ON A grassy knoll in Perthshire, on a golf course which Ryder Cup Radio suggested was housing “the entire population of Scotland”, I suddenly felt like Debbie McGee.
A few yards away, although there weren’t enough of them for my liking, stood a diminutive millionaire – not Paul Daniels but Rory McIlroy.
Instead of Daniels taking aim with knives at his lovely assistant, the world’s best golfer was contemplating his second at the ninth in the fourballs from a position in the rough below myself and the other knoll-dwellers, all of us unable to move from the line of fire because a steward had roped us in with words of caution I didn’t quite understand: “You’ve seen Police Academy, haven’t you?”
“He’s No 1 in the world – he’s going to clear us, yes?” whispered the man next to me, stars down one leg, stripes down the other. Half of me felt privileged to see the sport’s whizz-kid superstar at such close, Attenborough-on-safari quarters while the other half wanted to be anywhere else, even in the tent promoting the latest advances in plus-fours – and because my American friend was breathing heavy I guessed his percentages erred heavily on the side of getting the hell out of “Glen-(pause)-Eagles”. But Rory cleared us, the knoll, the trees above, everything. Of course he did and another dimpled white pebble zinged across the big VistaVision sky.
The Ryder Cup. A lot of people – maybe not quite the population of Scotland, but close – have been waiting a long time for it to get here, and none more so than the starter, Ivor Robson. Imagine how many times he’d rehearsed his introductions for a home tournament, pacing the living-room shagpile like it was the first tee, only for the great day to arrive and for him to cock up, announcing Bubba Watson instead of Webb Simpson.
In the Hubba-Bubba of precisely 7:35am yesterday, Ivor’s nerves were understandable. “Yoo-rup, Yoo-rup” was the big chant, sung to the tune of the old football standard “Penis, penis”. Excitement increased for the arrival of Ian Poulter, the Ryder Cup fancy dan, and Stephen Gallacher, the local boy. “Walking in a Poulter wonderland,” chorused the crowd, and then: “There’s only one Stevie G.” But these two started out as shaky as poor Ivor and would never recover.
That early in the morning, they needed to get their eye in, as did we all. Your correspondent misread the slogan on the back of the biggest grandstand: “Where legends are forced”. On closer inspection it was “forged” but a cynic, unmoved by the hype this tournament gets now, might have reckoned “forced” was right. Well, the legends aspirant of Glen-(pause)-Eagles weren’t romping it. The strong gusts saw to that in the morning games and birdies were thin on the ground.
Glen-(pause)-Eagles sounds like a comic-book hero golfer but in his absence we had Phil Mickelson, America’s big gun. “A street-scrapper,” Ryder Cup Radio called the swaggering leftie as we followed his game through Kittle Kink to Whaup’s Nest. Except right at that moment he was wearing golfing mittens, two of them, on the green – the big jessie.
Ahead with the Poulter-Gallacher combo, Commonwealth Games hero Alex “Tattie” Marshall was giving the Scot good support, along with fellow bowling gold medallists Paul Foster and David Peacock. What had Tattie been doing since we last saw him? “A holiday in the Dominican Republic, personal appearances, going round schools, but I haven’t bowled since the summer. The winter season indoors starts soon enough.”
Indoor golf will never happen, not when there are settings this gorgeous. “Gleneagles, on the coast of Scotland,” drooled Ryder Cup Radio. And them thar hills, what might these be? “The Oak Hills.” The Americans in the crowd, although I thought I might see more of them, were loving the vibe. “We’re from Minnesota, venue for 2016, so we’re your greetings committee,” said Tom Ahern from Minneapolis, dressed like his pals in the purple kit of the local American football team, the Vikings, topped off with fetching Norsewoman headgear. “We needed 12 outfits and this is all we could get,” he added, with surprising US self-consciousness.
Five German nutters opted for white onesies with “Kaymer” on the back. “This is a tribute to the caddies of Augusta where Martin our hero won the Masters,” said Peter Niehage from Stuttgart. “We’re having a great time in Scotland. Tomorrow we wear lederhosen because you will expect it of us and on Sunday each of us puts on the shirt of our football team. It’s been a great year for German sport, you know.”
Elsewhere on the fairways the fans showed off their golfing gadgetry and gimcrackery: kneeling cushions, blocks to make you taller than the other guy, spy-grade periscopes to see over his head if he’s really some kind of freak. Meanwhile the polis rode bicycles with their sergeant on stabilisers.
There was less need for the contraptions in the foursomes when the crowds thinned out, possibly because the corporates were still in hospitality or having a wee lie down. This cleared space by the ropes for the hardcore, the cognoscenti and the yompers. Even so, no one could be everywhere. Mild, late-afternoon panic took hold when some in the throng would hear shouts coming from elsewhere and give chase.
These poor souls must have thought they were at the wrong party, that everyone else was having much more fun than they were. Partly this feeling was caused by a first day which was interesting enough, scrappy at times, but somewhat lacking in the dramatic. And when the pursuers reached the seat of the noise they might well have been underwhelmed. The sound they thought they heard may have simply been a trick of the Perthshire wind – a snell bluster which caused some of the Ryder Cup’s stars to keep cavalier play in their bags, and prompted at least one of them to reach for the heavy-duty oven gloves.