They’re not like the rest of us, these professional athletes.
They live in a place where money is no object, where doors are always open, where gifts are given for no reason other than who they are.
The uncanny ability to throw a football, hit a baseball or nail a jump shot with unique prowess allows the professional athlete to enter a world that he treats with blasé indifference, if not downright contempt.
We regular people cannot fathom a world in which Manny Ramirez isn’t satisfied with the option years of a $160 million contract. A world in which he sulks, alienates himself from his teammates, feigns injuries and forces a trade, all because he can’t survive on a mere $20 million a year.
Professional golfers, as a rule, are as out of touch with the real world as any other group. The weekly prize money they play for obviously isn’t enough. They complain if their courtesy cars aren’t worthy, or if their weekly gifts aren’t up to grade, or if the greens aren’t cut just so. Heaven forbid that the massage therapists aren’t up to snuff.
But the dozen golfers playing for the United States in the Ryder Cup matches over the weekend shed that image quite nicely, thank you. They cheered. They agonized. They danced. They hugged. They cared. They played their hearts out.
And they weren’t playing for a single cent, only love of country and each other. In other words, they were playing for something bigger than themselves.
When it was all over, the underdog United States team that no one gave a chance to win, had beaten the favored Europeans for the first time in nine years.
“This was bigger to me than anything I’ve ever been a part of,” captain Paul Azinger told Bob Harig of espn.com. That from a guy who has won a major, and then defeated cancer.
“I got chills up and down my spine the whole day today,” Anthony Kim told Larry Dorman of the New York Times. “And I’m loving every minute of it. I wouldn’t trade this for $10 million. This has been the experience of a lifetime.”
Kim, the son of Korean immigrants, had just finished playing in his first Ryder Cup. He lead off the Americans for Sunday’s 12 singles matches, facing one of Europe’s biggest guns, Sergio Garcia.
Poor Sergio never had a chance. Kim started with four straight threes. By the 13th hole, he was five up. When he halved the next hole, he marched off to the 15th tee.
So intent was he on the match that he had no idea that he had just won. He had to march back up to the green to shake hands with Garcia. The tingling sensation never left.
“I was done playing four hours ago, and I still have chills running up and down my spine.” Kim told Steve DiMeglio of USA Today. “I’m still coming out of my skin. I’m so proud to win for my country, for my team, for my parents. Greatest day of my golfing life so far.”
Kenny Perry never trailed in his match with Henrik Stenson, and there was something very right about that. Perry’s goal at the start of the year was to be on this Ryder Cup team in his native Kentucky.
A rather lofty goal, indeed. Back in January, he was ranked the 110th best player in the world. Yet he pursued that goal with such tunnel vision that he didn’t even enter the US or British Opens, lest they detour him from his destination.
So there he was Sunday on the 16th green, hugging his family and his 84-year-old father, resplendent in his red shirt and blue bibb overalls.
“This is it. I’m going out on top. I’m 48, and I don’t have the nerves for this anymore,” Perry told Pat Forde of espn.com. “This was my dream, it really was. It all fell my way. The team won. I’ve got great teammates. I’ll cherish this the rest of my life.
“It’s a week I’ll never forget,” he told T. J. Auclair of pga.com. “It’s the greatest experience of my life. I figured this was going to define my career, but you know what? It made my career.”
Then there was Boo. Boo Weekley often says he’d rather hunt and fish than play golf. But it was Weekley who got the fans going on Friday afternoon, leading the cheers during his four-ball match.
“I feel like a dog that somebody done stuck a needle to and it juiced me up like I’ve been running around a greyhound track chasing one of them bunnies,” is how he described his first Ryder Cup experience at his post-round press conference.
Sunday, he went hopping down the first fairway like Happy Gilmore, driver between his legs, whipping it like a thoroughbred . “I felt like I just had to do it to loosen it up a little bit,” he told Forde. “And it’s just my nature to be a little goofy anyway.”
However, after defeating Owen Wilson, Weekley refused to take any credit.
“It ain’t about me. There ain’t no ‘I’ on this team. We’re playin’ for that flag.”