THE steep hill above the eighth green at Gleneagles has established itself as one of the coolest vantage points at the Ryder Cup.
The view across Perthshire is sumptuous and your eyeline to the heart of the putting surface is completely unrestricted, especially if you’ve climbed right to the top. You could be at the back of Liverpool’s Kop or better still on the summit of the old high terracing at Easter Road – or indeed at any football ground, gazing down on your own field of dreams. And this is what Sky TV wants you to feel.
“Bring the noise” is the host broadcaster’s affix-to-everything slogan. You might know this as the song by Public Enemy, a typical piece of rap braggadocio. “These alley trippers are still frontin’ on us,” goes the song. “Show ’em that we can do this.” Golf, the last time, I looked, doesn’t attract many alley trippers, and nor is it likely to be accused any time soon of being “too black”. But Sky, to be fair, hasn’t adopted all of the song, slapping “Badder than bad” on its courtesy satchels. It does, though, want us to come to Gleneagles noisily, and to behave like football fans.
So how was this playing on the eighth yesterday morning, after a first day which everyone said had been too quiet? Well, the first match through was Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson against Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar in the fourballs, not quite yet the classic tussle it would become. Rose’s birdie putt was greeted with cheering, for sure, and there were some more cheers at the failure of the Americans to match it. But these were delivered self-consciously, and stopped abruptly. No one was about to start a soccer-casual-style pagger – even though, dressed in their expensive sportswear, everyone looked the part.
There’s another classic tussle going on right now. It involves golf’s politeness, Perthshire’s primness and Sky’s determination to not be so demure. The network’s hyping of the Ryder has no equal in sport. The tournament is presented as war, life-or-death. And yet it’s golf, just by Auchterarder, where “Bring the noise” isn’t quite as recognisable as bring-and-buy.
I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds. Sky’s money must have provided journalists covering the event with every creature-comfort including a bracelet which we show in return for free grub – biting the band that feeds, indeed. As a provider of sport it does a lot of things well and even its brashness – the sense that Jim White’s head could start spinning through 360 degrees, Exorcist-style, sending him whirling into your living-room – can be entertaining.
But this is golf and this is Perthshire. Sky’s screechiness seems especially jarring among these rolling hills. A few miles from where Scottish kings were crowned we’re led to believe we’re in a place “Where legends are forged”. This particular slogan has caused some consternation, if not tittering, with not just your correspondent misreading it as “Where legends are forced”.
In sport, not least in golf, where there can be many a slip twixt the hole and the lip, you cannot always forge a legend and you certainly can’t force one. Friday’s scrappy play, with the starriest players – Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter – among the scrappiest, proved that. The crowds were subdued as a result, which tells you, I think, that they’re proper golf fans, able to judge events for themselves, not requiring to be led, and that they’ll bring the noise or Perthshire equivalent when they’re good and ready and they feel it’s deserved.
I bet many of them have been unimpressed by the choir sponsored by a travel company in the grandstand at the first tee trying to encourage community singing. Some of the golfing quotations decorating the course are indicative of legends being forced; most come from airless modern interview-rooms and none would qualify as a Shanklyism. And you’d have to say the same about the opening ceremony. When did it suddenly start resembling the inauguration of an American president?
When Sky got hold of the Ryder Cup, you’d say. It has taken the event and covered it in its special gloop. It wasn’t exactly obscure before, but if you look at the archive photos of, for instance, the trophy presentation the last time the competition was played in Scotland at Muirfield in 1973, you’d think the Gullane Parish Church WRI Sunday constitutional on the beach was the main event and some Yankee golfers in checked slacks just happened to wander into shot. With serious assistance from Sky, the remoulded Ryder has certainly given us many unforgettable sporting moments, but the broadcaster must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
If Frank Sinatra issued the most farewells, this Ryder Cup has had the most hellos. From a long way back, the dedicated channel has been pumping out highlights from previous years. All last week, there was an intense build-up in which it seemed that every player and his personal pillow-plumper-upper at the Gleneagles Hotel was offering up his thoughts and predictions. The central message was: It’s coming, it’s going to be big, you won’t believe how huge – bring the noise.
Say something often enough and the people will believe you. Bash them about the head with a sand wedge so many times and they’ll agree that the Ryder Cup really is the greatest event in the history of everything. This seems to be the Sky philosophy. But Perthshire Mannie, representing the Scottish golf enthusiast, is, I think a more circumspect fellow. This is my first Ryder tramping the fairways as opposed to watching on TV, and it’s a different tournament. Golf isn’t and won’t ever be like football. It’s played in the head by its brilliant practitioners, and often enjoyed in that manner by its fans.
The Gleneagles gathering does cheer and there’s expert appreciation of key moments such as on the eighth yesterday when birdie-demon Justin Rose was invited by his partner to putt first even though he was further from the flag, in the hope of putting the wind up the US (which he duly did). But the noise they make when you’re actually there isn’t as loud as what comes over on the box and I really don’t know why that is.
The decibel level definitely increased yesterday as the winds dropped and the play improved and a home triumph today will ramp it up some more. But either way Perthshire Mannie might well feel like calling up another Public Enemy track and adding a local inflection: Dinnae believe the hype.