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Into The Bear Pit: The Hard-Hitting Inside Story of the Brookline Ryder Cup Hardcover – 8 Jun 2000
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The cover is as telling as the words inside: jubilant members of the 1999 US Ryder Cup team dance across the 17th green at Brookline celebrating what they think is victory. Jose Maria Olazabal, meanwhile, stands stunned waiting to attempt to sink a putt that could keep the European side in the match. In Into The Bear Pit European captain Mark James presents his side of the story behind the 33rd Ryder cup. He tells it well, coming over every bit the decent man he did during and immediately after the tournament. However, the quotations at the back of the book speak loudest of the emotions aroused on both sides. One US star, before the final day, implored, "Let's go and kill them", and by the end of that day veteran European Sam Torrance described the events on the 17th (somewhat hyperbolically) as "one of the most disgusting things I have seen in my life". To counter many of the claims of the lack of sportsmanship, defenders of the US side and their support point to specifics, claiming similar instances in Spain two years earlier, branding the Europe side sore losers. As James counters, and most observers can testify, they are missing the point. As winners or losers, the US team have never been subject to such treatment over the course of a tournament. The most telling words here, though, belong to Olazabal, the man stranded on the 17th:
"The whole world saw what happened, and the whole world is going to judge what their behaviour was like. All we ask is respect from our opponents."--Trevor Crowe
Sunday 26 September 1999. The 17th green at Brookline Country Club near Boston, Massachusetts. It's the closing stages of the 33rd Ryder Cup tournament and the USA and Europe have been battling it out for three days. Then American Justin Leonard holes a monster 45-foot birdie putt and, before his opponent - Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal - has the opportunity to prepare for his own putt, all hell breaks loose. As Leonard's ball drops, American players, caddies, wives, even officials prematurely invade the green in triumph, in the belief that Leonard's putt has just delivered the prize they have been craving. Olazabal still has a putt to keep the Ryder Cup alive, but by this stage several jubilant Americans have already run straight across his line, destroying his concentration in the process. When he eventually is permitted to take his putt, Olazabal inevitably misses. Sir Michael Bonallack, secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews and guardian of golf's rules and etiquette, likened the scenes to a "bear pit". But, the disgraceful episode on the 17th green constituted only one skirmish in what has become known as the "Battle of Brookline".In this volume, European team captain Mark James has chosen to speak out, to give a hard-hitting, blow-by-blow account of the tournament that made the headlines around the globe. His story lifts the lid on events that were not reported at the time, providing answers to the key questions surrounding one of the most controversial stories in golfing history.
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Mark James' account comes straight from the heart and, in his case, the heart of a captain, someone at the epicentre of this long-standing competition and, therefore, he should know what is he writing about. Many people will question whether he should have written about it, especially in the way he did, even if there were some disturbing features of the competition.
Once decisions have been made about teams and pairings and games have been played, there is little point in trying to explain or justify choices which will not change the results. "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same" wrote Rudyard Kipling, a poem James should read.
I enjoyed the book but not necessarily the justificatory sections. It is a fascinating insight into the complexities and pressures of captaining such a high profile event with a group of top professionals, each with his strengths, weaknesses and an ego to be massaged into the best frame of mind. Although I enjoyed the book, I am not sure I would like all captains to follow suit to avoid possible accusations of bad sportsmanship; somehow, it seems to take away some of the mystique, even if we all imagine the behind-the-scenes happenings.
Overall, a good book but I would now like to read an unbiased version of what actually happened.
I felt that James passed up an opportunity to dispassionately portray the events in Brookline. I felt that the book was primarily an attempt to shift the failure to win from the captain's tactical failings to American jingoism and "over the top" celebrations. Oh to salve the soul. It would be interesting to hear in the future the views of Van der Velde, Sandelin and Coltart to their omission from the playing set up for the first two days. My personal view is that for teams to operate effectively, the burden of responsibility and performance should be spread over the resource. James didn't utilise his resource effectively and Europe didn't win.
My final comment refers to one (of a number) of issues involving Faldo. To put in the bin a letter of good wishes for the European team from a fellow professional, who had in the past embodied the grit and determination needed to win Ryder cups was contemptuous. The captain did not think it was sincere enough. Shame on you, Mark James. You do your profession no service.
My only question for Mr. James is this: What in the world does Ben Crenshaw's penchant for long-winded speeches have to do with anything?
Aside for the personal digs made at certain individuals, I found this book enjoyable.