Of all the new and exciting discoveries I made over the summer (and have you ever noticed that Lord Farquaar’s castle in Shrek is a dead ringer for Sterling Library?), imagine my surprise when, on entering a London theater, I was greeted by one of Yale’s “Fifty Most Beautiful People” (or, as I like to think of it, my “to do” list). This only goes to show that what we might loosely call academic circles are rather small like the aristocratic circles of old.

It wasn’t even very surprising, considering that the said Very Beautiful Person lives in London and I was attending a course at the theater. That was only really a way into saying that trans-Atlantic communication, peace and harmony are still possible whilst men and women of goodwill are prepared, like Persephone, to spend six months on the earth and six months in the underworld.

Right, having dispensed with the Op-Ed liberal piety, let me get onto my real point: the fact that this week Europe takes on America and it ain’t gonna be pretty. Nice is off the menu as the might of two continents go eyeball-to-eyeball. This is major. This is serious. This is golf.

That’s right, golf, which is not just a game for those with dubious fashion sense who aren’t fit enough to play real sport. Golf is a serious business, and never more so than when the Ryder Cup rolls into town. America takes on Europe (Britain and Ireland until 1977, when it just got too embarrassing) and the Sunday night tension, for an apparently sedate game, can be unbearable. The combined results of the last 10 contests are: Europe 143.5 United States 136.5, a difference of less than a point per contest.

As anyone who has messed up on a sporting occasion under even the least amount of pressure will know, golf can be so cruel. For one thing, the fight-or-flight response to tense situations is completely useless: it’s impossible to flee the course and punching your opponent is usually regarded as a major breach of etiquette. With the knowledge that everything you do as an individual affects your team, it’s little wonder people crack. Mark Calcavecchia hasn’t been the same player since he lost the last four holes to Colin Montgomerie in 1991. Ditto Curtis Strange since he lost the match — and the Cup — to Nick Faldo in 1995.

America is expected to win this time round; but then, it always is. As I sat waiting for the doctor last week, contemplating the irony of having just waived my Yale Prescription Plan coverage, I unearthed this in the September issue of Golf Magazine:

“European no-names beat America’s better-on-paper tigers — because of the determination of mild-mannered journeymen like Paul Broadhurst, Paul McGinley, Phil Price and Phillip Walton. And we have yet more heroes, men whose names don’t begin with P: men like Eamonn Darcy, Christy O’Connor Junior and David Gilford. These men are hardly household names in their own household, but you should never underestimate the determination of mild-mannered journeymen. Under the unassuming exteriors of their pastel sweaters burns a serious desire to kick American butt.”

The Ryder Cup is the only event on earth that makes sense of the phrase “European Rapid Reaction Force.” At no other time have the English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Spanish, Germans, Italians, Swedish and Danish bonded so effectively against a common enemy. Even the French have chipped in (bad, bad PUN), although their record reads played one lost one, a result that so neatly symbolizes the French understanding of collective responsibility.

And let’s get this clear: we’re going to win this time round as well, even with a Frenchman on board, despite the American dirty trick of holding it near Detroit. Our rookies are young, fit, major winners of the future: Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter. Your response? Fred Funk, Chris Riley and Chris DiMarco. Pah — I laugh at your Fred Funk (although if Funk and Riley were paired against, say, Thomas Levet and David Howell, it would most likely be the least-watched game in Ryder Cup history).

You may have big names. You may have more major winners on your side (five to — err — none). You may have the crowd on your side. But we have mild-mannered journeymen, and if English (and by loose and inaccurate extension European) history demonstrates anything, it is that you should never, never underestimate the determination of mild-mannered journeymen. Especially if they’re wearing nice sweaters.

Nick Baldock is now fully covered by the Yale Health Plan in case any Yank wants to kick the shite out of this chap.