Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chapter 4: Samuel Ryder, Amateur Golfer, Donor of the Ryder Cup

Samuel Ryder, 1857-1934

Don't Believe Everything You Read
      Until recently some sportswriters mocked the size of the Ryder Cup, while others mock the size of the donor.  These small aspersions gave me the uneasy feeling that Samuel Ryder was just another rich man tagging along after elite professional golfers for the fun of it.  Dick Taylor, for example, in Links Magazine, wrote that Sam Ryder was a "camp follower" and implied that he was short in stature.  George Kimball of the Boston Herald wrote that Ryder “positively idolized professionals, reveled in their company.” Geoff Russell wrote in Golf World, September 1993, “The Ryder Cup, signified by a dinky gold trophy...” Bill Elliott called him “wee Sam.” And, in a Ryder Cup Program, Michael Williams named him a “small Mancunian.”  It’s true that Sam once lived near Manchester, but he was not small, unless he was standing next to Jim Barnes.  Everyone was small standing next to Jim Barnes.  And invariably it was Sam alone, who had his hat removed for group pictures, making him shockingly short compared to the others.
     Where did this aura of "patronizing the patron" come from?  Writers know that Ryder wasn't a camp follower.  I know it too, but today's golf heroes overwhelm our memory of the past, and if we can't imagine that it was ever otherwise, we may miss that Ryder was a truly good man .  
       The Sam Ryder I came to respect was very different from what I thought I was going to get. He was smart, funny, loving, but best of all, it was natural to him to walk in the other man's shoes.  Sam worked everything through before he did it.  Golf, for example. He practiced in his own garden for a year before he played the game in public.  After he joined Verulam Golf Club in St. Albans he was assigned a 6 handicap by his peers at the annual handicap meeting. (Verulam Golf Club records show the accuracy of Ryder's "short game" in this syntactically challenging string of words: 

       "Birtwistle complained that something should be done against Ryder ... he foozles his tee shot into serious trouble and does a 3 at a stroke hole." )
Sam had no sons. "Ryder" is his father.
       Until I read it in a letter to his future wife Helen Mary Barnard, dated 1887, I never knew that Ryder was in the catalogue business with his father in Manchester long before he moved to St. Albans and made his fortune.  He married Helen in 1888, and in 1895, they moved to St. Albans, a small city just north of London, noted for its post office and three railway stations -- the  cheapest and most efficient distribution center in the world.  Seeds were expensive only because they cost so much to distribute.  But to mail them in small packets cost practically nothing.  A poor man could buy. Ryder's penny seed packets were yet another way for Sam Ryder (and his wife, I'm sure) to square up the margins of justice. 

Amateurs and Professionals

      What’s the difference and what difference does it make?

Who is what, and who isn’t?
       Was Samuel Ryder a professional golfer because he helped professionals? In fact, Sam Ryder was an amateur.  Bobby Jones? I guess everyone knows that Jones was an amateur who won everything but all-professional events. To remain an amateur, a golfer must not receive compensation of any sort for golf- related activities.  When Jones received remuneration for golf instruction movies made in Hollywood in the early 1930s. Because he did not want to turn professional, he chose to quit competitive golf altogether, rather than put the USGA (golf's head office) on the spot.  He never competed officially again. Think about this: the first high-ranking American amateur to turn professional was Roland R. Mackensie, in 1934, Mackensie had been a member of three Walker Cup teams, 1926, '28 and '30, a fact told to me by his namesake at a USGA reception in 1999. 
       Bill Murray?  What is he?  We see him playing in a pro-ams at Pebble Beach.  Is he a pro, or an am?  It's a way of life so unbalanced that it might tip over, let us hope without hurting the game, because, as I said earlier, "Golf is the only game God is interested in," besides cricket, of course.  In a radio message broadcast from England to America in 1931 when the third Ryder Cup Match was played at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, Samuel Ryder said,

                    I look upon the Royal and Ancient game as being a powerful moral force that influences the best things in humanity.

       Sam admired all golfers who played well, whether amateur or professional. But he did like to see the British win, and they were winning less and less in the 1920s. He set out to find the reason and ended up with an appropriate solution.

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