Monday, September 22, 2008 Updated: September 24, 7:07 AM ET
After years of dominance, Ryder Cup cycle tosses Euro team aside
By Bob Smiley Special to ESPN.com
Throughout the 2008 golf season, I was lucky enough to witness many of the year's most unforgettable moments from the gallery: Tiger's hat slam on the 72nd hole of the Arnold Palmer Invitational; his Sunday comeback in Dubai; and all five rounds of this year's U.S. Open. The goal was to watch every hole Woods played, and when he underwent ACL surgery in June, it ended his season and mine.
The afterglow from Torrey Pines carried me through a British Open and PGA Championship in which I never left the middle cushion of my couch. But on Sunday, with the U.S. team inching toward its first Ryder Cup victory in almost a decade, I couldn't bear to watch the action unfold all by myself. So I set out Sunday morning across Los Angeles, in search of some hard-core golf fans.
Two of L.A.'s biggest sports bars sit within 50 feet of each other on Wilshire Boulevard, a lone sushi restaurant serving as a buffer between them. But at 9:30 a.m. with Sergio Garcia and Anthony Kim already having teed off, there is not a single golf fan in sight.
Inside the empty Cabo Cantina, a waitress dressed like a Laker Girl is setting up chairs as a line of TVs crackles to life. The bartender notices me loitering, so I ask, "You watching the Ryder Cup today?" He shakes his head, "We only have eight receivers."
When he realizes this hasn't really helped his argument in an empty bar, he decides to just be honest, "Only football."
From there, I make the short walk to Q's Billiards, which is already serving a few dozen fans. Covering the walls are 34 flat-screen TVs, ranging in size from large to if-that-fell-on-me-I'd-surely-die. The place is like Best Buy with a liquor license.
One of these sets had to be reserved for the biggest and most electrifying team event in golf. I approach a scruffy-haired worker behind a cash register.
"Ryder Cup?" I ask. He looks pained by the question, as if he has just opened his door to a kid selling magazine subscriptions. "We'll see," he tries weakly, "there are six games today."
He can see that I'm disappointed. And why shouldn't I be? It's only Week 3 of the NFL season. The Ryder Cup won't be played again for two more years.
Boo Weekley did his best Happy Gilmore impersonation at the Ryder Cup, leading at least one European fan to toss a verbal jab at the American through a television set.
"Maybe tonight," he adds.
"It'll be over by 3."
As 34 Boomer Esiasons speak in unison above me, the search continues. I drive west and pop my head in a few more dives, but every place turns out to be like Q's, the only variable being the numbers of televisions not tuned to golf. The truth is that, as important as the Ryder Cup is in my head, it falls pretty low on the food chain of major sporting events for the average American.
But then, with only one bar left before I hit the ocean, I find him, a solitary golf fan in the corner of a bar glued to the muted coverage from Valhalla. Unfortunately, the bar happens to be Ye Olde King's Head, L.A.'s most famous British pub. And the 59-year-old fan, Jim, is Irish and viciously pro-Europe.
I consider leaving, then decide that if America can win, this might be far more enjoyable than watching it with my fellow countrymen. Of course, if America chokes, it will be unbearable. Within five minutes of my settling in next to Jim, he has ripped into most of the U.S. team.
Boo Weekley: "An ignorant, ugly American."
Anthony Kim: "A little, arrogant bastard."
J.B. Holmes: "What a joke."
Hunter Mahan: "Jackass."
He even tosses an R-rated insult at Steve Stricker, which is hard to fathom.
"Supposedly he's the nicest guy in the world," I tell him. Jim rolls his eyes. "I don't believe that. Nicest guy in the world. How can you go through life and not hack somebody off?"
Jim's blind passion goes back to his childhood after his family moved to London. "When we were young, Americans had everything," he said. The Ryder Cup was the U.K.'s biennial chance to take down a giant, although until the rest of Europe was grafted onto the team in 1979, winning the Ryder Cup was more fantasy than reality.
But now, of course -- after the Europeans had claimed five of the past six Ryder Cups -- he has been spoiled by victory and expects to win every time. And when the day's matches tip heavily in America's favor, Jim begins to turn on his fellow Europeans.
Sergio receives the brunt of these slurs (not suitable for print), followed closely by Paul Casey (really not suitable for print). Jim thinks Nick Faldo's decision to take the slumping Casey over a charging Darren Clarke is an unforgivable mistake. Two hours into our day and we finally agree on something. Just as the U.S. team has benefited from rookies with no personal memory of Ryder Cup pain, the European team obviously could have used another player who was anxious to re-create past glory.
By 2 o'clock, the Cup is within America's grasp, and Jim's rooting takes on a noticeably more desperate tone.
First, he tries to jinx Kenny Perry on the greens. "Miss it!" he yells.
When Holmes knocks it stiff again and again over his closing holes, Jim begs for mercy. "Stop it!" he exclaims.
I know the Ryder Cup is a lock when he starts to take swipes at nonplayers, such as NBC on-course commentator Mark Rolfing. He even goes after players who aren't even in the Ryder Cup, such as Vijay Singh.
When he places a call to his Scottish friend, John, there's no answer. "He's probably committed suicide," he says as he slaps his phone closed. Forget the Cabo Cantina. This is way more entertaining.
In the end, as Miguel Angel Jimenez concedes his match to Jim Furyk and the Ryder Cup is headed back to the States after a 16½-11½ victory, the dark cloud over my rival immediately lifts. He orders some tea and toast and muses about how everything in life goes in cycles. It was his turn for a while, he says, and now it's once again mine. He goes as far as to say a U.S. victory is arguably a good thing.
After three wins in a row, Jim wonders whether he was starting to not care as much as he used to about who wins. Now that's a scary thought.
During Sunday's postround news conference with Team USA, a reporter prefaced a question by saying that America's victory in the Ryder Cup undoubtedly has invigorated the nation. After spending a day behind enemy lines, it's safe to say the win invigorated many nations, most of which are thousands of miles across the Atlantic.
Bob Smiley is a contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage. "Follow the Roar," his book about Tiger's 2008 season, will be released in November. He also writes the golf blog Fore Right and can be reached at Bobsmiley77@gmail.com.