Gerald Sinstadt: The millionaires of golf can teach the millionaires of football a few valuable lessons
A GREAT year of sport clearly demanded a great sporting finale. So they took a dozen of our millionaires and a dozen of their millionaires and set them to play golf just outside Chicago for three days.
The course featured huge bunkers, ominous lakes and thousands of people chanting "U-S-A ... U-S-A."
The result you will know: Team Europe staging the greatest comeback victory on foreign soil in the history of the Ryder Cup.
It is worth noting that they were not playing for money.
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What was at stake was a trophy valued at a hundred guineas when it was donated in the 1920's by Samuel Ryder, a business man and Sunday school teacher originally from Lancashire.
In the early post-war years it was mostly a case of how many the Yanks would win by.
That changed in 1979 when the Brits enlisted the help of a few European colleagues. It has been a battle royal ever since.
You may feel the absence of a cash prize isn't relevant, especially bearing in mind that last week Brandt Snedeker joined the US team fresh from picking up the Fedex Cup and a matter of US$11m and a few extra cents as Tour Champion.
What makes the Ryder Cup compelling is that difference.
Instead of the week-by-week routine of giving the money to the player with the lowest score after 72 holes, this is match play – pair against pair, and ultimately man against man, hole-by-hole. All in the unfamiliar context of a team.
Team play generates a pressure unlike anything else in the professional golfer's normal experience.
In Ryder Cup foursomes, a shot into the wilderness leaves your partner to find a way out. That tests a relationship.
In singles, it can come down to the final putt on the 18th green, as it did on Sunday for Martin Kaymer and Steve Stricker.
To decide the outcome not of the hole or even their individual match, but of the whole contest.
That kind of pressure may be hard to comprehend for the run-of-the-mill hacker.
Faced with a three-foot putt and fifty pence at stake, I just know I am likely to finish up further from the hole than when I started. Probably I am not alone.
But, say the armchair critics, these guys are pros, they should be able to cope. That simply ignores what happens in match play.
In the 1960s, when the World Match Play was an annual fixture at Wentworth, the players were lodged in style at the Savoy hotel and chauffeured to the course each day in individual Rolls-Royces.
Wanting to interview Gary Player, I telephoned him at the hotel; there are no more media-friendly sportsmen than professional golfers and Player immediately suggested the following day.
In the 36-hole semi-final he was playing a charming American, Tony Lema (who died the following year in a plane crash). To my horror, Player was six-down after 17. He subsequently revealed that as they left the green, Lema said: "Never mind. You're the US Open Champion. You'll be asked back here next year."
Player says: "I thought to myself, I've got news for you – it ain't over yet."
They halved the 18th and went to lunch with Lema six-up. It wasn't the most propitious moment to approach Player, but I was anxious to remind him he had promised me an interview at the end of the day.
As they made their way in, I had approached to within about 30 yards when Player's legs buckled. Totally exhausted, he had to be helped back to the club house.
Player's own version is that he didn't have lunch; instead, he went straight back out and practised. It was in his character, so perhaps I missed him.
Anyway, he was soon back on the course only to lose the first: seven down, 17 to play. Hole-by-hole, he clawed back the deficit. All-square after 36, Player won the first extra hole.
Less than hour later, he was beside the practice green ready to answer my questions.
On the eve of the Match Play final, pressure was not a subject that interested him. I guess it was part of his armour that he could tell himself there was no such thing.
I remembered Gary Player, who was only playing for himself, when Stricker and then Kaymer stood over the crucial putt that would decide the Ryder Cup on Sunday.
Pressure? What pressure?
When it was all over at the Medinah Country Club there were hugs and high fives for the winners, brave faces for the losers. They shook hands and will remain friends.
Over three days, nobody had his shirt pulled, nobody was elbowed, nobody dived, nobody rubbished the officials, nobody threw bananas.
It's a different game, golf.