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Focus: Scottish politics casts shadow over Ryder Cup

Several huge “No thanks” hoardings remain standing in farm fields near the rural Perthshire venue.

Gleneagles will host this year's Ryder Cup.
Gleneagles will host this year's Ryder Cup.
Image: PA Wire/Press Association Images

THE ROAD ON which golf fans travel to Gleneagles offers a visible reminder that Scotland has just undergone a political event from which scars are yet to heal.

Several huge “No thanks” hoardings remain standing in farm fields near the rural Perthshire venue — but they have been defaced in black paint by the word “Yes”.

The atmosphere of the Ryder Cup, which starts Friday, may not ultimately be affected by the outcome of last week’s referendum on independence — Scots opted, by 55% to 45% to remain part of Great Britain — but it is lingering in the run-up.

The presence at Gleneagles of Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, a Nationalist and the figurehead of the Yes campaign for separation, drew boos from some spectators at Thursday’s opening ceremony in an obvious reminder of split loyalties.

“I really thought it was going to go the other way,” said Neil McKay, a Canadian who is supporting the United States in the biennial golf match against Europe.

Like almost everyone, he has an opinion about how it played out. “The Yes side were louder, but that wasn’t enough,” he added.

European fans must be hoping such remarks will become a metaphor for this weekend’s match; American fans — and some players — have been criticised for being too loud in past Ryder Cups, despite winning only once in the last six matches.

America are undoubtedly the underdogs at Gleneagles but more because of their recent record, rather than the absence of their best-known but somewhat fading star, Tiger Woods. Some believe his non-appearance will actually prove a plus.

“Tiger’s been divisive in the past and I think we’ve got a better team this time around,” McKay said.

Having waited 41 years to host the Ryder Cup, Scotland is certainly prepared. Around 45,000 spectators are expected each day. The event, which ends Sunday, will be worth around £100 million (128million euros) to the Scottish economy, estimates suggest.

With play starting early because of failing light in the Scottish autumn, fans have been arriving early to find a seat in a grandstand, or to follow their favourite players on the course. And with vehicle access to Gleneagles tightly restricted, many are coming a long way on the day.

Paul McCahill, a town planner from Derry in Northern Ireland, is staying 43 miles (70 kilometres) away in Glasgow, so was up at 5am to take a train to Gleneagles.

“It will be close, but we are the favourites,” McCahill, 42, said, after gaining a seat behind the first tee to see his countryman — world number one Rory McIlroy — tee-off in Thursday practice.

“Some of the American players were in great form at the start of the season but they’ve cooled off,” McCahill added.

The same could be said of the weather. After weeks of sunshine, it was damp and drizzly early Thursday, with players and spectators well-wrapped up. Wind gusts of up to 35 miles per hour, as well as isolated showers, are expected on Friday.

It is only the second time the Ryder Cup has been played in Scotland and the view from the first tee — dominated by rolling hills and moor — leaves visitors in no doubt about where they are standing.

“We came because it’s Scotland,” said Joan Moran, a 63-year-old nurse from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was wearing a windproof jacket to negate the chill as she watched McIlroy.

Now staying in Edinburgh but taking a bus to Gleneagles each day, Moran flew into London last week as Scotland’s referendum was taking place.

“Even the pilot mentioned it,” she said.

“But now we’re focusing on the golf. Our team has some new guys and I think it will come down to the likes of Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. If they play well we can get something going in the team.”

- © AFP, 2014

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