Since January, golfs itinerants have dug divots from Hawaii to England, hopping around and stopping in Augusta and Reno and San Antonio and Charlotte and Memphis and Ontario and dozens of other towns.
Theyve played for four major championships. Theyve played for millions of dollars in front of big galleries and millions of television viewers. Theyve come down to the wire with a title and money and treasured exemptions and other benefits at stake.
Next week, they put all of that aside and play the Ryder Cup matches at Medinah near Chicago. There is no prize money and yet the players on both sides United States and European have had this in the back of their minds for two years, making these teams, playing under a different kind of pressure and feeling emotions they dont feel playing a regular tournament.
Playing for a Ryder Cup team is one of golfs great honors and watching it is one of golfs most enjoyable experiences.
Pro golfers live with pressure but this will be a different kind. On the week-to-week schedule, they play for themselves. When they tee it up at Medinah they will be playing for their team and their country as well and if you think that doesnt matter a whole lot to these toughened competitors, look at their eyes, the way their shoulders slump when things go wrong, the way they leap into each others arms when a match is won, the tears that well up when theyve lost.
Heightening the pressure is a format that makes a player rely on another in every round but the final days singles. In the first four rounds, they play foursomes and four-ball, meaning, say, Brandt Snedeker and Webb Simpson might be hitting alternate shots or playing better ball against maybe Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
Almost as much as it is a test of talent, it is a mind game in which emotions can tumble wildly from shot to shot.
Its great theater. Fans of both sides flash their colors and get vocal. Euros sing, Americans chant.
Players who have finished their matches go out to support their teammates, guys theyve battled all year.
Nothing in golf is more gripping, more enjoyable to watch. Its bare knuckle golf but its beautiful.