I hear the European golfers are still simmering about the way they were treated last weekend during their historic choke job at the Ryder Cup in Brookline, Mass. Mark James, their captain, has even suggested the players might not return to the United States in 2003, when the competition comes to Oakland Hills outside of Detroit.
My reaction? It's about time golf let down its hair and acted like a real American sport. Threatening not to show up is the stuff rivalries are made of. It's like a boxer announcing his retirement after losing a big bout. Once you hear that, it's time to start getting pumped for the rematch.
There's never been more interest in the Ryder Cup. So what if a few Europeans got heckled during their backswings, or if some loutish Bostonian got caught up in the swirling jingoism and spit on James' wife? It's a small price to pay for getting half the Western world aroused about a silly golf tournament.
Wasn't it just a couple of months ago that David Duval and Tiger Woods were whining about the fact that they didn't get paid for the Ryder Cup? Duval called it an exhibition. But by Sunday afternoon, when the U.S. team was celebrating Justin Leonard's putt, Duval actually seemed human.
The Europeans are doing their best to ruin it, but when you cut through all their whining, the fact remains: The Ryder Cup was a smashing success. It made golf a team sport for the masses. It gave fans a connection to the action. Golf? Action?
Some of it is scary. I had never heard the word "Euro" used in a derogatory way until the Ryder Cup. Now everyone is saying it. People who couldn't locate Europe on a map are ripping an entire continent, all because of a golf tournament. (Actually, finding Europe isn't that easy. Where is its eastern border? Are Russians eligible for the European Ryder Cup team? Are there any Russian golfers?)
Italy is certainly in Europe. I'm pretty sure Ireland is, too. So like most Americans, I'm the offspring of "Euros." Give or take a few hundred wars, it was a great culture from which to spring.
What's so bad about U.S. sports fans finding some new outlet for their hostility? Why shouldn't golfers get abused like other athletes? How come a quarterback can throw a football in a howling din, with murderous, 300-pound linemen rushing at him -- but Colin Montgomerie gets all bent out of shape if someone coughs and mutters "Fat Boy" from the gallery?
You have to admit, "Monty" is great for the game. On Friday, he backed off a putt and glared at the offending person in the gallery. Then he went back to his ball, nailed his putt to win the hole and thrust his fist at the pro-American crowd.
That's the kind of moment that excites modern sports fans -- the MTV crowd that advertisers and TV moguls want to attract to golf. They want finger-pointing, trash-talking and displays of hostility and emotion. And from people besides their parents.
It sells. The Ryder Cup drew a TV rating that was roughly two-thirds of the NFL on Sunday. That was unheard of for a golf match. If the golf establishment wants that young crowd, and the money that goes with it, it will have to accept the fact that crowds are changing and the sport has to change with it. Before the match, the U.S. players were criticized for their lack of emotion and camaraderie. But when they stormed the green after Leonard's critical 45-foot putt on Sunday -- with their wives in tow -- they got criticized for running through poor Jose Maria Olazabal's line before he had a chance to putt. According to the hysterical British papers, it was a sporting horror, an ugly American disgrace.
Too bad for Olazabal. If he hadn't choked on the back nine, he wouldn't have been in a position to lose the match for his continent. Maybe the Americans went overboard, especially by the stiff, self-important standards of golf, but this wasn't your typical golf tournament. It was a grudge match. All this whining is a basic diversionary tactic by the Euros, something to soften the blow of their collapse.
I can't wait for the rematch in 2001, at the Belfry in England. The Brits can heckle all they want. They can let their soccer hooligans loose on the course.
All I know is, golf has never been such fun. Can Olympic team golf be far away?