John Paramor Ryder Cup Blog
By John Paramor, Chief Referee, 38th Ryder Cup
For the two years prior to the playing of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, I had been hoping and praying for good weather conditions. The Twenty Ten Course had been carefully redesigned to a high specification and much fairway drainage was installed. I was therefore confident that we would be able to play the Ryder Cup in the first week of October....unless we had a freak storm or dense fog.
The week prior, I was in St Andrews where I witnessed the winner of the Autumn Medal completing the Old Course in 66 strokes in rain and wind, which proved to be good preparation for the following week in Newport. The initial weather forecast was quite encouraging with only a slight chance of rain during the latter end of the week.
I arrived on site at Celtic Manor at lunch time on Sunday and after grabbing a sandwich from the enormous Media Centre (for 800+ accredited Media) canteen, I went out on to the course. I had a concern during the Wales Open that the rough wouldn’t be thick enough to test the players at the Ryder Cup – that was immediately dispelled by beautiful thick lush six inch high rough extending all the way to each rope line. The remainder of the course was truly magnificent and exactly what had been requested by us and the Captain of the European Team.
The Course marking in terms of boundaries and water hazard margins had been marked and those areas which had been left for my consideration were finished off that afternoon and the following morning. The hole positions for all practice days and the five segments of matches, which were used at the Wales Open, were all carefully plotted by our course set-up team and completed after two full days of surveying.
Monday saw the arrival of the Teams and after a little fog had cleared, we had a very pleasant day weather-wise. With only three players venturing onto the course, one got the urge to consider going for a game oneself! The evening was my first opportunity to address the European Team with their Rules Briefing. I described in detail items that could affect them from the Captains’ Agreement, which forms the conditions of play and the Local Rules of the Twenty Ten Course. I also stated that it was unlikely that we would be considering preferred lies as the fairways seemed perfect and the forecast was reasonable.
Tuesday arrived together with a little overnight rain and a little fog. As it happened, Tuesday turned into a very pleasant day and the first spectators were treated to all 24 Team members playing in four-balls, the USA Team starting at the 1st tee and the Europeans at the 11th. Our weather forecaster then advised that the huge storm system which he felt was going to clear out of the way had wobbled back and was likely to bring us quite a lot of rain on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
With the arrival of Wednesday, came much rain and many, many more spectators. Players delayed their starts until late morning and when they did start there were many thousands of people lining the fairways. The Referees had their Rules briefing on Wednesday and all felt confident that the course was in great shape and we were ready and prepared for the matches to start. However, after the rain, it became obvious that there was going to be some spectator damage to the course outside the ropes and that it would be better to err on the generous side.
The US Team then asked if they could have their Rules Briefing on the Wednesday afternoon before leaving for the hotel to change for the Gala Dinner and concert. Again, the briefing went well and it was stressed that only the Captain could give advice, and he had to do so personally rather than over a walkie-talkie radio. One of the co-Captains asked what constituted advice. I used an example of Bubba Watson using an 8-iron and Tiger Woods taking a 7-iron, which was information the co-Captain could pass on to the Captain, but only the Captain could pass on to another player. Tiger Woods playfully retorted that he would have hit an 8-iron anyway!
HRH The Prince of Wales acted as host for the teams and the official party at Cardiff Castle. They were then joined with other guests, officials and some 25,000 music fans for the concert in the Millennium Stadium, showcasing some outstanding Welsh performers.
Thursday was slightly foggy but again it cleared in plenty of time for players to practice on the course. A meeting was held with all of the commentators with the contents of the Captains’ Agreement explained and any other Local Rules issues highlighted. The observers were the final group to be met with and most were eager to get started. Most tournament weeks have the competitive golf starting on the Thursday and by this stage in a Ryder Cup week, the anticipation of the first match means the tension starts to build. The opening ceremony took place and, at the conclusion, each Team found out who they would be playing against in the Friday morning four-ball series.
The weather forecast proved to be quite right for Friday and the rain was quite steady – it had been raining for most of the night. All the brave talking about not playing preferred lies was suddenly forgotten as it was clear that the only way we were going to start was to give the players a chance to move their balls within a club-length, provided, of course, that they had managed to come to rest on the closely mown area.
Greenkeeping volunteers from around the world joined the Celtic Manor staff to clear as much water as was possible so that play could get underway. I stayed on the first tee and gave each referee a send off. The rain was relentless and even though I was hoping for a miracle, I was very aware that if we were playing a stroke play event, we would not have been playing.
Finally I had a call from a referee stating that a player who had driven on the fairway was unable to find any sort of lie within a club-length and therefore wanted to take relief under casual water. He had determined that the nearest point of relief was in the six-inch (now probably nearer seven-inch) rough. It was at this point that I contacted both Captains and they both confirmed that it was my decision whether to stop play. I felt that we should stop and all players were informed that they could finish the hole they were playing, providing both sides agree to finish or, alternatively, they could stop immediately.
The Course Manager confirmed that if it stopped raining, he and his staff could make the course playable in an hour. I made announcements every couple of hours which consisted of continued suspension of play.
When we had reached the point where the suspension meant we were in excess of the four hours spare that we had on Sunday morning before the singles, we needed to have a meeting with representatives from both Ryder Cup Boards. During this meeting, there was a unanimous feeling that we should firstly try to find a solution where we could finish on Sunday night. A plan was devised and was put before both Captains. A minor adjustment was made during this meeting and a plan whereby each of the next two sessions would have two additional matches with all team-members involved in each session. If the weather permitted, this could allow us the chance to complete on time on Sunday with eight foursomes, eight four-balls and 12 singles matches being played.
