Playing numbers game on ‘magic’ of Ryder Cup

Kayser Soze, Kevin Spacey’s memorable villain in ‘The Usual Suspects’, delivered one of cinema’s greatest lines 20 years ago when he reasoned the devil’s greatest trick was convincing the world he didn’t exist, writes Brendan O’Brien.

Playing numbers game on ‘magic’ of Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup has achieved the polar opposite. It’s success lies in persuading the sporting universe that this biannual, three-day event — in what is a minority sport, after all — is some sort of living, breathing organism that needs feeding with the oxygen of publicity on a regular basis.

Watching, reading and listening to the vast volumes of news and debate surrounding Darren Clarke’s recent announcement as European captain for the 2016 tournament at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota in late September has brought to mind another character from a very different production that many would say managed to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. John O’Donoghue was the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when Ireland hosted the Ryder Cup for the first and only time at the K Club in Straffan, Co. Kildare in 2006 and for the few years preceding it. Many were the times in the months beforehand that this reporter was dispatched to cover some promotional event with the then minister when all sorts of astronomical figures would be thrown around like sweets from a candy store.

Third biggest sporting event in the world that year, we were told. One billion viewers worldwide, we were told. The sight of Clarke downing a crucial putt and a pint of Guinness six weeks after his then wife Heather’s passing was, without question, one of the most uplifting sporting moments in recent memory, but the truth behind those extravagant viewing numbers provided for more sober reflection.

Figures released in the wake of that 2006 event showed that a total of just six million people from the US, UK and Ireland watched Europe claim another win. Approximately 4.6m of those were in the US where, it must be recognised, the time zone differences didn’t help. Just over a million tuned in from the UK while the figure for Ireland was an estimated 600,000.

There were no accompanying figures for the rest of Europe, or the world at large, but no-one would seriously try to argue that there were enough punters glued to their sets in Seville, Stockholm, or certainly not Shanghai, nine years ago to propel those viewing stats up towards the outlandish mark spoken of by O’Donoghue.

Not that the Ryder Cup is alone. Fifa regularly chucks out numbers that run into the billions when, let’s face it, no-one can have any sort of clue exactly how many people are taking an interest across the globe, and that holds for something smaller like badminton’s recent European Mixed Team Championships which had an ‘estimated’ 290 million viewers over the five days it was held in Belgium last week.

If there is a common giveaway in all these, it is in the fact that all these organisations offer their estimates, for that is all they are, before the event in question has started. The odds are that this column will watch a large portion of the next Ryder Cup but we could just as easily be at a wedding that weekend, or sick, or bored of golf.

So, if we don’t know what we will be doing, how do they?

The more you think about it, the harder it is to see exactly where the love affair for the Ryder Cup emanates from. This is, after all, an event in which kinship for ‘our’ team rises and falls with the hoisting and removal of the blue flag with yellow stars. At no other time, do we get all guns-ho and chant out ‘Europe’ like the Yanks do U-S-A. All the more remarkable is the fact that the event has been well and truly competitive for only the slimmest of times in its long history. First the US dominated, then they had a few entertaining arm wrestles, then Europe began to wipe the floor and yet still it gets built up with a hype beyond anything it deserves.

Let’s give credit where it is due. The Ryder Cup is an undoubted hothouse for drama of almost pantomime proportions. Some of the golf can be sublime, too, (though it can swing the other way on the quality barometer as well) and we are obviously drawn to it all by the significant input that has come from golfers born on our very own shores.

We get that, but what it misses is a sense of perspective.

The captaincy debate only highlights that. Win and you’re a genius, lose and you’re a chorus member on The Muppets. Nothing exemplified that like David Love III in Medinah in 2012 when his US side squandered a 10-4 Saturday night lead in the singles.

Love III was a couple of miracle putts from Justin Rose or Martin Kaymar away from victory and yet his looming reappointment as captain for 2016 is being treated like a disaster on both sides of the pond. Let it go, lads. We have eight Majors and an Olympics to get through first. The Ryder Cup can wait, surely.

* Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie

* Twitter: @Rackob

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