Golf fans around the world were glued to their televisions early this fall as the three-day biennial Ryder Cup tournament unfolded on the glorious greens of Medinah Country Club near Chicago. The Ryder Cup pits an all-star team of American golfers against the best players from Europe, and the two-year bragging rights are not taken lightly by either the players or the fans.
Those who tuned in saw three days of heated competition; every drive and putt came into play as the famed golfers faced down each other in rare head-to-head contests. On the last day, the Americans blew an apparent victorious lead, dropping eight and tying one of the 12 singles matches and losing the Cup in what is now called, by Europeans anyway, “the Miracle at Medinah.”
Mason alumna Noelle Fanella saw the American nightmare at the 39th Ryder Cup in all-too-close horror. The Mason graduate had parlayed her Mason minor in sports management into a paying job working at the country club last summer and followed up with another job this year. It just so happened Medinah was hosting the international tournament.
“I had a pretty decent resume coming out of college, and Medinah is down the street from my house,” Fanella says. The former volleyball player and economics major at Mason had been networking in the Chicago-area sports world even before graduation. “I knew some people over there so they hired me. It just worked out. They said I could come back next year if I wanted to, and they were hosting the Ryder Cup, which was great.”
Fanella is a casual golfer—“I’m really terrible, but I try”—but the Ryder Cup was not unknown to her. In fact, she’d learned about it at Mason.
“I was in Professor [Craig] Esherick’s class and we were learning about mega-events,” she says. Esherick is the associate director of Mason’s Center for Sports Management in the College of Education and Human Development. “We were in class and one of the PowerPoint slides was illustrating upcoming mega-events; listed in the Top 5 with the Olympics, the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games, and the Super Bowl was the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. So I learned about it in my class. And it was pretty neat to actually be there.”
And what was it like from a sports management standpoint? “You’re just in awe,” Fanella says. “They’d been planning it five or more years, and to see everybody together after all of that, it was once in a lifetime.”
Some 40,000 spectators a day—massive by even international golf tournament standards—turned out to watch captain Davis Love III’s American team take on José María Olazábal’s Europeans. Players included, among others, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, and Jim Furyk for the Yanks and Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, and Luke Donald for the Europeans.
Fanella’s duties included helping the players with their pre- and post-round practice sessions at the driving range and distributing golf carts to players and course officials. “It was a lot of fun to be right next to the players and to get them whatever they needed,” Fanella says.
She sounds enthusiastic for what others might describe as less than glamorous duties, but her former professor Esherick isn’t surprised. “She understands the sports industry,” he says. “She has a serious interest in working in the industry and I think that comes through when she’s interviewing for jobs.”
Her training at Mason, Fanella says, prepared her for the mega-event and for whatever comes next. “I think it helps to understand what everybody else is doing around you and the time and effort it takes to plan and create an event like [the Ryder Cup],” she says. “And I knew it could lead to something better.”
In fact, the day after the Ryder Cup, Fanella started a new job, this one an internship with the Arena Football League.
“I work at their downtown headquarters with their media team,” she says. “They said they’d help me out when the internship was over with whatever I needed. I’m pretty happy.”