As I have stated in a previous column — at least I think I did — I have about a 20-minute commute every morning and I will sometimes listen to audiobooks from Audible as I drive. Most of the books I have listened to have been about sports: mainly football, basketball and baseball.
Throughout my time, I have stumbled across an author named John Feinstein, an American sportswriter, author and commentator. He tells compelling stories that dive behind the scenes of some of the biggest names and events in sports.
The one I just finished listening to a couple days ago was called “The First Major,” a story about the 2016 Ryder Cup, the pinnacle of golf that happens biennially and pits a team of 12 US golfers against a team of 12 European golfers.
Spoiler alert: The US won the 2016 Ryder Cup — it’s first since 2008 (which oddly enough, I vaguely remember watching part of when I was in college).
The Ryder Cup features sessions of foursomes and fourballs on Friday, foursomes and fourballs on Saturday and singles matches on Sunday. A win in each match gives the golfer’s team a single point, while a tie (or halve) gives each team half of a point.
In 2016, the US beat Europe by a final score of 17-11 at Hazeltine Golf Club in Minnesota.
Feinstein’s book details the events leading up to the 2016 Ryder Cup and the past successes and failures for the Americans in Ryder Cup history, including its come-from-behind victory in 1999 at Brookline in Massachusetts, and its monumental meltdown in Sunday singles matches in 2012 at Medinah Country Club in Illinois where Europe overcame a 10-6 deficit to win 14 ½ -13 ½ .
What was intriguing, however, was listening to some of the things that go on “inside the ropes” as they say. For example, each team hosts every other year, and each team will set up the playing surface to their likings or to maximize their strengths.
In the book, Feinstein outlined how the Americans are usually better at making putts than the Europeans are. On the other hand, however, the Europeans are better at the short game with irons and wedges and getting close to the pin.
So when the US hosts the Ryder Cup, golfers are likely to see bigger fairways, holes in favorable conditions on the green that maximize their ability to make putts and fast action on the green. When Europe hosts the Ryder Cup, as it will in 2023 in Italy, players are likely to see smaller fairways and larger rough areas, slower action on the green and pin locations that are “tucked” in “corners” of the green that require golfers to be more precise with their approach shots.
As I listened, I also found it intriguing the work that goes into preparing the course for the week-long event. For a week or so prior to the Ryder Cup in 2016, members of Hazeltine Golf Club were told to keep off the course so it was in pristine condition for when players arrive the Monday before matches start.
Toward the end of the book when Feinstein described in detail the matches, I was hanging on every word. The sad thing is I had cheated and looked up the results before getting to the end of the book, but Feinstein’s writing (and speaking) style keeps the reader (listener) on the edge of his/her seat.
Listening to the book has piqued my interest in not only the Ryder Cup, but golf in general. I remember my grandfather Larry — whom I’ve written about before — watched golf every weekend. In the past, I have never been one to just put golf on TV to watch it. When I have, however, I have found it to be rather relaxing to watch.
When I was nursing my leg fracture during Winter Storm Uri, I found myself turning on the Golf Channel to watch a replay of the previous week’s tournament.
Who knows where my journalism journey will take me? Perhaps I, too, will be “inside the ropes,” when the Ryder Cup returns to the US in 2025? I don’t know. Either way, Feinstein’s book about the 2016 Ryder Cup has given me a new-found interest in golf.