins at 2:30 a.m. EDT.

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RANK USA PTS.
1. Bubba Watson 6,930
2. Rickie Fowler 6,733
3. Jim Furyk 6,708
4. Jimmy Walker 6,111
5. Phil Mickelson 5,510
6. Matt Kuchar 5.115
7. Jordan Spieth 4,836
8. Patrick Reed 3,650
9. Zach Johnson 3,569
13. Keegan Bradley 3,325
15. Webb Simpson 3,156
25. Hunter Mahan 2,346

The U.S.'s Watson(left) and Europe's Paul McGinley filled out their teams with three captain's picks apiece (below in yellow).

PHOTOANDREW MILLIGAN/PA PHOTOS/LANDOV

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)