Fun out­weighs strat­egy as teams wait for the first shot to be struck

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - BILL DWYRE from new­port, wales

The Ry­der Cup is a study in much ado about ev­ery­thing.

Some­body will win, some­body will lose and the world will con­tinue on quite nicely Mon­day morn­ing. Pre­sum­ably, no­body will die. No­body will declare war af­ter the com­pe­ti­tion ends Sun­day. It is only a golf tour­na­ment, a sport­ing event that is, es­sen­tially, what all other ma­jor sport­ing events are now: a big TV show.

That be­ing said, it sure is fun. The sights and sounds, the high jinks, the quest for a psy­cho­log­i­cal edge, are fas­ci­nat­ing. All be­fore the first ball is struck.

Phil Mick­el­son fin­ishes a prac­tice round on the 18th green and spots some friends, wav­ing from their glassed-in TV booth 70 yards away and five sto­ries high. He drops a ball in the short rough just off the green and lofts a sand wedge in their di­rec­tion. A huge crowd watches, in awe of the mere at­tempt, and then roars its ap­proval as the ball drops harm­lessly on the porch in front of the TV stu­dio.

“I didn’t want to break the glass,” Mick­el­son says, ap­par­ently cer­tain he could drop a shot gen­tly on a five-foot-square porch from 70 yards away on his first try.

Re­mem­ber that PGA Tour ad cam­paign: “These Guys Are Good”? Well….

Feed­ing the me­dia mon­ster here is no small task. This is the

United King­dom. Tabloids tell all here, oc­ca­sion­ally even stum­bling across a fact. The hot story has been that Rory McIlroy, North­ern Ire­land phe­nom, com­mented months ago, when Tiger Woods was floun­der­ing, that Tiger would be a wel­come op­po­nent in the Ry­der Cup. That has taken on the im­agery of a “High Noon” shootout.

Both cap­tains, Corey Pavin of the U.S. and Colin Mont­gomerie of Europe, have done their best to defuse that in daily news con­fer­ences. But de­priv­ing a tabloid re­porter of a story is like steal­ing a bone from a dog. So the Euro­pean team an­swered with a sense of hu­mor and sol­i­dar­ity Wed­nes­day morn­ing. When McIlroy got to the first tee for his prac­tice round, he was greeted by seven oth­ers — three team­mates and four cad­dies — all wear­ing wigs of thick, curly black hair, re­mark­ably re­sem­bling McIlroy.

Amer­i­can Steve Stricker talks about how each team is helped by a quirky per­son­al­ity to loosen things up. He says Bubba Wat­son has taken that role for this U.S. team. But Stricker said he hadn’t reached the level of 2008 team mem­ber Boo Week­ley, who even cre­ated a new word for team unity.

“Com­pat­i­bate,” Stricker says, which ap­par­ently meant, to Week­ley, com­pat­i­ble.

Mick­el­son feigns anger when a re­porter sug­gests he is be­ing over­taken by Woods in their Ry­der Cup ping­pong bat­tle. He says that won’t be set­tled un­til Sun­day night.

“We play a best-of-five se­ries,” he says. “And like the U.S. team hold­ing the Ry­der Cup, so am I in our lit­tle match.”

So, what the Ry­der Cup ap­par­ently does is gen­er­ate mil­lions of dol­lars for char­ity while cre­at­ing a week of frat-boy fun for two dozen mul­ti­mil­lion­aires.

The strat­egy of matchups cre­ated by each cap­tain is dis­cussed ad nau­seam and never re­vealed by ei­ther. They must fi­nally do so be­fore the open­ing cer­e­mony Thurs­day af­ter­noon. So many ques­tions: Who plays with whom? Which four on each team will be left to cool their heels dur­ing Fri­day and Satur­day four­some and four-ball play?

Is Pavin best served by pair­ing a con­ser­va­tive, low-risk player such as Zach John­son with aim-it-over-the-club­house-and-off-the-port-a-Mick­el­son? Should Mont­gomerie team supremely con­fi­dent Ian Poul­ter with rookie Ross Fisher? Will Pavin sit Tiger out for a round?

“These teams are so good,” Euro­pean vet­eran Padraig Harrington says, “that a lot is go­ing to come down to the de­ci­sions of the cap­tains.”

The cap­tains, them­selves, are a study in con­trasts.

With Mont­gomerie, you can feel the pas­sion, the highs and lows. He wears it on his sleeve. You ex­pect a hearty laugh as much as you do a choked-back tear.

“You walk into any play­ers’ lounge at any tour­na­ment in the world,” Harrington says, “and if Monty is sit­ting at a ta­ble, that ta­ble will be full.”

If you are look­ing for the stif­fup­per-lip ap­proach, a very Bri­tish thing, that’s Pavin, not Mont­gomerie. Matt Kuchar says that Pavin is build­ing on the per­ceived U.S. un­der­dog role. No sur­prise there. He is a UCLA Bruin, and gutty lit­tle ones revel in that.

Each cap­tain had a speaker ad­dress his team Tues­day night. Their choices seemed telling.

Pavin in­vited Maj. Dan Rooney, an F-16 fighter pi­lot and pro­fes­sional golfer. Pavin char­ac­ter­ized that se­lec­tion as an at­tempt to show his play­ers how teamwork, like the mil­i­tary, in­volves “guys hav­ing each other’s backs.”

Mont­gomerie put Euro­pean golf leg­end Seve Balles­teros on the phone with his team. Balles­teros, a Ry­der Cup hero as both a player and a cap­tain, is suf­fer­ing from brain can­cer. What was said was not re­vealed. That it was Balles­teros say­ing it was clearly enough.

“Seve is our Ry­der Cup, and al­ways will be,” Mont­gomerie said. “I was af­ter some pas­sion, and by God, I got it.”

Sun­day may re­veal which ap­proach worked best. Or, it may re­veal that the only thing that mat­tered in the end was a 10-foot putt that lipped out.


Richard Heath­cote Getty Im­ages

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