Easy like Saturday morning
- 23 Sep 06, 12:21 PM
K CLUB – Absorbing, illuminating, tense, amusing. And a massive privilege. Not many Saturday mornings come close to leaning against a tree just yards from the action as four Ryder Cup matches unfold in front of you.
The tree in question, an oak, stands behind the par-three 8th hole in one of the most picturesque corners of the K Club beside the River Liffey.
It’s 0930, the grandstand is full and an expectant crowd stands patiently in broken sunshine waiting for the fourballs.
Cheers and groans ring out from somewhere on the course, getting louder as the first group edges nearer.
Photographers prowl, snapping the masses, and a tournament official practises his golf swing with an umbrella. The crowd lets out a huge cheer, and he gives them a proud fist-pump.
But they are responding to the scoreboard, which has changed to show Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood going 1 up back at the 4th. And the official sheepishly tries to disguise his gesture as a scratch of the head.
A couple of fish leap in the river. Someone in the crowd collapses, prompting a call for medics. “He must be American and just saw the score,” says an NBC cameraman.
At 1008 the first group arrives on the tee. US rookie JJ Henry carves his ball into the water. Playing partner Stewart Cink and Europeans Robert Karlsson and Paul Casey all find the putting surface.
Hearty applause as the group reach the green. A burst of “USA-USA”. But it's met with a group “Ssssshhh”. A gaggle of American WAGS turn up in black jackets and dark check trousers.
Former US Ryder Cup captain Ray Floyd, skipper at The Belfry in 1989, arrives and sits on the grass just in front.
The players are ready but Karlsson misses. Casey holes for birdie to a huge cheer and Verplank misses. Europe go 2 up and walk off to more applause.
Back on the tee is Sergio Garcia. His hand comes off the club and the ball ends up short right, but stays dry. Fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal and Americans Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco are not too far away.
They are warmly welcomed onto the green and bunch of Euro WAGS arrive, in matching blue rain gear, marshaled by Glen Woosnam.
Garcia chips up and DiMarco concedes, jokingly pretending to throw the ball at the young matador as he picks it up. The crowd like that one.
The first “get in the hole” rings out as Mickelson plays. He and DiMarco miss their birdie efforts. The Spaniards double-team the line of Olazabal’s putt. Only the birds chirping in the trees can be heard as he settles over the ball. If you were blind, you’d think you were alone.
The ball rolls in and the crowd erupt. Olazabal’s caddie “Wobbly” punches the air and the Spaniards leave grinning, 2 up.
Floyd sits alone. Motionless. So I kneel down and ask him how he thinks it’s all going.
“It doesn’t look too good right now does it,” says the 64-year-old eight-time Ryder Cup star and four-time major champion.
“It could be won right here, today. If Europe go into the singles more than two ahead it will be very tough. Europe are having a big surge right now. Generally you get two or three surges a day, but if the US don’t get their surge soon they could be in big trouble.”
We don’t have time for more as Clarke is on the tee. “Thanks Mr Floyd,” I say. “Hmm,” he replies.
Clarke and Tiger Woods – who backs off his drive once - find the bunker, Westwood is short but on line. Furyk finds the green.
Clarke gets the biggest ovation yet. Elin Woods, in dark shades and black cap, and Tabitha Furyk settle down on the grass.
A flurry of radio men scuttle past, whispering into their microphones live on air. Five Live’s Mark Pougatch sports Top Gun-style aviator shades. An NBC guy with a big white moustache shares my tree and mumbles to his listeners in my right ear.
The hole is halved in threes and Europe stay 2 up. The Americans leave the green first. Woods looks dejected. More chants of “USA-USA”. Clarke and Westwood follow and the grandstand rises as one, all shaking their fists and imploring the Europeans on. “C’mon Leeeeeeeeeeee” rings out.
Floyd, impassive, rests his head on his hand.
No-one has left, or if they have they’ve been replaced. There’s a short delay before Henrik Stenson hits left, pin-high. Padraig Harrington’s ball gets a bizarre Shane Warne-style leg-spin bounce and runs through the green. The Americans are bunkered and short.
The entourage with this one includes Five Live’s Iain Carter and some more US WAGS. Harrington’s ball is in a hollow just yards away and he wiggles his behind as he settles over it. The ball checks and slows on its second bounce and the crowd urge it towards the hole. “Goo-on, gooo-on.”
Stenson chips to a few feet and Scott Verplank makes par for partner Zach Johnson.
Floyd gets up and leaves.
But Stenson misses his tiddler. A WAG and I exchange glances and both raise our eyebrows. Hers are more manicured than mine. Harrington also misses and Europe walk off 1 down. Groans, then shouts of encouragement.
At 1107 it’s all over. The grandstand empties, the crowds shuffle off, the camera crews pack up, the marshals have a crafty fag.
And this idyllic corner of County Kildare returns to peace. For a few hours at least.
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