Both Captains felt it was a good solution and, as the rain had eased off, we prepared to resume play in the late afternoon. The matches played some four or five holes before the lack of daylight prevented us from continuing. Rather than suspending play, I advised the match referees at the point that I felt we could accept an appeal against the light.
Saturday dawned with the prospect of no rain and an opportunity of the course becoming a little drier. With the improving light, I saw the devastating effects that 45,000 spectators can have on wet grass with huge areas outside the ropes being transformed to a scene reminiscent of a Glastonbury Music Festival! Referees were contacted and told to be aware that there were many areas of unusual crowd damage and reminded that relief could be offered under Rule 25. Play was resumed and after approximately three and half hours we had completed the first four-ball series. Each player is permitted 30 minutes between matches so it was unfortunate that the first match of the second series (foursomes) included players who were still completing their four-ball match. However, eventually all foursome matches were on the course, albeit not quite in the intended order!
During the Rules briefings, all players were told that the one-ball condition applied to four-ball and singles play, but not to foursomes. Players in the alternating shot matches could change their make of golf ball whenever the Rules of Golf allowed you to change the ball. It was, therefore, very surprising to learn from the match referee that Rickie Fowler had dropped his own golf ball when taking relief from an abnormal ground condition. Unfortunately, the fact that Jim Furyk’s ball was still on the ground where it had come to rest did not become known until after Rickie had played the second stroke – and only then by a spectator asking the Referee if the Americans wanted their original ball back!
With all the Rule 25 relief drops occurring, and the competitiveness of all the matches, play was not at all quick, but I felt that in the very challenging conditions, it was reasonable. The United States had now extended their lead to two points.
When the Captains presented their team’s order for the third segment, again it was unfortunate that the players involved in the two foursomes matches could not play until the first two of four four-ball matches had teed-off. We had agreed with both teams that the foursomes would be waived through as soon as they started waiting. As one of the foursomes matches was in the process of coming through, the American side decided to go for a “comfort break”. Whether there was a breakdown in communications or not I’m unsure, but one of the Europeans played his approach shot to the green. The Americans were not amused, but as it was almost certainly the Europeans who were furthest from the hole, nothing more happened.
Darkness again stopped play with me advising the referees some ten minutes earlier than Friday night that I would be happy to accede to any requests for bad light. Some of the co-Captains asked if they could advise their players that we were stopping play, but I confirmed that this would constitute advice and must come from the Captain only. A full day’s play had taken place and it looked as if we had a chance to complete the 38th Ryder Cup on time – providing, of course, if the forecast for rain on Sunday was wrong.
It wasn’t! If the temperature had been hotter, we could have described the rain as tropical, and almost every hole was totally unplayable. The spectators were held at the parking areas and players were told that they could return to the hotel as there would be a delay of at least four more hours. It was clear that a Monday finish was now a reality and, as the forecast for Monday was good, I turned my attention towards the chances of getting any play on Sunday. There were several meetings to decide all of the logistics of play on a Monday and a full inspection to see if it was safe to bring spectators from the parking areas to the venue. At 11.00am, the first spectator busses started to ferry the 45,000 expectant fans to Celtic Manor and our forecaster said that the rain was coming to an end.
If we really pushed, we could have possibly started the singles segment but felt that it would be wrong to once again stop matches for lack of light. Better to just finish the games that were currently in progress from Saturday and play all singles the following day. By around 6.00pm we had completed the third session of two foursomes and four four-ball matches. Europe had rallied and now held a commanding lead of three points.
Monday dawned bright and clear with just a hint of hill fog way off down the valley. The atmosphere on the first tee was magical, with each player being applauded loudly to the tee – the welcome for the Europeans was twice as loud and enthusiastic. The good natured songs and amusing quips were much enjoyed by all, and the silent respect shown to each player as he went to address his ball was almost surreal. We had no idea how many of the spectators from Sunday would return on Monday, but it seems that the vast majority made the effort to see the conclusion of the matches.
The fog had started to creep up the valley and, as the third match walked on to the tee, I signalled to Ivor Robson, the Starter, that we should wait until the fog cleared sufficiently for us to see the fairway. The first match waited on the second tee for a couple of minutes, but was then able to continue. It was clear that the fog was going to continue to cause problems, but I did not believe that we needed to suspend play. Match Four had to hold for 11 minutes before visibility improved, and a lone voice from the back of the grandstand was heard asking me to get players going because he couldn’t get Tuesday off! Just after that moment, the fog rolled back and within 20 minutes we were bathed in sunshine.
As is so often the case, the United States played some phenomenal golf and pulled back the advantage the European Team had enjoyed overnight. It was perhaps fitting that the first European winner of their national open for over 40 years should have been in the deciding match. Graeme McDowell went into an early lead, but as the round progressed, his opponent Hunter Mahan was starting to peg him back. A gutsy half at the 15th left Graeme just one up with three to play. If Hunter could win just one more hole, the Ryder Cup would have been on a plane headed west. But with a magnificent birdie three on the 16th by Graeme, and a missed par on 17 by Hunter, the match was won. The overall result: a win by the smallest margin possible. Monty’s men had re-claimed that coveted, solid-gold trophy.
Even though I have to be impartial at all times, I am delighted for all the Europeans for their success, but more so for the way that Celtic Manor handled the problems and for the welcome that everyone received from the people of Wales. This will be a Ryder Cup I will never forget.