EVERYONE’S CUP OF TEE
Fun outweighs strategy as teams wait for the first shot to be struck
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.