Five years ago, I was a marshal at the 1999 Ryder Cup matches, at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. The assignment had its excitements—proximity to the great players as they strode purposefully by, slightly bigger than life—and its tediums. A marshal holds a rope against a docile crowd or stands by the green waiting to mark a stray shot that never comes. The structure of the matches makes for far fewer groups than your average tournament: four foursomes on Friday and Saturday, and twelve twosomes on Sunday.
So it was that when the last pairing, trailed by its host of caddies, scorekeepers, blazered officials, panting TV cameramen and tanned, blonde, exiguously skirted wives or girlfriends, had gone by, we marshals on the seventh hole (a 197-yard par three, where Steve Pate and Miguel Angel Jimenez matched birdies but which most players were content to par) had nothing much to do but stand around in the sudden verdant vacuity. On Sunday afternoon, the crowds had deserted us for good. Roars arose from distant sites of pleasure and pain, and from the volume we guessed that things were, at last, going the American way, but a herdsman watching CNN in Nepal knew more about the progress of the matches than we.
Our job was to guard the tee and green, in case some perfidious golf nut attempted to steal something. What could he steal?The flag had been quickly removed from the green, and the identifying signs from the tee. But duty is duty, and rumor went that a day before, somebody had actually lifted the cup from the seventeenth green. It was strangely idyllic out there, being part of a portly, aging skeleton crew, with our blue armbands and floppy white hats (like the hats trolls used to wear in books by Washington Irving, but limper), while the golf fate of two continents was being determined in overheard but unseen battle a few fairways away. Sleepily we shuffled about, shifting our weight from foot to foot and occasionally venturing into the nearest tent holding television sets, a venue that had been captured by tables of lusty-voiced, seriously thirsty rooters for the invading Europeans.
Things looked good for them; for the Americans to recover from the two days of foursome matches it would take winning eight of the twelve twosomes and tying one more. Lazily, in chummy stultification, the hours drifted by as word trickled in that our boys were winning match after match. The third fairway and the fifth tee, void but for a few desultory picknickers, were within our view, and on the far edge of the sixth fairway a giant Teletron screen, a surreal apparition from science fiction, silently offered its ghostly imagery to an audience of less than a dozen. A fellow marshal and I stood on the seventh tee, keeping an eye out lest the vacated hole fall victim to turf thieves, and we saw on the distant screen a mistily enlarged ball dart into a giant hole and a group of men in homely brown shirts, recognizable among them Tom Lehman and Tiger Woods, mob Justin Leonard.