Who's rude? Hmmm

By Lawrence Henry
web posted October 4, 1999

Let's imagine things turned out just a little bit differently at the recent Ryder Cup matches.

Let's imagine that Justin Leonard missed his 45-foot putt on the seventeenth green. No big celebration, no nothing. The ten-second huzzahs that have so upset European team members and the utterly corrupt European sporting press never would have occurred. Jose Maria Olazabal birdies the final hole, Leonard misses his birdie putt, and Olazabal wins the match.

Just change that much. And watch how the attention shifts.

In the match just in front of Olazabal-Leonard, Padraig Harrington beat Mark O'Meara. That happened; you don't have to imagine it. With that slight change, the Ryder Cup ends up in Europe's hands, not the United States's. O'Meara becomes the goat, instead of Leonard being the hero. Why does O'Meara lose?

Because Padraig Harrington stalled, delayed, and fudged on every hole. He played so slowly that he got O'Meara's goat. On the seventeenth hole, Harrington actually paced off 150 yards to and from the green, counting all the way, while O'Meara waited. The television coverage showed every self-absorbed pace of that walk. "He's not an easy guy to play with," commented on-course announcer Mark Rolfing. O'Meara impatiently - and unwisely - conceded Harrington a par putt for a half on the seventeenth green. O'Meara stalked impatiently to the next tee, and hit an impatient hook with his driver, into a bunker. From there, he lost the hole and the match.

The rudest thing you can do on a golf course is play slowly. The European team played at a glacial pace throughout the week, especially in team matches. What hooting they heard from the gallery amounted mainly to one thing: "Hit the ball, dammit!" Responding to catcalls like that, Sergio Garcia, in the middle of a near-endless palaver with partner Jesper Parnevik on Friday, actually sat down in the fairway.

I repeat: The rudest thing you can do on a golf course is play slowly. The Europeans played slowly, deliberately, as they have always played slowly, deliberately, in an attempt to unnerve the Americans. In the end, only O'Meara succumbed.

But, with the one little change I imagine in the matches - Leonard misses on the seventeenth - that slow play would have been enough, and it would have worked.

Regular PGA tour events require shots to be hit within about 55 seconds of arriving at the ball. I say, next time, let's put a clock on it.

Until then, Europe, put a sock in it.

Lawrence Henry is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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