What had happened?"We must have won," my companion said. I was happy to hear it. But why, then, as the minutes passed, was Jose Maria Olazabal squatting down on the cleared green so solemnly?He was sizing up his putt. We had not won; he was putting to tie the hole. The Teletron showed our foe's putt running up the slope and missing by a few inches to the left.
We had won. Glory be.
The spontaneous and slightly premature celebration of Leonard's forty-five-foot miracle putt was much deplored in Europe, and indeed it was a breach of golf manners as they used to be. The Ryder Cup matches get our blood up, and is this altogether good?One of golf's charms, surely, is its suppression, under traditions of civility and good humor, of the competitive rawness that has made, for example, European football riot-prone, North American hockey cruelly brutal and professional tennis a melee of grunts and ungracious gamesmanship. In recent years the Ryder Cup matches have been sullied by disputes over money (the players get none), Padraig Harrington's slow play (is it deliberately aggravating?) and captain Seve Ballesteros's buzzing about in a golf cart at Valderrama exhorting his troops like a Little League coach on speed. Does the Cup make golf blow its cool?An us-versus-them fervor belongs to less companionable, less meditative, less cosmopolitan sports. It's not as if these foreign golfers don't live, many of them, in Florida and Texas, their wives swapping recipes with ours. The players dress in the same locker room and share the same swing doctors. Unilateralism, triumphal or not, sits awkwardly on a sport whose fickle, quirky difficulties form a great leveler. The essential contest in a golf round exists between the player and the course.
What lingered in this former marshal's mind from the magic moment of victory five years ago was the course itself, stretching all around, the storied old layout all but deserted—the long fairways and pudding-stone cliffs and velvet greens no longer an international battlefield, gathering shadows now at the edges but still basking in the sunshine of a perfect early-fall Sabbath in New England.