Why the Ryder Cup Is the Most Underrated Sports Competition in the World

Mike DudurichContributor ISeptember 26, 2012

European fans bring plenty of color to the Ryder Cup matches.
European fans bring plenty of color to the Ryder Cup matches.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine an event that has the potential to be attended by over 200,000 fans over the course of six days, watched on television by untold millions of television viewers and be as fiercely contested as any other sports competition would not be considered among the world’s most elite events.

But believe it or not, the Ryder Cup, golf’s ultimate team competition, suffers that fate every two years. Despite featuring a field of elite professional golfers who play for pride of country and no financial compensation, this biennial battle of golf and nerves is some of the most riveting athletic competition ever.

The patriotic passion that is stirred by these matches is nearly unparalleled in the universe of great sporting events, with perhaps only soccer’s World Cup surpassing it. The Ryder Cup wasn’t always that way, however, as the United States team regularly thumped Great Britain & Ireland all but three times from the event’s inception until 1985.

But when the decision was made to include all of Europe on the team, the pendulum swung with the addition of players like Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer made the matches much more competitive. That increased the passion level among the players and then the fans.

That led to bitterness, accusations of cheating at one point, acts of supreme sportsmanship and gamesmanship and great acrimony. Then came 1991 and the War by the Shore, the Ryder Cup that was infused with even more patriotic feelings as a result of what was going on in the Middle East.

It has everything a sports fan could want: long-standing bitterness over past incidents, the greatest players in the game (of the 24 players at Medinah Country Club this week, the lowest-ranked player in the World Golf Rankings is 35th) and the highest level of pressure any athlete could be place under.

And where does that pressure come from? Well, unlike every other major sporting event except the World Cup, players in the Ryder Cup are representing their country. They’re not playing for a team based in a specific city, this is for a country. Players from all eras are quick to admit that playing for a major championship is one sort of pressure, but playing for your country is a much different and more intense sort of pressure.

The players love the event. In the back of their minds for two years leading up to the event, they work hard to qualify for the Ryder Cup team. When they finally make it, they count down the days until it starts. Stepping on the first tee of the first day matches, they all feel nerves like they’ve never felt before.

Fervent golf fans, as well as the casual fans, tune in more to these three days of golf than any other.

But despite all that, the Ryder Cup still doesn’t receive the kind of respect that events like the Super Bowl, the NCAA basketball tournament and, in other countries, the World Cup. Why is that?

Well, I can’t really think of many.

One possibility that Ryder Cup is underrated is the time of year it’s held. It’s always at the end of golf season, in early fall. And really, it’s not so much that it’s held in the fall, it’s more that it’s held early in football season. High school, college and professional teams have begun their seasons and for sports fans sometimes golf fades off their radar.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Ryder Cup is held every other year instead of every year like the Super Bowl or Stanley Cup playoffs or World Series. But it’s set up that way to help create the incredible interest that builds between events.

And while it’s true that while the Ryder Cup won’t have the economic impact of a Super Bowl, estimates are that the greater Chicago area will see a multi-million dollar boost as a result of the Ryder Cup.

Via chicagobusiness.com, “As much as we overestimated (the economic impact of) NATO, I think we've underestimated the Ryder Cup,” said Laurence Geller, CEO of Chicago-based Strategic Hotels & Resorts, Inc.

Tournament organizers are calling the Ryder Cup the biggest sporting event in Illinois history with the possibility of seeing as much as $130 million in economic boost.

A year ago, the Ryder Cup was held at Celtic Manor in Wales, and despite inclement weather playing havoc with the schedule and forcing the event into Monday, the Ryder Cup took the golf resort from being the United Kingdom’s leading golf and business hotel into a major global brand.

For the life of me, I really can’t get a firm grip on why the word “underrated” is used as a prefix to Ryder Cup. The cheers and jeers—yes, it’s louder than any other golf tournament you’ve been to—create an atmosphere that is very close to crossing over into other atmospheres of other big events.

If you are a sports fan and have by design not watched any of the Ryder Cup to this point, this would be a great year to start. This 39th edition could well be the best ever. Give it a look and tell me if you don’t agree that it’s puzzling why this thing is underrated.