HAVEN, Wisc. -- Golf is perhaps the most bizarre and least normal of all the major sports. That idea has become a bit of a trope on Twitter of late, and the full breadth of its absurdity -- from Billy Horschel rolling his pants up and wading into a creek to a real sandcastle built next to the 18th tee box of the final event of the PGA Tour regular season -- has been explored and exposed in the name of humor.
So in the upside-down world of golf, it somehow actually makes complete and total sense that an exhibition event played in golf's semi-offseason that has no real ties to any of its major leagues or biggest individual tournaments would become the preeminent week of the sport every other year.
A totally normal sport.
"I think that the Ryder Cup epitomizes everything that's great in the game of golf," said Rory McIlroy, who has played in five of these. "It's competitive, but there's also a lot of sportsmanship shown. And obviously there's partisan crowds and all of that, but that's part of being in a team environment. … Yeah, Ryder Cup is one of the best events that we have in golf, if not the best event we have in golf, and just excited to be a part of another one."
The best event we have in golf.
He's not wrong, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly why he's right.
Perhaps it's because, for so many weeks and months of the year, this game is played by individuals nearly in silos, but for this week -- for better and (often) for worse -- we get to see what it looks like to try and weld all those individuals together into a more singular force. That these superstars sometimes seem to have nothing more in common than the same number of stars on their uniforms is a feature of what makes the entire spectacle so good, not a bug.
Maybe it's because this has turned into a biennial flex of whose nationalism is superior among golf fans. I'd like to think that's not the case, but based on some of the shrapnel I've heard between the ropes at this competition, this is certainly a possibility. Perhaps it's not even as nefarious as that but simply viewed by fans as a schoolyard rumble where captains choose up sides, and we all get to pick the squad we want to back to the end.
Or perhaps it's that there's no other professional event in which no money is awarded and no points are doled out. There's just an opponent.
The Ryder Cup is not pure, but golf at the Ryder Cup is close to it, and there's something compelling about how primitive it feels from beginning to end. The second nine of a major championship for 72 straight hours. You don't need a Whoop strap to tell that story.
How rarely do we get this many high-level golfers playing in late major championship-like pressure for three straight days? Never. It never happens.
Statistically, I'm not even sure it can happen. So when we do have the opportunity, it's an absolute fever dream. We got a foretaste of this at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines this year. A traffic jam of Lamborghinis trying to maneuver their way into a free lane. It felt hallucinogenic and even that only lasted a couple of hours.
Perhaps it's because this is the one event in golf that is built quite literally and specifically with fans in mind.
Golf, normal sport that it is, does little to embrace fervor, noise and general histrionics. Then every two years, a stadium the size of the Coliseum is erected around the first tee at a course in Europe or the United States, and those in attendance are given a green light to enjoy the festivities however they see fit. Because of this, players are enticed to give them a show, which means that you get the best of both worlds. Twenty-four players playing the highest level of pickup ball but with the entire neighborhood gathered around.
Maybe it's that players are rarely put into the emotional corners they are in this week. It's often either one of the great weeks of their lives, or like Danny Willett said in 2016 at Hazeltine, "really shit."
Certainly there are some things in a Ryder Cup week that are manufactured, but that's all window dressing for the distillation of terror and joy that are experienced in ways that are nearly foreign in modern sports. All of it, somewhat ironically, with nothing on the line but what your peers believe about you. As it turns out, that's a far more meaningful consequence than the degree to which your home's trophy nook is stocked, if it is at all.
Maybe it's the drama that comes out of the team room both during this week and after it is over. When that much ego is jammed together, even into spacious banquet halls big enough for astronaut mannequins, the result is often an explosion. Whether it's one of elation or anger depends on what happens on Sunday afternoon. It's like a science experiment where you're forced to use every chemical in the lab.
I've also considered the nearly-perfect setup of how this event is scored. Even when it's a blowout -- as it's often been lately -- it always feels like it can turn back in an instant. This is broadly emblematic of golf itself, a sport that has all of us convinced we're simply one shot away from our target goal. From breaking 100 to graduating the Korn Ferry Tour, everybody who has touched a club has thought, "If I just hit this one tight …"
Consider the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. was getting torched going into the Sunday singles matches. Torched. It had won the first three matches of the event, then lost the next eight and trailed 10-6 going to Day 3. However, at one point during that third day, Europe did not lead a single match of the first six that were out on the course. It started to become easy to think that the status quo could hold and the mighty tide on the U.S. side would come roaring home as payback for Medinah in 2012. Europe ended up winning 17.5-10.5, but for more than two-and-a-half days of a three-day event, truly anything could have happened.
That's a sports drug.
Golf was not created to be as individualistic as it is in the modern day. It was meant to be played in community with and against one another. We have twisted it and made it into something it wasn't intended to be, where singular athletes are total empires.
This week moves us away from that.
It's a good reminder -- on the course where teams congregate and off of it where fans gather -- that life is better together. That's particularly poignant following an 18-month run in which community was all but lost. You can add that particular quality to this specific Ryder Cup, too.
In the end, perhaps it's a little bit of all of these reasons, plus a million others that go without mentioning. We could sit here and argue about the why for weeks, but all that really matters is that the inputs of this event have produced an output that is among the greatest shows in all of sports.
Leave it to golf to find a field in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin to stage an event in which the participants receive no tangential benefits and the fans have to dodge dunes and traipse bluffs just to catch a glimpse of the action to bring our little world back together. And somehow, all of it will work wonderfully and produce an unforgettable week for everyone here.
Such a normal sport.
2021 Ryder Cup gear now available
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