National pride is a tough thing to measure. But, according to various surveys and indicators, modern Americans are now thought to be more patriotic than at any time since World War II. The civil chasms of the 1960s are ancient history, the self-doubt and financial turmoil of the 1970s a barely recalled memory. And with no end in sight to what is being called the Great American Economic Miracle of the 1990s and no rival super-power left, it is little wonder few feel any need to look beyond. Spend an evening talking to ordinary young Americans about their country and the hubris overflows. Even start to question the nation's economic, moral or democratic authority over the rest of us and you had better be well-armed for a feisty debate. Such passions, of course, need a public outlet. And they recently found one in a most bizarre setting - the supposedly delicate world of golf, a game once dominated by mutual respect and etiquette. An explosion of nationalism on the last day of the Ryder Cup tournament in Brookline, Boston, a rare team event that pits the best American golfers against their European rivals, has swelled into a full-blown controversy. And 10 days after the incident, it is showing no signs of easing. 'The arrival of the golf hooligan,' the headlines now thunder. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic - including presidential candidate George W Bush - have chipped in their two cents worth, while high-brow essayists are running around quoting George Orwell's dire warnings about sport and jingoism. Heady stuff for a relatively straightforward sporting event. The first two days of play were marked by America's top players collapsing under the pressure of the Europeans, the overwhelming underdogs. Then on the last day the Americans staged a dramatic comeback - described by one of the more sober local columnists as 'The Best Day of Golf Ever'. At that point, depending on which side you were on, the trouble began. When American Justin Leonard sank an extremely difficult putt on the 17th to effectively seal the event, he leapt about, whooped and waved his arms madly in gesticulations considered extreme even by the broadening standards of golf celebration. The whole American team - and their wives - then charged on to the green in what some described as an 'orgy of delight'. The problem was that the highly respected Jose Maria Olazabal still had to make a putt that - in theory - could have tied the game. The Spaniard waited seven smouldering minutes for what he has since described as an 'ugly scene' to subside. The Europeans insist it was merely the last unsporting straw in a weekend that had seen drunks in the traditionally restrained Boston crowd spit at them and jeer at their wives. Doubts now hang over the future of the tournament, played every two years. The American players, joyous in celebration, have expressed regret but have stopped short of sweeping apologies for their own actions, masking a rivalry that is one of the deepest in the game. Frank Hannigan, former executive director of the United States Golf Association, has gone further, however. 'The line of civility was crossed at the country club by a poisonous mixture of greed, liquor, jingoism and bad taste,' he wrote in a commentary on the editorial page of The New York Times, a location that usually dwells on only the heftiest matters of state and society. Like other commentators, he has warned about the size of modern golf crowds and their easy access to booze, often doled out for free in the now ubiquitous corporate tents. If only it were that simple. A surging national pride undoubtedly contributed to what happened, many foreigners who witnessed the event believe. That it should happen at an international event is significant - Americans are known to be particularly insular when it comes to professional sport and violence motivated by patriotism is rare. That World Series baseball is solely an American event says it all. Two years ago, the American Ryder Cup team struggled to acknowledge their defeat to the Europeans, again the underdogs. 'Golf was the winner today,' they repeated, mantra-like, to explain their loss in terms that avoided mention of defeat. This year the US took the honours - but the cost is still being counted.