There is much nonsense offered as to the importance of the team captain when it comes to the Ryder Cup. No matter the rhetoric, the one vital duty never changes: Write down the lineup for the four sets of pairs matches played on the first two days of competition.
There are four matches in each session, meaning four of the 12 players are on the sideline.
Darren Clarke, Europe’s man in charge, announced at Thursday’s opening ceremony that Danny Willett would not be part of his alternate-shot tandems for Friday morning.
If Clarke’s reason was to get his pal Lee Westwood out there and get it over with, that could be understandable. If the reason was to give more time to the U.S. fans to get over the insults aimed at them by Willett’s brother, Pete (or P.J.), that was a tactical mistake.
Clarke used to have a reputation as a fellow who enjoyed a beverage. It would seem that with such a background, Darren would’ve had a greater appreciation for the effect additional hours of imbibing figured to have on blood alcohol readings in a golf gallery.
The tee times for the foursomes were between 7:35 and 8:20 a.m. Willett was on the practice green as those matches headed across Hazeltine National.
The tee times for the four-ball matches were between 12:30 p.m. and 1:15 p.m. Willett was in the third match with Martin Kaymer, opposing Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka.
By then, the crowd was enormous. So was the consumption of beer — $9 per can, or $10 if you wanted Stella Artois or fancy ale.
The gallery encountered on the south end of the course, the triangle starting at No. 3, had its share of well-lubricated young men.
There’s a little plateau at the fourth tee. It was around 2:30, the sun was getting warmer. Willett walked from the elevated third green, and when he appeared, a drunk shouted:
“Danny, your brother …’’
The rest of that sentence included a suggestion that, if true, would have caused P.J. Willett to be cited by the British constabulary.
A marshal came down to reprimand the offender, but the obscene shouter had departed by then. The fourth is a long par-3 and, as Willett came walking down the fairway, there were a few shouts of “ba-ba-booey.’’
The frequent shouts of “ba-ba-booey’’ were based on one of the insults aimed at American golf fans in P.J. Willett’s now notorious essay that appeared this week in a British golf publication.
It was funny, for sure, but tremendously ill-timed, with his brother making a Ryder Cup debut in front of a mob of U.S. golf fans, many of whom would be using beer as jet fuel.
There was a chant of “P.J., P.J.’’ as Willett and Kaymer left the fourth hole 2-down in the match. It got much worse. The Euros were finished after 14 holes, 5 and 4 losers with Snedeker (four) and Koepka (three) combining for seven birdies.
That could have been a disaster for Europe, considering it had suffered a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Americans in the morning foursomes. It was the first 4-0 head start for a team in the Ryder Cup since the U.S. did it to Great Britain/Ireland in 1975.
Fortunately for Willett and Kaymer (who didn’t have a birdie), the rest of the Euro pairs rallied gamely for full points: 5 and 4 for Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson over Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello 3 and 2 over J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore, and Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters 3 and 2 over Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
By late afternoon, Europe was alive in the matches, trailing 5-3, and Willett didn’t have to feel as chagrined over his play or what he endured from the fans.
A member of the Willett entourage told a British radio broadcaster: “It wasn’t terrible with the fans for Danny, but it wasn’t good.’’
I heard some terrible and plenty of not-good while following Willett for a time. The gallery was over 50,000, and you can’t put that much beer in that many sports fans and expect decorum.
Asked about his reception for those 14 holes of mediocre play (two birdies), Willett said:
“It was exactly what we thought it was going to be. There was a few little shouts in there, and bits and bobs, but hopefully they are all following me around so the rest of the lads can do their business.’’
Maybe that’s exactly what happened, as the rest of the European lads — all six of them — did their business to get our guests back into the contest.