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Ryder Cup is surely destined for delay – but move to 2021 brings trouble too | Ewan Murray | Sport

Had the 2020 Ryder Cup been set to take place in Europe, it is reasonable to assume it would have been called off already. That Whistling Straits in Wisconsin is the host, in a country where President Trump is breathlessly pushing golf’s return from cold storage, means the biennial event has not dropped from the schedule. Golf appears sport’s chosen one as Trump looks to lead a charge towards normality in the United States. The NBA and MLB are looking on with intrigue.

Rory McIlroy is the most high-profile golfer to speak out against the concept of a Ryder Cup without spectators, even though one wonders if they might fancy a break from the course-side comedians now and again.

The players need not fret; there is little or no chance of the joust between the USA and Europe taking place in that form. In public, the competition organisers might have to at least give the impression that all avenues are being explored but there is acknowledgment within the PGA of America and European Tour that a Ryder Cup minus a 1st tee cauldron or jubilant players celebrating with fans isn’t at all valid. Crucially NBC, the host broadcaster in the US, is understood to have no interest in a closed-doors scene either. Sky Sports is similarly cool.

Whilst the PGA of America is pressing ahead with its US PGA Championship at Harding Park in early August – most likely with no spectators – there is widespread acknowledgement the Ryder Cup is different, even to a major. And rightly so.

As the PGA Tour pieces together mass-testing plans aimed at its return to competition in mid-June, there is an understanding that doesn’t have much relevance in terms of the Ryder Cup – where the golf setting is unique. The PGA Tour labours under the incredible assumption it can play before full crowds by September, even if Trump’s firm backing is useful.

The PGA Tour is wholly significant, however, in context of the Ryder Cup’s possibly enforced contingency. By July – at the very latest – we should have a cast-iron decision on whether Whistling Straits can go ahead, even somehow at reduced capacity.

If it can’t – which would presently be the most likely outcome – the overwhelming desire would be to nudge the Ryder Cup back to 2021. Therein comes trouble – the Presidents Cup and Olympics are already set for next year. Golfers, especially the top ones, don’t care for scheduling clutter.





Rory McIlroy says he does not want to see a Ryder Cup played behind closed doors



Rory McIlroy says he does not want to see a Ryder Cup played behind closed doors. Photograph: Ali Haider/EPA

Common perception would be that the Presidents Cup, played to very little external fanfare between the US and an international team, would shuffle along elsewhere. That process would not be so simple. The Presidents Cup is a PGA Tour entity whereas the biggest corporate entity in golf has no stake at all in the Ryder Cup. It is even pertinent that the Presidents Cup takes place at Quail Hollow, therefore in the US, next time around.

If the PGA Tour is to amend that situation, it will surely take a lot of convincing, including from its equivalent in Europe, typically depicted as the poor relation of golf circuits. Post coronavirus, given harsh commercial realities, every tour will scrap furiously for its lot. Should the PGA and European Tours come together in a new normal – including to swat away the lingering threat of the Premier Golf League – this will be an early test.

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There is plenty of sense in a Ryder Cup shift back towards uneven years, where it would remain. It was in that pattern before 9/11 meant 2001 at the Belfry was postponed until 2002. With 2021 the exception, a shift would handily move the Ryder Cup away from Olympic years. The full impact of Covid-19 on the Italian economy and sporting landscape is for now unclear but allowing the 2022 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone, near Rome, an extra 12 months is likely to be no bad thing.

“Having a Ryder Cup without fans is not a Ryder Cup,” said McIlroy. He is, of course, correct. If this marquee competition, which draws an audience from way beyond golf, is to help raise morale of people negatively affected by the pandemic it must do so in standard form. And, be that this September or next, it will.

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