ADRIAN RUSSELL: Bill the ordinary boy in a rich man’s playground

MONTY is cleaning his spikes in anticipation of next month’s action at Celtic Manor while the Americans are checking their passports are valid and changing their money to Euros.

They say horse racing is the sport that sees kings and paupers mix; but the Ryder Cup allows cub reporter and the world’s most influential to walk together.

At the last Europe vs America extravaganza held on these islands, in 2006, I was pretty new in the job. Sent to the K Club in Straffan, Co Kildare, I envisioned rubbing blazered-shoulders with sport’s great and good by the roaring comfortable fire, after a hard day over a hot Remington typewriter.

Perhaps I’d quaff flutes of chilled champagne while Sam Torrance tells one of his expertly-timed and rehearsed stories about late night hi-jinks with Payne Stewart (“And then he said, no that’s not what I meant by practicing my swing!”).

Maybe I’d witness sporting history unroll at my feet – I’d obviously have a wonderful viewing position for the entirety of the weekend, right? – before filing a few hundred words which would win a shelf-creaking number of awards and form the basis of a best-selling and pension-securing book.

Not quite – but it was still pretty good.

After checking in at the media centre at the same time as Gary Lineker, I resisted the urge to tell him his jokes on Match of the Day usually ruin my weekend as he seemed to be enjoying the goodie bag too much. I later approached Boris Becker while he ate a banana (just like when, as a lad, I watched him at Wimbledon!) and asked if I could grab a few minutes for a quick chat. He refused my humble request with extreme prejudice. Though, in fairness to the German – a hero of mine really – he did approach me later on and said ask away. He is taller than expected and wears nice shoes, FYI.

As we have no paper on a Sunday, I didn’t have a whole lot to do on the Saturday afternoon apart from be there and witness the action.

After ignoring a steward’s request to not walk across a pathway, I accidentally stood on Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink’s stray ball during the foursomes (“That dude just stood on the ball, dude” I heard one dude say, before I slipped back into the crowd) I was stopped by another steward and dutifully halted.

As we waited in the rain in a field in Kildare, a buggy rolled past with the greatest basketball player that ever lived hanging jauntily off the back. Michael Jordan, chomping on a wet cigar, reciprocated when I gushingly lurched forward for a high five, and was happy to give me a quote. I’d left my professionalism at the first tee box.

However, the following the day it was to get better. As Ian Woosnam’s Europe humbled the stars of the US on the way to a record equalling Ryder Cup win, I walked inside the velvet rope for the first time. Each media organisation was given its share of bibs – the colourful vests with ‘media’ emblazoned across the front and back, as well as an unique number in case someone stands on a ball – and on the final day I was entrusted to leave the cosy media centre and spoil a good walk.

Following Darren Clarke’s progress on his most emotional of rounds – having just returned after the death of his wife Heather – I was very much part of the elite (Ray Houghton asked me what was happening ahead!).

Later as I stood behind the tee box at the 15th, I think, watching Clarke tee off, it started to rain heavily. I shuffled back a few paces under some trees for shelter. After Clarke drove his ball on, sensing I was a little too close for someone’s comfort, I glanced quickly at the gentleman behind me.

After a comedy double-take I realised it was former US president, Bill Clinton. As I stared, he reached out his hand to me for a quick grip-and-grin before his security guys drove forward and his whole party strode on.

As they marched towards the 16th, with the tournament’s emotional denouement about to unfold, I realised that as well as a couple of White House secret service men, Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly was bounding up the course with his former president.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The pair played a round of golf together in 1995 which Reilly wrote a famous SI piece about. “He’s the sort of guy who keeps a tee in his mouth as he walks and yes, putts with his glove on and leans on your shoulder as you pencil in the scores, writhing or celebrating depending on how the match is going.

‘That’s my pards!” he’d say when I hit a good shot and ‘I gotcha, Partner,’ when I didn’t,” Reilly wrote, “He was charming and warm and amazingly normal.”

It was just a handshake and a smile as we all sheltered a moment from the rain. But I’d say the same.

Adrian.russell@examiner.ie Twitter: @adrianrussell


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