When Curtis Strange made me a captain's pick for the U.S. team, I
was thrilled. I had played well for a stretch last year but never
expected to get picked--until I was watching the conclusion of the
2001 PGA on TV in the Atlanta Athletic Club locker room. Mike
Hulbert, the assistant captain, was sitting nearby and kept
looking at me over the top of his glasses. On the drive back to
the hotel, I told my wife, Toni, that I might be on the team.
That night there was a knock on our door. I had just stepped out
of the shower and was wrapped in a towel. It was Curtis. I said,
"Hold on," and put on some shorts. (I should've said, "Hey, it's
about time our room service got here.") He grinned and said, "All
right, it's you. I'm picking you." Just like that. My daughter,
Sarah Jean, was bubbly and laughing. Toni gave me a big hug and
said, "I'm really proud of you." It was a nice moment.
Since it has been nine years between Ryder Cups, I've been asked
if being chosen makes me feel as if my comeback from cancer is
complete. I've never thought of it that way, but making the team
does make me feel as if I've returned to the top level of the
game. I know Curtis received input from other players--and picked
me anyway! Seriously, it's nice to know that your peers still
perceive you in a certain way. I eagerly look forward to next
week's Ryder Cup and have wonderful memories of matches past.
Here are a few of them.
EUROPE 14, U.S. 14
After Chip Beck and I beat Gordon Brand Jr. and Sam Torrance in
the alternate-shot format on Saturday morning, we went up against
Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam in an afternoon best-ball match. They
had never been beaten as a team. On the 1st tee the fans were
screaming like a soccer crowd. I told Chipper--and I practically
had to yell--"I don't know about you, but I'm taking this
personally." He said, "I love it, Zinger. I love it." I birdied
the first three holes, and Chipper birdied the 4th. Woosie
chipped in at the 1st, Faldo holed out from a bunker at 7, Woosie
chipped in again at 10, and the crowd went off. Chip said,
"You've got to love it." I didn't know what he was talking about.
I was hot. Then Chip said, "They've chipped in three times and
they're still one down." What a great line.
September 22, 2002
At the next hole Chip hit it to 12 feet, and we went around to
the other side of the hole to line it up. Chipper was kneeling
and I was standing behind him when Faldo went over and squatted
behind Chip's ball, like he was reading the putt. I walked over
and said, "What are you doing?" Faldo said, "Just trying to offer
a helping hand." It was weird. I guess he was trying to rattle
us, but Chipper made the putt. In the end they were nine under
for 17 holes--and got beat 2 and 1. We were 11 under. That was
probably one of the greatest best-ball matches ever: 20 birdies
by four guys.
I got lucky and drew Seve Ballesteros in the opening singles
match. That was the year the USGA reminded players that balls had
to be visibly cut before they could be taken out of play. On the
2nd hole we both hit perfect wedges into the green; Seve had a
12-footer, and I had a four-footer. He said he was taking his
ball out of play. I questioned it. He was kneeling, lining up his
putt with his new ball. I grabbed the old one from his caddie and
said, "Seve, I don't think you can take this ball out."
He looked up at me standing over him, like, What are you doing
here? "Is this the way you want to play today?" he asked. I said,
"I just think we should ask the referee."
Andy McFee, the referee, looked at the original ball and said,
"Seve, you have to play this ball." We were the first match, so
there were 10,000 people around the green, and, man, they were
into it. It was really awkward. I said, "Hey, I'm sorry." Seve
said, "No, no, if this is the way you want to play today, we can
play this way." So he made the putt and got one of those
Euro-roars. As the noise died down some guy yelled, "What would
you have done with a good ball, Seve?" I almost had to laugh. I
put my ball down and realized that my hand was shaking. Normally
my hands never shake. I had a four-footer and hit a beautiful
putt. I took a step to pick it out of the cup when--boom!--it
did a 360 and came back at me. The crowd cheered even louder.
At 18 I hit a gross pop-up off the tee that went into the water.
