On Friday, the 52-year-old Ryder Cup matches will commence at the Greenbrier, in bucolic West Virginia, terrain with enough of the complexion of an English countryside to make any British golfer feel quite comfy. But this year it's not just the Americans versus the British anymore. Two Spaniards have crept in on the British side, by special arrangement.
The British at last recognized the despair of trying to beat the American pros in the Ryder Cup. One victory in the last 17 matches told them something. Since 1957 their high mark was a semisuccess when they got a tie with the Americans at the Royal Birkdale in England in 1969.
No wonder the British finally conceded they needed outside help, lest there be more debacles. Back in the 1960's, U.S. pros, notably Jack Nicklaus, tactfully suggested to the British that they make it a Commonwealth affair. This would bring them players like South Africa's Gary Player, Australia's David Graham, Bruce Crampton and Bruce Devlin and New Zealander Bob Charles to their side. After all, America boasted half of the world's golfers.
For some curious reason of pride, the British said nay to this. But now they've agreed to a sort of European Common Market Golf Team. They would invite any skilled Europeans to play on their side. They probably already had their eye on Hispania's surging golfing sons, Severiano Ballesteros, 22, and the newest British Open and Greensboro Open champion; and Antonio Garrido, who teamed with him to win the last World Cup tournament, very prestigious.
Those two moved the British team up spectacularly, against a United States team that appears a cut below the usual quality. This is no slur against Lee Elder, who would fit on any American team, and this week is breaking more new ground as the first black golfer in Ryder Cup play.
But first, a bit of Ryder Cup history, which began in 1927 when an English seed merchant, Samuel Ryder, said he would give a solid gold cup for matches between British and United States pros on a biennial basis.
It is suspected by Charles Price, now the resident sage at Hilton Head, S. C., and recognized here as the finest of all golf writers, that Squire Ryder was inspired to promote more United States-British play after he saw an American team headed by Walter Hagen get its brains beaten out by a British squad in an informal 1926 meeting.
In the Ryder Cup, it is golf, British style. Ignored is the American passion for medal play. Match play is the thing. One hole at a time, no accumulated stroke total as in medal play. The Ryder Cup formula has been expanded. It used to consist of four four-somes, four four-ball matches and eight singles.Now there are 12 singles instead of eight.
A word about foursomes. It isn't what you might think. In the British golf lexicon, a foursome is not a group of any four golfers playing golf, or a best-ball match. In the Ryder Cup foursome, one player of each two-man team is chosen to drive, the other takes the next shot, and from there to the finish they take alternate shots, with a chap who has holed the last putt standing by while his partner hits the next tee shot.
The foursomes are not to be confused with the four-ball matches that are the American preference, with the best scores counting. The Americans call these "best-ball" matches. The British, the sticklers, call them "better ball."
Billy Casper is the nonplaying captain of the United States team, who will deploy his 12 players and match-ups best calculated to give them an edge. His No. 1 man is Tom Watson, the PGA tour leader, with Gil Morgan, World Series of Golf and Memphis Open winner, No. 2. After them, Hubert Green, Larry Nelson, John Mahaffey, Tom Kite, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Lanny Wadkins, Andy Bean, Fuzzy Zoeller and Elder.
They made the team by piling up the most Ryder Cup points on the tour, with 70 points given for a first-place finish, a dropoff to 45 for second and 10 points for 10th place. Bonuses go to the PGA and World Series winners.
Nicklaus did not make it, because of his sporadic appearances on the tour, but he is represented, nevertheless: by the golf course. The matches will be played on the hilly Greenbrief links that Nicklaus was hired to renovate. He rebuilt greens and tees and lengthened it out to a championship 7,000 yards.
Elder made it as the 12th man by the grace of David Graham, who won the PGA championship. As an Australian, Graham was not a Ryder Cup eligible, but by beating Ben Crenshaw on the third extra hole of the playoff, he kept Crenshaw off the team and left Elder in,
Top man Watson has agreed to play on a tentative basis.He has asked to be excused if, during tournament, Mrs. Watson gives birth to their expected child in Kansas City. An airplane is standing by.
England's new Spanish comrades, Ballesteros and Garrido, together with Britain's Peter Oosterhuis, a familiar figure on the PGA tour, are the core of its hopes to win one, this time.
Ballesteros is more than just a sensational young golfer. He is a charger. Spain's Arnold Palmer, he is unbelieveably wild, hits the ball into far places, makes spectacular recoveries and has a solid short game. While winning the British Open, he was in and out of 15 traps.
Ballesteros also is eager to play on the Ryder Cup team with his new English friends. "I win in America, I win in England, and in my own country they do not know me," he said. "In Spain only soccer and bullfights are in the newspapers, I would like to be well-known in my own country."
The Ryder Cup is not just any old tournament. It has, among other things, protocol, beginning on Thursday noon when the two nonplaying captains give an exhibition for the gallery. At 4 p.m., the flag raising (no other tournament has one of those). That night, the welcoming banquet.
Play starts at 8 a.m. Friday, with four-ball matches in the morning, four foursomes in the afternoon. On Saturday, that format is reversed. On Sunday come the decisive 12 singles matches.
Britannia's rule of golf pegan to fade in the early 1920s after long domination by British and Scottish players with Americans hardly making waves. Charles Darwin, the noted golf writer for the Times of London, after seeing the British Walker Cup team badly beaten by the Americans in 1922, wrote the memorable lines: "We must now admit that we have much to learn from our one time pupils about this damnably seductive game."
The sad story of British Ryder Cup teams has been only one victory since 1935. But good old British pluck kept bringing them back. This time, though, with new important allies, strong ones from Spain. So much for the memory of the Armada.