European Tour Chief Referee John Paramor shares his experience at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
As we all grow older, it seems that surprises become less surprising and the extraordinary seems ordinary. But, when it comes to The Ryder Cup, the expectations are always high and it never disappoints. Not even close!
My role at the 2014 Ryder Cup was to be a Referee with the chance to walk with a number of matches. As this could conceivably be the last opportunity I would have to referee a match on home soil in a Ryder Cup, I was very much looking forward to taking a full part in striding the fairways with the players.
When I arrived at Gleneagles I realised how perfect the course design was with natural viewing possibilities due to sloping grass banks and where the ground fell away, along with massive grandstands so that the spectator could see all the action as it happened.
Both Teams were briefed separately on the Conditions and Local Rules and also given some pointers on match play Rules. It was strange how both teams, when told that the one ball condition (where a player must use the same type of ball for the stipulated round) did not apply in foursomes, both brought up the Rickie Fowler incident at Celtic Manor in 2010 when he changed the golf ball he was playing during play of a hole. It was explained that the Fowler situation concerned a ball that was easily recoverable and was substituted when he was taking relief from an abnormal ground condition. He should have lifted the original ball, cleaned it and dropped it rather than dropping the other ball.
It was quite dark when I decided to get dressed on Friday morning and I had already been awake for at least 2 ½ hours. I went down to our Rules Office and started to check all my paperwork and on course equipment making sure that I had my dental floss in order to produce those straight lines from the inside points of the fence posts at ground level to determine whether all those shots that will be landing close to the boundary are out of bounds or not.
I wasn’t the first to arrive at the Rules Office, that prize goes to Ivor Robson, the starter at 39 Opens and countless other tournaments around the world in his excellent Rolex uniform. He may have been more nervous than me but I knew he would be fine. It was 6.15 in the morning and we were told that the grandstand behind the first tee was full! I advised Ivor that he would be receiving quite a welcome when he walked on to the first tee, and he did. When we walked through the tunnel decorated with pictures of inspirational Ryder Cup Players from the past, around the corner, up a short hill and into the first tee arena - what a cheer for Ivor!
The fairway was lined 10 deep and spectators had to be moved back for Bubba Watson who felt he should be able to see the fairway. And then the minute hand slipped over and Ivor started his rehearsed script introducing the name of the US side who were the first to play. Ivor then looked up to see that they had changed their minds as to the order in which they would play. I didn’t think that was great but, Bubba Watson wanted the full noise as he teed off – just like he did at Medina.
The sun was rising as was the wind, which initially was non-existent, despite very strong winds during the night. Webb Simpson had hit his shot very high and possibly about 70/80 yards short of where he wanted to be. But a metal utility club got him to the very front of the green. Henrik Stenson landed in the bunker and Justin Rose hit the green. I realised that Simpson, although on the green, was further from the hole than Stenson in the bunker. Then I realised that both American balls were outside the Swede. In a normal stroke play event, Henrik would have been invited to play up but in match play, the order of play is sacrosanct and the ball furthest from the hole must always play first.
I did notice that all players had come up short with their putts and this appeared to be the case for the Americans during much of the round. The Tour had deliberately slowed the pace of the greens due to the forecasted winds and the threat that they may stop play. The Europeans found their pace probably around the turn and built up a lead which looked like the first European point would be secured by Stenson and Rose.
On the 9th hole, played from the back tee, Justin caught his second shot slightly thin and the ball struggled to carry the water guarding the green. Immediately, our observers (US and European) and two marshals started searching in the long grass in the hazard but just beyond the water. Raymond Floyd tapped me on the arm and said surely that was not allowed. I explained that the same treatment will be given to everybody’s ball and that the two observers will prevent anybody from improving lie or area of intended swing. Mind you, I don’t know who was happier when the ball was found but clearly in a position where Justin could not play a stroke! He didn’t have to go back and play again as Henrik had laid up his second but struck a magnificent third close and that won the hole for their side. Both Americans fired their bunker shots and putts way past the hole at 10 with Bubba thinking that we had put much more sand into the bunker left of the green overnight (we had not!). Justin and Henrik were now in full control and they went on to close out their match by 5 & 4.
Chief Referee Andy McFee asked me to look after the early afternoon foursomes groups on the first few holes in terms of the match times and despite a rocky start by the first match, they were soon well under the generous target time of 4 hours and 6 minutes. Riding a cart during the afternoon gave me the opportunity of watching the scoreboards and to see the progress of the matches turn in favour of the European side. The golf played by the European Team was quite sublime and the afternoon session ended with a resounding victory for Europe which meant a 5-3 margin overnight.
The only Rules issue on the radio concerned a marshal inadvertently improving the lie of a European ball in the foursome matches when attempting to find out the make and model of the ball. There is no penalty for the player and he is not required to try and replace the grass around the ball. However, the match observer was asked to explain to the marshal in simple and clear words that he should not be touching anything close to the ball.
The second day dawned with less wind and some watery sunshine. It would turn out to be a fantastic golfing day. Rose & Stenson continued with their fine form and Rose managed six birdies straight from the 8th hole and probably would have made it seven in a row if Henrik hadn’t holed out from outside him for the birdie at 14! Ten under par for their better ball was their final tally to win 3&2. But the US side again won the four-ball session to reduce the gap to one point overall.
I was the designated TV Rules watcher which, whilst I was situated inside a warm office with a well-stocked and often visited kitchen, there was a severe lack of atmosphere when compared to what was going on outside. I was delighted to be out on a golf cart in the afternoon looking out for players taking too long to play, but again, all matches were well within the timing guidelines. I was able just to soak up the roars of approval from the massive galleries for a European Team who were giving the home supporters much to cheer about. They again won the afternoon foursomes session 3 ½ to ½ to end the day 4 points ahead. The same as Brookline and the same as the US in Medinah!
The ruling of the day involved a player who had gone to inspect his ball which was buried in the face of a bunker and could he rake his footprints before dropping his ball? He was told that only if the player was required to go into the bunker to retrieve his ball could he smooth the damage and this was not the case here, so the answer was no.
The final day was a little overcast but again dry and so any weather problems that were experienced during the last two home Ryder Cups were not even close to being repeated in 2014. No suspensions, no mud-baths just an exciting last day with brilliant golf being played by some of the world’s finest exponents of our marvellous game.
Despite being scheduled to walk with match one on Sunday, I decided to ride a cart again and monitor the early matches in terms of timings which also meant that another colleague had the opportunity to referee a match. The first match struggled slightly over the first few holes but as soon as they dropped under their scheduled time, there was no turning back and all matches played comfortably under the time schedule.
I am delighted to say that there were no requests for any second opinions. Indeed there was only one referee who reported that two caddies had had words and a spectator was involved and eventually the players became interested. Thankfully they had a clearing of the air on the next tee and all was well again and it was not mentioned again. Indeed, I was sitting very close to the next tee as the match went past and the caddie made a point of coming over to say everything was absolutely fine and all were happy. It is always a possibility that an innocent remark can be misheard or misunderstood and an atmosphere is created especially in the throes of a competitive match between two professionals that can cause friction.
Early during the singles matches the score boards had quite a lot of red figures but midway through it became clear that Europe had the upper hand and were going to retain the Ryder Cup.
This was a fantastic Ryder Cup and it was played in a great spirit. The American Team were very sporting, played some great golf but were beaten by a European Team which played slightly better golf under an inspirational Captain, Paul McGinley.