How did a tournament that takes place once every two years and doesn’t give out prize money become the most important event in the golf world? It’s because real winnings don’t come in oversize novelty checks.Yes, it’s true that the Ryder Cup features 24 fabulously successful golfers playing for nothing more than free clothes and some meal money. But they aren’t just doing it because of some sort of misguided regional patriotism, either. Yes, that stuff excites the fans, but the truth is that this tourney dwarfs The Masters and the British Open in importance because it’s the biannual linchpin of not one, but two, pro golf tours.
First, let’s look at the players. In theory, these guys have already established themselves as the best golfers on their continents, but for many up-and-comers, a slot in the Ryder Cup is still a tremendous boost to their profiles. Both fans and potential sponsors will get a highly focused look at these athletes on the biggest stage possible. Five Americans and six Europeans will be making their first Ryder appearance this year, and the audience they find will be their most important one yet. A clutch performance will give them a big head start on sponsorship and endorsement deals for 2011.
For the PGA Tour, this is All-Star Weekend. Their biggest names will join forces, not to battle each other, but to take on evil foreign invaders. (Or in this case, invade the foreigners.) An individual sport becomes a team sport for three big days and Americans just love their teams. The uniqueness makes Ryder weekend a huge draw in the U.S., while still serving as a great marketing tool for the sport in general.
However, it is the European Tour that derives the biggest benefit of all. The very elite European players spend most of their year overseas, so generating interest in events on the Continent is a special challenge. But five of their team’s 12 slots are earned based on European Tour money winnings, so while the Cup pleases local audience with a showcase of their hometown heroes, it also introduces Europe’s best unsung players to a wider audience. The head of the European Tour himself admits the Ryder Cup is essential to their survival:
“The Ryder Cup is absolutely critical to what we do,” he said. “The interest it creates around the rest of the tour, the benefits to non-European players who play on the Tour, is absolutely huge.”
That story by the Telegraph’s Paul Kelso also highlights the importance of this particular Ryder Cup, given the current state of corporate sponsorship and the desperation of the tourism industry worldwide. Everyone needs a big win here, from the custom-built Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales to the sports networks at home clamoring for a non-football ratings boost. ESPN’s live coverage will begin at 2:00 a.m. Friday morning, so you can only guess what this means to them. This is no time for anyone to lay up.
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