The Ryder Cup Divide

Bruce Selcraig writes about the religious and political divide between European Tour players and U.S. players. You won't don't want to skip this compelling read, which appeared in the Irish Times.

But there’s still one significant cultural divide that is so sensitive an issue most players simply avoid addressing it when they’re on the other’s turf. Simply put, many Euros and other international players are put off by the overwhelming number of American PGA Tour players who identify themselves as George Bush-loving Republicans who support the US occupation of Iraq.

“Every movie you see, every book you read is like, `America, we’re the best country in the world,’” German Alex Cejka told me in May at the Byron Nelson tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. “When I hear this [from players] I could throw up. Sure it’s a great country...but you cannot say we have the most powerful president in the world, the biggest country in the world...It’s sad that they are influenced by so much bullshit.”

The affable and well-read Australian, Geoff Ogilvy, who won the US Open and has lived in Arizona with his Texas wife for four years, says: “A lot of their conservative views [on tour] are way off the map...I think George Bush is a bit dangerous. I think the world is scared while he’s in office, [but] there’s less tolerance of diversity [in opinions] over here [and] people have more blind faith in their government.”

Various Euros have hinted that they have similar views, but say privately they’ll be crucified in American lockerrooms and newspapers if they publicly oppose Bush, his fundamentalist Christian agenda or the Iraq war.

“That’s the new way of American censorship,” said Parnevik, as he baked on the driving range in Fort Worth. “People get hurt very badly if they speak out.”


Not coincidentally, the American pro golf world, which has been heavily influenced by corporate America and Republican politics for at least 30 years, now has such a strong element of Christian fundamentalists that the entire Ryder Cup leadership – Tom Lehman, Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts – are all self-professed born-again Christians. Roberts was even converted and baptized at a tournament.

In the book, “The Way of an Eagle,” Lehman says: “God has definitely used golf in a great way over the last several years. I think of myself as a Christian who plays golf, not as a golfer who is a Christian. So whatever kind of job I do, there is a way for God to use that as a tool. In society at large, especially the way golf is growing, there is a huge platform for golfers.”

There are now official chaplains and weekly Bible study groups, or “fellowships,” on each of the four American pro tours, and various players either display the Christian fish symbol on their golf bag or wear a popular cloth bracelet that says “W.W.J.D” – What Would Jesus Do. “It’s not seen as so strange anymore for a player to be open about his faith,” former tour pro Bobby Clampett told Golf World. “They’re no longer called `The God Squad’ or `Jesus Freaks’ like we were 20 years ago. Now it’s cool.”

Well, until Bobby shows up.       

David Feherty, the former Euro Ryder Cup member from Northern Ireland who is now a popular TV golf commentator in America, believes the very public display of fire-and-brimstone Christianity is still unsettling to most Europeans. “I think a lot of Europeans find that conservative Christian thing as frightening as conservative Muslims,” he says. “If you find any European pros who are in that Bible thumping category, it’s usually because they’ve been to the United States.”