Seve blasted a driver to the right. I had a marshal and the
referee helping me determine where my ball crossed the hazard
when Seve came running over. "No, no, your ball crossed up here,"
he said, pointing 10 or 12 yards farther toward the hole than
where we estimated. "Right by that tree," he said. My guess is
that Seve thought I'd be stymied by the tree. Instead I walked
back, keeping that point between me and the hole, until I felt I
could get around the tree. I hit a four-wood into a greenside
bunker--a phenomenal shot. Seve topped a three-iron into the
water, dropped and hit to the back of the green. He faced an
impossible putt down a tier. I hit a bunker shot to four feet,
then Seve, unbelievably, made his putt for bogey before I made
mine to win one up. I got a lot of confidence from that match
because I had beaten a premier player. That carried me for a long
U.S. 14 1/2, EUROPE 13 1/2
It was called the War by the Shore, and that's what it was. The
Euros were better than we were and they broadcast it, which we
didn't take kindly to. It became personal, which is what made
the Ryder Cup so great. Chip and I were in the first
alternate-shot match on Friday morning, against Seve and Jose
Maria Olazabal. There was trouble right away. In my opinion
Seve's drive on the 2nd hole never cleared the hazard, so Jose
hit a provisional. If your ball is in a hazard and you hit a
provisional, the provisional automatically is in play. That's
the rule. When Seve and Jose started looking around the hazard,
I joked to Chip, "They must be getting low on balls; it's not
like they can play it." I asked the referee what was going on.
The next thing I know, Jose is going back to the tee box. They
claimed a lost ball, in which case you have to replay the shot
from the tee. Since they were out of the hole, I didn't care.
Seve hit another ball into the gunch at the 4th. They couldn't
find it, and finally the referee said, "Five minutes are up."
Fifteen seconds later they found the ball, and the official
allowed Jose to play it. I was livid. I asked the referee what
was going on. He shrugged his shoulders, as if he was totally
intimidated. I immediately requested another referee for the rest
of the match, and we were given one.
On the 10th hole Seve and Jose tried to claim wins on three
holes, charging that we had played the wrong-compression ball.
They were right. One of us played a 90-compression ball, one of
us played a 100, and we used the wrong one on the par-5 7th. It
was an error on our part. However, you can only win a hole if you
claim a rules infraction before you tee off on the next hole.
They had waited too long to speak up, but the incident clearly
rattled us. Chip and I were 3 up after nine but lost the next
three holes and got beat 2 and 1.
We got Seve and Jose again in best-ball that afternoon. Chip and
I played well--I made eight birdies in 16 holes, the best golf
I've ever played--and we were beaten again, 2 and 1. Seve and
Jose were phenomenal.
I drew Jose in singles, and we had a close match in which we
halved only four holes. I won the 18th to finish 2 up. The whole
Ryder Cup came down to Bernhard Langer's six-foot putt on the
final green. I stayed back on a hillside to watch. It was tough.
Bernhard is a good friend. I was glad he missed, but I didn't
want to celebrate in his face. It was pretty impressive that he
came back and won his next European tour event.
I remember that Woosie kind of tied one on soon after the
matches were over--the Euros were passing him around over their
heads in the reception tent at the course before both teams
boarded the same bus to go to the victory dinner. They sat in
the back, we were in the front. There was stone silence until
Deborah Couples went to the back and sat with the Euros. Then
things started to get raucous. Finally Woosie stood up and said,
"What's the matter with you people? You've won. You should be
singing." We all laughed, and the next thing you know Woosie is
singing I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy, and all the Euros are singing
along with him. Later, Woosie was leaning against the bar when I
came up to get Toni a soda. He looked up at me, squinting, as if
he'd never seen me before, and said, "Damn, Zinger. You're
tall!" It was beautiful.
U.S. 15, EUROPE 13
There was a fog delay the first day. I was playing with Freddie
Couples in the afternoon best-ball against Faldo and Colin
Montgomerie, and we ended up having to finish the last hole the
following morning. I'll never forget how cold it was, how
underdressed I was and how nervous I was. Seriously, I was
chilled to the bone. At the 18th hole Freddie hit it into the
water. I don't know how I got my drive over the water, but I
did. I don't know how I got my ball on the green, but I did. My
putt from 15 feet went a good foot and a half past, and they
gave it to me, which was a good thing because I was so cold, I
wasn't sure I could make it. Faldo took five minutes to line up
the eight-footer he made to tie the hole and halve the match.
I didn't play particularly well that week. In singles, it was me
against Faldo in the final match of the day--one that would end
up not mattering. Faldo and I had a little history. When I blew
the '87 British Open by bogeying the last two holes after
leading most of the way, all he said to me was, "Sorry about
that." Then he hacked on me in Sports Illustrated by imitating
my swing and suggesting that I could never be a major champion.
When I won the PGA in '93, it was as nice to clip Faldo by a
shot as it was to beat Greg Norman in a playoff.
