From “The War by the Shore” to the “Battle of Brookline” to the “Miracle at Medinah”, the Ryder Cup has consistently produced some of the most memorable moments the sport of Golf has ever seen. Its unique position as one of the very few team competitions within an individual sport ensures both competitors and fans hold the Cup in exceptionally high regard, arguably more so than any major. With the Europe and the USA set to resume hostilities at the end of this month, there was no better time to chat with an expert of the Cup and predecessor of mine about what to expect from this year’s edition.
Ed Hodge was the Sport Editor of this very paper back in 1997/8 and graduated in 2000 with a degree in Modern History. After many years in various roles in sport media, he now works freelance and has co-authored Behind The Ryder Cup: The Players’ Stories with fellow ex-St Andrean Peter Burns and is the author of two other sport books. You can follow Ed on Twitter: @edhodgesport.
- So what are your predictions for this year’s competition? Where do you think it’ll be won and lost?
It promises to be another fascinating match. Given America’s record on away soil, you would think that run has to end sometime. Le Golf National will be set up to suit the Europeans, like any home captain would do. The hosts also have the experience of competing regularly in the French Open at the venue. But given the quality of the American side, as well as their youth, I see them edging this one – as much as I would love a home win! It could be as gripping a Ryder Cup as that seen at Medinah in 2012, such is the quality of both teams – at the time of writing the top 10 in the world are either American or European which is impressive. It is also a golf course that will provide great drama, and I think you will see matches won and lost around holes 15, 16 and even 18, with water everywhere!
- It’s now been 25 years since the USA last triumphed on European soil, do you agree with the sentiment that this is their best chance to date of breaking that drought?
They are travelling to Paris with their strongest team perhaps since Walton Health in 1981 when the US team had luminaries like Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Ray Floyd, Lee Trevino and Hale Irwin in their ranks. They won 18.5 – 9.5. I can’t see an American win as big as that, but, as I said, I can see them just doing enough to win this one. It could go right to the wire and the viewing public, at the venue and watching on TV, are in for a treat. America is also the slight favourites with the bookmakers.
- Thomas Bjorn’s Captain’s picks for Team Europe have been seen to favour experience over current form, most notably with the inclusion of Sergio Garcia. Do you think this will bolster or hinder their chances?
I think Thomas Bjorn’s picks were fairly predictable. He has five rookies in his side, so wanted experience in his ranks with Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia. They are all top, top names but the only question mark is over Garcia, given his form. I think the in-form Matt Wallace was unlucky after three wins on Tour this year, as was Rafa Cabrera Bello. Sergio will no doubt dig deep and be roared on by the crowds, but perhaps won’t be risked in the foursomes. Europe will have some familiar pairings and that will help, but the Americans do look strong and if they can gel as a team they will be difficult to beat.
- This is of course the first time the Ryder Cup has visited France. How important do you believe this tournament will be for growing the game in an often-overlooked golfing region?
It is a golf course just perfect for a Ryder Cup, given the sides of most fairways are raised for the spectators to look down on – like mini amphitheatres. I’m sure the crowds will be there in huge numbers and it will certainly put French golf on the map. That could well spark future growth of the sport in France at grassroots and elite level, as there are currently only three male French players in the top 200 of the world rankings. The first tee at Le Golf National also looks incredible with the seating. It will be a terrific matchplay course. I’m looking forward to attending with some friends on the Saturday and was lucky enough to be working there at the HNA French Open in early July.
- Finally, it’d be a crime to let you go without allowing you to reminisce about your time studying in St Andrews. What are your fondest memories of your time at the Saint and indeed as a student here?
The Saint was a great experience, and gave me a head start in sports media to be honest. I remember those Sunday night deadlines well! I enjoyed covering all levels of sport and especially writing match reports. We also introduced a light-hearted Sunday League feature on various teams that was fun. The old Dunhill Cup golf event was also a great experience when it rolled into town, with many a surreal pub meeting with a golfing star. I remember getting a nice picture with my family and Tiger Woods’ caddy, ‘Fluff’, at the time. My four years as a student at St Andrews was one of the best times of my life, socially and academically. Many of the lessons learned as a student I still use in my work life today. It’s a great town.