By Seth Kerr
GolfWRX Staff Writer
We love watching rivalries like Celtic v. Lakers, Red Sox v. Yankees, and Ravens v. Steelers because those teams don’t like each other. When Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis we knew he cared. We knew it meant more than just a regular game. Those are the games we remember because they are more exciting; the players play harder and want it more.
It is the reason we still talk about the 1991 Ryder Cup on the Ocean Course at Kiwah Island. Those two teams hated each other. And because of that, there was great golf, tension and intrigue. Since then, not so much.
Matches between Paul Azinger and Seve Ballesteros bordered on unprofessional due to the level of rivalry. They went as far as to accuse the other of breaking the rules and cheating. In 1993, Nick Faldo and Azinger kept playing their singles match, because even though it meant nothing to the outcome, it meant everything to them.
Since then, the rivalry has become pats on the back, hugs and handshakes. It is hard to remember many significant moments during the Ryder Cup since 1991 other than Justin Leonard’s putt and resulting dubious celebration, or Hunter Mahan’s flubbed chip.
It is not life or death like 1991. Some say that is a good thing. I say it is boring.
As fans, we don’t want teams to like each other. I don’t want to see Rory and Tiger chatting down the fairway at Medinah. Fans want rivalry. Fans want to see players go for the kill.
That isn’t to say players don’t player hard and want to win. They all want to win, but how many need to win? Very few.
Ian Poulter needs to win. It’s why everyone knew Jose Maria would pick Poulter for one of the final two captain’s picks.
“I think he gets the best out of playing the Ryder Cup,” Olazabal said about Poulter. “He pretty much, you know just by looking at his eyes that he would give everything that he had during that week.”
Poulter would have fit in seamlessly on those 1991 teams. He isn’t the most talented player on the team, but he wants to win and will do whatever it takes to win.
“There are subtle things you can do without crossing the line,” Poulter said about playing in the Ryder Cup. “If I see I’ve got up my opponent’s nose, I will be over the moon. Job done.”
Shouldn’t all the players feel that way? Shouldn’t it be win at all costs within the rules? Don’t fans want Phil Mickelson to want to rip Lee Westwood’s heart out?
At Celtic Manor, Poulter guaranteed he would deliver a victory in his singles match against Matt Kuchar in an interview prior to the match. He promptly went out and waxed Kuchar 5 and 4 for the most lopsided singles victory that year.
The normally docile Steve Stricker told the AP about Poulter, “It is irritating to lose to him or anyone, for that matter…but when it comes down to playing Ian Poulter in the Ryder Cup, I don’t want to lose to him.”
Is there anyone on the American team who gets in the European’s crawl like that?
The majority of American players are not known for their fiery attitudes. Davis Love is mild mannered and quiet; it is hard to see him giving many fire and brimstone speeches. Jason Duffner barely has a pulse. Dustin Johnson is even keel. Mickelson may be competitive but he is all smiles during his round. Tiger is his same surly self no matter where he plays, but it doesn’t translate and add tension to his Ryder Cup matches.
Whether it is because the players play on the same tour, share sponsors, or make so much money they are content the Ryder Cup has lost that intense magic.
Greg Norman, someone who never played in a Ryder Cup, has been the only person to inject a little tension and controversy, when he said Tiger is intimidated of Rory. Of course, Rory and Tiger moved quickly to dispel the notion.
Charles Barkley called out Woods in a radio interview for his response to Norman, saying he wished he, “could put some of my blackness in him… like toughness… just because I’m Charles Barkley, you can’t disrespect me.”
McIlroy has said he would like to face Woods in singles at the Ryder Cup, telling the Times, “it would be great fun.”
However, McIlroy dispelled any notion of a rivalry saying, “I’ve always said the players don’t build up rivalries themselves, people from the outside build up the rivalries. I just want to play good golf.”
Ask Dave Stockton and Bernard Gallacher if their rivalry was media driven. The two captains from 1991 still don’t speak to each other.
Stockton told the media at the PGA Championship this year, “I’ve seen him a couple of times but then have I tried to talk to Gallacher? No, he’s not a friend of mine. I’m not even sure he likes himself and I don’t think it’s worth my time.”
When asked about 1991 Stockton went on to say, “But I’ll tell you what, I stirred up a hornet’s nest, but I don’t care, because there will be hornets out there at Medinah this year. And it’s good to have; we tend to get complacent. We can’t sing as good as the Europeans. We’ve got no chance to sing as good. As long as our clubs play better, I don’t care.
The sad part is, we need a captain from 21 years ago to bring the emotion and intensity the Ryder Cup deserves.
The question is, can the 2012 teams ramp up the rivalry or will the complacency remain?