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Big business at the Ryder Cup

Kai Ryssdal Sep 21, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s a simple game, really. Put the little white ball in the little round hole. The pros make it look easy, anyway. Golf’s most prestigious international team tournament starts tomorrow in Ireland. It’s called the Ryder Cup. Marketplace’s business-of-sports analyst Ed Derse’s here to tell us more. Hey Ed.

ED DERSE: Hi, Kai.

RYSSDAL: Uh, the Ryder Cup. You know, it’s this golf thing. Other than that, what is it?

DERSE: Well, the PGA will love me for this. It’s the Super Bowl of golf.

RYSSDAL: Oh, good.

DERSE: Yeah. Started in 1927. And more or less been held every two years since. Originally was the United States against Great Britain, which was described by the Guardian as a little lunch party. It’s now evolved, obviously, into a bigger competition. In 1973, the Europeans were included. So it’s now the United States against Europe for the Ryder Cup.

RYSSDAL: This year in Ireland, right?

DERSE: This year in Ireland at the K Course in County Kildare. It’s an Arnold Palmer-designed course. It’s caused a little bit of controversy because it’s more of an American-style course than a traditional European course. It’s owned by a controversial nouveau riche businessman named Michael Smurfit.

RYSSDAL: Is that really his name? Smurfit?

DERSE: That’s really his name.

RYSSDAL: You know, you say Super Bowl and I immediately think of, like, advertising and corporate stuff and how it all turns into that. You’re not telling me that golf has sort of become that?

DERSE: Well, golf has certainly become that. This is a very high-profile hospitality event for corporations worldwide. So, the big sponsors like Allianz, and Lucent, BMW, they’re all over there. And, of course, the price tags for tickets and all the hospitality events come with it as well. Remember, golf is sort of the official sport of corporate life . . .

RYSSDAL: That’s true. Good point.

DERSE: . . . And these rich guys really like to go to nice golf events in Ireland.

RYSSDAL: The thing about the Ryder Cup, though, is you have a golf team, which is weird cuz you don’t see Tiger [Woods] playing on a golf team.

DERSE: Exactly. In a sport of individuals — is what golf is — this is a team event. And this is what I really like about it. You have two teams of 12 individuals and they play in these multiple formats. So in the first couple of days they play 4-ball in the morning, which means you have two guys on one side against two guys on the other side, they combine scores and whoever wins the hole wins. And in the afternoon they play foursomes, and it’s one guy hits a ball, then the other guy hits the ball and then they alternate all the way through. And in a lot of ways it’s like the kind of golf games that your average golfer plays. You know, it’s sort of like playing in a scramble. So I think the average golfer identifies with the format.

RYSSDAL: The other thing is that there is a very real sense of nationalism here. I mean, it’s rah-rah USA in a lot of ways.

DERSE: And it’s gotten a little bit of rowdiness into it. And, of course, the European tabloids are sort of playing this up. But what’s great about this is these players are playing for Europe, they’re playing for the United States, and they’re not playing for prize money. They do get some money to distribute to charities. So you get $100,000 each player to donate to the charity of his choice and $100,000 gets contributed to his university.

RYSSDAL: Oh, that’s great. . . . Who do you like?

DERSE: Who do I like? Well, William Hill, the august U.K. bookmaker has the Europeans favored 5 to 6. Although, some intrepid soul has bet nearly half a million dollars on the United States. The U.S. hasn’t fared particularly well. They’ve lost four out of the last five. And they have problems with this type of competition format. Tiger Woods is often criticized as not being a real team golfer. Whereas Sergio Garcia on the European side may be a better player than Tiger Woods in this kind of format. And then, of course, if you take the recent U.S. record in recent international team competitions like the World Basketball Championships and the World Baseball Classic, we’re not looking so good. We need a win here, Kai.

RYSSDAL: Alright, it starts tomorrow, right?

DERSE: Yes it does.

RYSSDAL: Ed Derse, the director of interactive media for Fox Sports International. Thanks, Ed.

DERSE: You’re welcome, Kai.

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