Metro-East News

Wally talks golf with Ryder Cup couple volunteering at event

Lynn and Harry Birlew, of Swansea, in their Ryder Cup volunteer uniforms.
Lynn and Harry Birlew, of Swansea, in their Ryder Cup volunteer uniforms. Provided

The Ryder Cup only comes along every two years and alternates between the United States and Europe, so it was a fortunate occurrence for Harry and Lynn Birlew of Swansea that it is being played next weekend at a golf course in Minnesota, only 20 minutes from where their son, Matthew, lives.

The couples’ luck got even better when Harry and Lynn got on their computers and applied to be volunteers at the prestigious golf competition at Hazeltine National Golf Club, southwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Harry said 16,000 people applied and only 3,000 were accepted.

Both Lynn and Harry made the cut and are in the Land of 10,000 Lakes preparing for what they think is going to be a great time.

Harry spoke to me from the middle of Iowa as the couple made their way north.

“We’re excited,” he said, and they weren’t even there yet. “We were blessed to be picked.”

That’s a little of the influence of Harry’s part-time retirement job slipping in. He is a minister at a church in Missouri.

He is retired from working in security with the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis. But Harry, who is 69, won’t be guarding anyone at the Ryder Cup. He will be working in transportation, chauffeuring around players, officials and dignitaries.

Lynn, 68, will be working four hours a day for five days in merchandising because this is one event where you definitely want to get the T-shirt.

They were both stunned to be chosen, Harry said. It might not have been possible without the chance to stay at their son’s house.

“It was crazy,” he said. “When we found out where it was going to be we just got on the Internet and found these applications. They even did background checks.”

Harry himself is an avid golfer. “I play quite a bit,” he said.

Lynn doesn’t play due to physical limitations but is a fan of the game.

Harry said he will be driving a Mercedes Benz, picking up people, players and officials at various places and taking them back and forth to the golf course. Play is Friday, Saturday and Sunday but players will practice earlier in the week.

Spectators have snatched up tickets to the competition and even tickets to watch the practice rounds.

The competition features 12 golfers from Europe versus 12 from the United States, including some of the best professionals in the world.

There are five match play sessions over the three days of competition with a Sunday climax of 12 head-to-head matches.

The Birlews will be behind the scenes, not like those guys who get to hold up the quiet signs when players hit, so you probably won’t see them on TV. But they expect to have a pretty good time and meet some interesting people.

Harry said he was getting ready even before leaving home.

“I’ve already had some training,” he said. “They sent an email with instructions on how to use the GPS on the Mercedes.”