Coach's Corner

Trust me on this: You don't want the woman you share a life with to quit smoking and get a new job in the same week. That said, it is also true that sometimes, good things start out a little rocky. The American Ryder Cup team would understand the wisdom of that. To relieve some domestic pressure I took Kelly (not until the Cup ended, of course) to see Kevin Costner in For Love of the Game. It seemed like a decent idea, but things didn't work out so swell. I suppose the fact that the temperature in the crowded, stifling room rose to the edge of human tolerance may have influenced my impressions of the movie. I'll allow that's a possibility. My concentration may have been broken by Kelly's repeated jabs in my ribs -- unnecessarily calling my attention to the airless auditorium, the intriguing array of human smells, her bad choice of candy that was now melted anyway (my fault) -- and her hissing for me to clamber over a bunch of people, down from the top row of the theatre, and find a manager to "do something!" Yes, this was all distracting ... but still, this was a bad movie.

Start with the incongruous sight of ancient Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully announcing a Yankee game. Add in the clock on the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium that was stuck at 6:21 for the entire movie, a night game where it never got dark, umpires harassing pitchers to hurry up and pitch when no batter had stepped to the plate. Blend in the sappiest love story since Love Story, and all that's left is my male envy that Costner (he does have a pretty natural throwing motion) can indulge his boyhood sports fantasies and hang out with Kelly Preston.

The movie did little to soothe my Kelly. In another section of the house, I'm keeping out of the way. I hear cabinets slamming. The dogs and even her precious kitty have been threatened with violence. Roxy, Floyd, Mela, and I all hope the smoking hypnosis thing works. But for now ... well, how about that Ryder Cup?

Maybe -- just maybe -- the hours I sat glued to the television set watching golf this weekend contributed to the domestic tension, but it was worth it. I saw something unique: a heavily hyped sports event that was so good it was actually not overhyped.

I can't say I really understand the contrariness that's such an ingrained part of my negative nature. Ever since Ryder Cup competition began on Thursday, I found myself (silently and filled with angst) rooting for the heavy underdog European team. Frankly, I felt guilty. Why, I'd ask myself, must I be this way? Maybe I resented the attitude of some of the star American players about being paid to play. Maybe the arrogance of the American team bothered me. It's possible the sight of American superstar golfers being humbled by guys I'd never heard of -- given no chance against the monstrously favored American team -- was gratifying. It could be I tired of American whining about how stupid the format was, or how the press had set expectations too high. Or maybe it was for the most American of reasons: I was just rooting for the underdog. In any case, this anti-American, anti-Justin Leonard stance also greatly annoyed my anxious wife.

Whatever my allegiance, what makes Ryder Cup captivating is this: When a format is designed to take athletes radically out of their normal competitive comfort zone and still manage to keep the integrity of the sport intact, you have something special working. Ryder Cup takes golfers used to competing in a game where unqualified selfishness is an absolute prerequisite for success and puts them in a situation where their orientation must be turned around 180 degrees. They must rely on a partner, and ultimately 10 other guys, for success. Add the pressure of playing not for themselves and money, but for country. Only tennis, among all other sports, can do this. With John McEnroe now the captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team, you can be sure Davis Cup, a fantastically exciting event seen live, will get more media attention. However, don't look for Davis Cup to come close to the popularity of golf's event. For one, the entire Davis Cup schedule format, with worldwide zones and multiple qualifying rounds, is byzantinely complicated. Then, since it just pits country against country, it lacks the USA vs. All-of-Them quality of Ryder Cup. Finally, tennis just can't match all the crazy-dramatic-tragic-comic and finally heroic plot twists of 12-on-12, four days, and 126 holes of very personal golf combat.

As ex-Longhorn Leonard came out of his somnambulant reverie with an abrupt long-range birdie explosion, my loyalties began to shift away from the now stuffy-seeming, choking Old Sodders. (But not quickly enough, I might add, for my Longhorn-Ex wife who never forgives or forgets slurs directed at her own.)

Television could, if it tried, ruin this event too. I must trust that golf's limited appeal and the drawn-out format, combined with the problems of televising from Europe every two years, will keep the media from creating an obnoxious Super Bowl-type disaster out of a pretty cool event.

For this I can only hope and pray. If the American media can ruin something good, it will. To that cynical premise I unhappily subscribe.

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