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A Telephone Call in the Midst of Doom and Gloom

By John M. Ross,
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Even in the wake of the horrendous attacks, there was a glimmer of hope and reassurance from time to time. (.)

In the hours after the maniacal terrorists had spent their anger on America, I remained almost mesmerized in front of the TV set - like so many others, I'm sure. It was a time of total sadness and despair, surely one of the darkest moments in our country's long history. And yet, from time to time, there was a glimmer of hope and reassurance, like rays of sunshine that struggle to break through the storm clouds at sunset.

This happened essentially when the cameras moved to various places around the world for reaction to the disaster. One scene was particularly moving - when we saw the Queen's Guard, with band, resplendent in their red uniforms and beaver hats in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. In another instant the band played our National Anthem and the huge throng outside the majestic gates sang along with the music. And they seemed to know the words, too.

Minutes later, Tony Blair, British Prime Minister, came on screen to assure Americans that their cousins were ready to stand with them. I noticed goose bumps on my arms as he delivered a sincere, reassuring message. In a flicker, I recalled the picture of the U.S. and Britain standing shoulder to shoulder in World War II, and I felt good about having the Brits as our faithful friends.

Now, as if on cue, the piercing ring of the telephone shattered the mellowness of the moment.

"Hello, this is Norman. I've been worried about you folks, being so close to the trouble in New York..."

I recognized the Scottish burr in an instant and knew it belonged to that personable Scot who had been our driver on various visits for the British Open. We've been casual friends for the past 17 years or so, and he has given it fuller meaning by telephoning us on New Year's Day to deliver his good wishes and check our status. He would give us an update on the doings at St. Andrews and its environs, where he operated a driving service, and he wondered if our golf schedule might take us his way in the coming year. Invariably, when the call ended my wife would say, "Wasn't he so thoughtful to call."

And that's what I was thinking now in the aftermath of the fiendish attack on America. "Wasn't he so thoughtful to call." Norman and Tony Blair, too. And they were just the beginning that afternoon of a steady procession of countries that wanted us to know that they were with us. The TV cameras showed our National Anthem being played in capitals around the world, and many flew their flags at half-mast in tribute to the thousands who had been killed so ruthlessly.

History will record the terrorist attacks on September 11th as one of the most chilling examples of man's inhumanity unto man. But the message these misguided fanatics had hoped to deliver with their terror has been obliterated by the response and its display of the goodness of man. By the firefighters and other heroic rescuers who risked their own lives to save others; the blood donors and other givers who worked in so many other ways to help. And for those who prayed and others who said they'd stand with us. And from a personal standpoint, that thoughtful call from Norman.

Tournament golf came to a screeching halt in the wake of the kamikaze-type assaults. Four events were canceled, but the major upset in plans was the need to postpone the playing of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches, originally scheduled for Sept. 28-30 at The Belfry in Sutton, England. They were sensible, weld-reasoned decisions, but some were not easy to make.

Many players had arrived at the Bellerive Club in St. Louis for the WGC-American Express Championship. It's one of those events the boys put an asterisk next to because of the prize money. It is $5-million-plus, and they'd all like to be near the head of the line at the payoff window at that one. But it made no sense to play the tournament.

Numerous players were en route to St. Louis - some in private planes - when the dirty deeds were done. With the nation's air lanes virtually shut down, many were stranded midway. Jesper Parnevik was at the Plaza in New York meeting with a business associate, and when they got news of the attack, they dashed across the street to Central Park, a safer haven.

American Express, the title sponsor at heavy cost, was in double jeopardy. Not only was it losing its major sports promotion of the year, but its corporate headquarters was located just across the street from the World Trade Center complex, and when the buildings collapsed, AmEx losses soared.

The Ryder Cup decision had the greatest impact. The biennial match between the 12-man teams of the U.S, and Europe has grown into one of the top international events of the year. Commitments and plans are made well in advance; expensive guarantees are put in place. To postpone barely two weeks before the event can create chaos.

But, then again, so could a bomb concealed under a terrorist's coat in the grandstand at The Belfry! The PGA of America, which owns the event, consulted with White House officials, PGA Tour Commissioner Tom Finchem and a number of players before finally blowing the whistle. It wasn't simply a vote by the players, as some have indicated.

It was an expensive decision, to be sure. The Cup matches provide the PGA with an important source of revenue that funds the association's numerous programs. And with the playing site in England this year, the loss is even greater for the British PGA and the European Tour. But they didn't whimper when the verdict was reached.

Yank officials apologized, but the would-be hosts halted them in mid-air. "Don't apologize. The right decision has been made."

And it had, indeed. With no way of estimating the extent of the terrorists' plans, the Cup matches, with a substantial portion of the world as an audience, would be an attractive target for these misguided zealots. As would the planes coming from so many countries and carrying so many world-class players and, in most cases, their families.

The PGA of America deserves a bow for a bold decision.

The 2001 Ryder Cup matches will be played in September 2002. Same teams. Same site. But let's hope it's a safer world by then.

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

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