It’s an immutable truth that inside every elite sportsman lives a frustrated professional golfer. While the rest of us dream about belting the winner in the Champions League final, clinching the men’s singles at Wimbledon with a backhand down the line, or scoring the opening touchdown in the Super Bowl, the people who have actually been and done all those things seem, often as not, to simply want to spend a little more time out on the course fantasising about how many majors they’d have now if they’d only made different choices when they had the chance.
Wednesday at the Ryder Cup is All-Star day, an event designed, in the large part, to give the TV companies something to screen in the run-up. This year’s roster ran the full celebrity spectrum from A to Z. At one end, Novak Djokovic, the most successful male tennis player in history. And at the other Garrett Hilbert, who dwells at that awkward level of fame where the organisers felt unable to mention his name without immediately adding an explanation of who he is, what he does, and how many fans he has, as if it was the best way to cover the inevitable awkward pause.
“And on the tee, Garrett Hilbert, Dude Perfect, a YouTuber with 70m views!” The announcer explained, helpfully, that Hilbert “holds the world record for the highest basketball toss ever holed out”. Think of him as the Cheryl Baker of the content creator generation. Hilbert, to his credit, plays a pretty mean game of golf, and nearly holed out with his second shot on the first, in what was probably the shot of the day. And besides, the organisers whispered, just think of his clicks. Have you seen his demographics?
In between came Gareth Bale, who seems to be preceded everywhere he goes by the whisper “did you know he actually plays off scratch”, Andriy Shevchenko, one of the most popular men on the Pro-Am circuit, the former New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and the Italian surfer Leonardo Fioravanti, who was the most dazzlingly handsome man in the vicinity until Carlos Sainz, the Formula One driver, arrived on the tee right after him. The actress Kathryn Newton, who played in college, had a swing that knocked spots off the lot of them. Kipp Popert, the world’s No 1 ranked disabled golfer, completed the lineup.
Even for this lot there were, you guess, a fair few nerves standing on the first. Djokovic, inevitably, took out a tennis racket from his bag and shaped to hit a lob, then popped a drive straight short and straight down the fairway. He peered into the distance after it, mugging for the gallery. It was poor old Sheva who got himself in a tangle, having, apparently, made the mistake of taking it all so seriously that he had been practising every day for the last six weeks. He duly blazed his tee shot way over on to the 17th tee.
They were split into teams, one under the leadership of Colin Montgomerie; “a solid partner”, Bale said, and no one knew if he meant it as a double entendre or not. “Did you know he actually plays off scratch?” replied Monty. The other was under Corey Pavin. “At least we came second,” Pavin said when asked about his team’s defeat to Montgomerie’s Europe at Celtic Manor back in 2010. He said it with the air of a man who knows exactly how the line is going to go down because he’s delivered it so many times already. Here, Pavin’s lot came second again. An omen, Europe hopes, for the week ahead, and if not, at least they got a couple of hours of content and some clips for the socials.