It is a safe bet that Sam Burns’ haircut will not be the most egregious sin inflicted on the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club this week. But its presence on the practice range has set the tone nicely for a week like no other in golf.
The Ryder Cup these days is golf, but not as we know it. It is golf with a mullet. The showdown between Europe and the United States has become part-stag party, part-sporting extravaganza, all on a massive scale. Fans dress up in wigs, or don suits of armour. They get drunk and sing rude songs as they would in the Hollies for an Ashes Test at Edgbaston. The players encourage them, whipping them into a frenzy when they chip one in from off the green, high-fiving each other Happy Gilmore-style. Organisers largely turn a blind eye to the F-bombs. The Open it is not.
Monday was the calm before the storm. Workers buzzed around in buggies putting the finishing touches to grandstands, beer tents and merchandise pavilions. Hundreds of yellow and blue bean bags were laid out for Thursday’s opening ceremony. Things still felt a bit rough and ready around the edges, but you can feel it coming. The grandstand around the 18th green has the Colosseum painted on it. You can imagine the roar there when one of Europe’s gladiators holes out to win a tight match.
The players flew in on Monday but mostly stayed out of sight. Viktor Hovland and Justin Thomas practised their chipping. Scottie Scheffler, who has had well-documented trouble with his putter all year, was reportedly spotted with renowned putting coach Phil Kenyon, which created a little buzz as Kenyon is British and also works with the likes of Tommy Fleetwood. That could create an interesting dynamic this week. Sepp Straka and the aforementioned Burns hit the practice range, the latter sporting his aforementioned mullet, a look he has decided to complete by shaving the letters ‘USA’ just above the right ear. The 27-year-old unveiled the haircut in a video on Instagram last weekend, as is the modern way. His post was accompanied by just one word – “’Merica” – plus an emoji of the Stars and Stripes.
When Rickie Fowler sported a similar look at Gleneagles in 2014, it caused more of a commotion. What would they say if you turned up to the clubhouse at St Andrews looking like that? But these days no one bats an eyelid. Certainly not Zach Johnson, the United States Ryder Cup captain, who defended his players’ rights to go with whatever look they wanted. Brooks Koepka was also seen with a new-look mullet at LIV Chicago last weekend.
The captains’ press conference was otherwise fairly dry, as it often is. Neither Johnson nor his counterpart Luke Donald are ones to hype things up. But it will not stay that way for long. The players will be out practising over the next few days, the fans will begin to arrive, and the first chants will sound. The last time the Ryder Cup was held in Europe, in Paris in 2018, it was “Moli! Moli-Moli! Moli-Moli! Moli-Moli-nari! / Tommy! Tommy Tommy! Tommy Tommy! Tommy Tommy Fleet-wood!” to the tune of 2 Unlimited’s 1993 hit No Limit which proved the biggest crowd-pleaser.
Some take a dim view of all the shenanigans, wondering what has happened to the game. And it can spill over into unpleasantness. There were some very coarse insults aimed at Patrick Reed in Paris. But the atmosphere is almost universally good-natured, and the players tend to embrace it. Reed, the pantomime villain of that United States team, was memorably ‘shushed’ by the crowd as he prepared to hole the winning putt in one of his matches in Paris. After knocking it in, he turned and shushed the crowd back, before clapping them and throwing his ball into the throng. No hard feelings.
Reed will not be here this week. He is one of the many LIV outcasts. Europe are also missing many of their Ryder Cup stalwarts. There will be no Postman. Ian Poulter, ‘the man who always delivers’, will not be there to get the crowd pumped up. Nor Sergio García, nor Lee Westwood. But other players will step into the breach, cut their hair in silly ways, write their names into the history books.
The Ryder Cup may be like golf on steroids. The modern version may not be to everyone’s tastes. But it is an extraordinary spectacle. Let the chanting commence.