By DAVID W. KEEN
As those who play the game know, golf is nothing if not a test of an individual’s mental strength and character. Amateurs and pros alike know the feeling of a round that loses momentum and teeters on that finest of lines between collapse and recovery, before being lost altogether.
That’s the challenge of golf in a nutshell and it’s the reason all of us keep heading out to the course — not just for the good time spent outdoors, but to challenge ourselves and see what mettle we have inside us. It’s also the reason we love watching the best in the world play each week on the PGA Tour.
We ourselves might never have had the lead in a major, victory in sight, only to feel the round slipping away from us — but we know the feeling. We can extrapolate our own experiences on the course and know what it’s like standing over that ball deep in the rough, the round teetering on that brink.
Most of the time, it’s player versus course, and whoever manages that challenge the best takes home the trophy. But every couple of years we’re treated to something else, something special.
The Ryder Cup is everything that makes golf great, multiplied by the pressure of performing on behalf of expectant teammates and further multiplied by representing your country, or continent. It is an absolute pressure cooker of sport.
Unlike in other sports where the game moves quickly and the instincts you hone through practice take over, you have every second you need in golf to ponder just how important your next shot is.
In the Ryder Cup, when the crowds gather, your teammates and counterparts huddle around and the sun starts to set on that final day, in that final matchup, there is no relief coming and no one else to rely on.
It’s also one of the most emotional spectacles in golf. In a major, we often feel the tension between competitors simmering under the surface, but golf is steeped in tradition and save for a fist pump here or a high-five there, stoicism is expected and revered.
At the Ryder Cup, however, nationalism and team mentality take over and the awkwardness of having to face your competitor after you’ve bull-danced around the green is mitigated by the shared jubilation with teammates. We see celebrations and joy that we just don’t get to see at other tournaments.
The Ryder Cup is raw with emotion the way golf seldom is. On display for all to see rather than giving us only glimpses after big putts or during post-victory hugs with family. It’s beautiful because it’s real, and because the champagne-soaked euphoria and the bitter heartbreak are emotions we’ve all felt, even if they weren’t on the golf course.