Was delay a blessing in disguise?

10/4/2010 - Golf

NEWPORT, Wales -- The rain, the cold, the wind. None of it could dampen the enthusiasm, the exuberance, the pure joy that is part of the most electric atmosphere in golf.

The sun was never going to shine on this day, but when darkness gave way to some semblance of light Friday morning at Celtic Manor, there were some 2,000 delirious golf fans packed into an amphitheater of bleachers surrounding the first tee, in full throat.

Chanting, singing and cheering has become as big a part of the Ryder Cup as the ecstasy and agony experienced by the players. How could you not revel in such a scene?

"It was awesome," said England's Ian Poulter, who did his best to play to the crowd, as any astute European player would.

Every two years, the quiet, genteel game played amid hushed tones and polite applause --- with the occasional drunken "Get in the hole!" tossed about -- turns into a soccer match.

And it's fun -- even with sideways rain and brutal conditions.

"I truly think it's an amazing experience to be able to be out there to tee off under those conditions," Poulter said, referring to the boisterous crowd, not the unrelenting rain. "It is difficult getting your ball on the tee, but I tell you what, it's an experience you'll remember forever."

Unfortunately, what will likely not be forgotten about the day was the wardrobe malfunctions experienced by the American team (their waterproof gear was anything but) and the torrential rains that soaked Wales and turned Celtic Manor into a quagmire.

There was Philly "Two Gloves" Mickelson wearing golf gloves on both hands. There was Martin Kaymer in a skip cap. And there was Tiger Woods, so irritated with his rain jacket that he discarded it before hitting his opening tee shot.

Nick Faldo, the best British golfer in history, was universally panned two years ago in the aftermath of his losing European captaincy when in his closing remarks at Valhalla he joked about the 2010 Ryder Cup coming here.

"Bring your waterproofs!"

Turns out, the six-time major champion was spot on. It has rained most of the week, and locals feared this could be the case. Apparently it rains a lot in Wales in October -- a timeframe for which the matches were not originally scheduled.

Blame it on the FedEx Cup!

When Wales was awarded the Ryder Cup in 2001, the tournament was tentatively given traditional mid-September dates. But that changed when the PGA Tour's playoff series was instituted several years ago, and here we have the fallout.

Perhaps justice was served, as PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was outfitted with the faulty Team USA uniform -- "Finchem" stitched on the back -- and undoubtedly felt the full force of the deluge. (No word on if Finchem got new duds like the players.)

The good news for the Americans? The suspension might very well have been a blessing, as they trailed in three matches and were looking less than comfortable in the miserable conditions.

"Even when play was going on, the golf course was really ... almost hard to call it a golf course," said American Stewart Cink. "The ball is probably going 15 percent shorter. It's almost worthless to take a drop from casual water because it plugs on impact. And then there is standing water on the greens.

"It was a good thing to call play because the Ryder Cup is too important to have its integrity compromised."

The Ryder Cup had not been scheduled for this late in the year since 1965, when the Americans trounced what was then a Great Britain & Ireland team at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England -- which is not that far from here.

The difference, of course, is that Birkdale is a sand-based links course that drains impeccably. Celtic Manor is inland, and while water is absorbed well for its location, no golf course could withstand the rainfall that pummeled this place Friday.

So it became a waiting game, with thousands of fans camped out under umbrellas, in hospitality venues, in the merchandise pavilion, waiting, hoping.

At various points, players popped out of their respective team rooms to mingle, sign autographs, offer up a souvenir or two. It was a nice gesture and speaks again to the uniqueness of this tournament.

"It's very special," said Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, the reigning U.S. Open champion. "Despite the rain, despite how miserable I'm sure all the crowd felt waiting around for us this morning, they lifted our spirits and were loud and were great. We were able to feed off of them."

The suspension lasted 7 hours and 15 minutes and play resumed in a desperate attempt to give the faithful fans some golf shots to watch and to also try to get the entire competition completed. Amazingly, the sun peaked through the clouds.

A Monday finish appears inevitable -- even though the hope is to get done on Sunday -- and that is where a captain's agreement could come into play.

The event is not allowed to go past sundown Monday, and if any matches were to be incomplete at that time, they would be deemed ties -- no matter how they stand. Any completed matches would be tallied along with the halves, and that is how the Ryder Cup would be decided.

If so, let's hope it is amid blazing sunshine and nice, gentle breezes and culminates with a gut-wrenching putt to decide the outcome.

For after all of Friday's futility, the Ryder Cup's rabid and rambunctious fans deserve to be rewarded for their passion.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.