At our team dinner on Saturday night before singles play,
everybody got up and said a few words. My inspirational speech
was this: "Boys, don't make my match count." That was it. And
they didn't, but all day long it looked as if the Ryder Cup's
outcome would be up to us. That was the only time I can remember
being equally nervous on every hole.
At the 14th, a par-3, Nick made a hole in one. He walked off the
tee with his arms in the air and the crowd going ape. I simply
walked over to the next tee and had a drink of water. It was
exciting and all, but in match play it was just one hole. I
birdied the next hole for a win.
At dinner on Sunday night, Nick said, "That was a hell of a
birdie after I made that one." That was probably the only
compliment I've ever gotten from him, and probably the longest
dialogue we've ever had.
At the 16th Nick had a four-footer to tie the hole. Our match
was even. He asked, twice, "Is this good?" I said, "You're
kidding, right?" He said, "Well, the Ryder Cup is over. You've
won." I asked the referee, who confirmed that yes, the U.S. had
retained the Cup. So I gave Nick the putt. Having totally lost
my concentration, I popped up my drive at 17, at which point
Davis Love came running up and told me, "Don't let your guard
down; we're only guaranteed a tie. We haven't won yet." That was
eye-opening news. Nick birdied 17 to go one up. At 18 he hit his
approach shot long and tried to reel it back in, gesturing like
a fisherman. I hit an eight-iron to 12 feet. By then it was
official--we had won the Cup. Nick missed his putt, so now I had
a putt to win the hole and tie our match, which would have no
bearing on the outcome. The whole time I was reading the putt, I
was thinking, I can't believe he's not giving me this putt. But
he didn't. Thank goodness I made it.
Now I had an opportunity to raise my arms in triumph, although
it wasn't easy. My right shoulder was really sore. From July on,
every night as I laid in bed my shoulder just throbbed. It had
been Advil Central at the Belfry, and by Sunday the shoulder
hurt like the devil. I knew there was something wrong and that
it wasn't tendinitis. Dr. Frank Jobe had called me during the
PGA and wanted to do a biopsy, but I put him off until after the
Ryder Cup. It turned out to be lymphoma, something that changed
my life. It was easy to forget about the pain that week, though.
Who's Cuddly, Who's Not
Recent Ryder Cups have been cutthroat, but because of 9/11,
goodwill is expected to reign next week. Here's how SI rates the
cuddliness of the players. Pros with the most teddy bears are
likely to embrace the warm and fuzzy atmosphere. Those with the
fewest could touch off an international incident.
U.S. TEAM RATING
PAUL AZINGER *
Xenophobic Zinger stuck in early-'90s time warp. To this
42-year-old battler, War by the Shore still rages.
MARK CALCAVECCHIA **
Which Calc will show: Birdie machine or hapless head case? First
(and maybe last) chance to exorcise ghosts of 1991.
STEWART CINK **
Looks soft, but so jazzed for first Cup that he recently saw a
psychoanalyst for a checkup from the neck up.
DAVID DUVAL ***
Erstwhile superstar made headlines in '99 for calling Cup an
exhibition, so how blase will he be this time around?
JIM FURYK *
Undefeated in singles matches, hard-nosed grinder knows only one
speed. Could be go-to guy for U.S. team.
Scott Hoch *
Contrary Carolinian will annoy 'em to death without even trying.
Sneaky good match player star (2-0-1) of '97 team.
DAVIS LOVE III ***
Yogi Bear more menacing than talented but soft and docile DL3,
whose 1-7 career record in playoffs says it all.
PHIL MICKELSON *
Also undefeated in singles. Euro antagonist in '99--he teed off
while foes putted--can look for payback.
HAL SUTTON **
You'd have trouble sleeping too: Ranking of apnea-plagued
Brookline hero has plummeted from fifth to 115th.
DAVID TOMS ***
Too nice to get into any fights. Quiet, competent rookie could
flourish in brothers-in-arms environment.
SCOTT VERPLANK *
Another struggling American, with added pressure: First-ever
rookie captain's pick must justify selection.
TIGER WOODS **
As the record (3-6-1) shows, Ryder Cup seen as less than a major
undertaking by world's No. 1-ranked player.
CURTIS STRANGE *
Wrong year, wrong man. Captain has made nice to this point, but
sure to show true colors in heat of battle.
EUROPEAN TEAM RATING
THOMAS BJORN *
Brooding Dane desperate to make his mark. Give-me-the-ball
attitude could rub Americans the wrong way.
DARREN CLARKE ***
Long on game but short on guts, he's European version of Davis
Love, only he looks like cuddly teddy, too.
NICLAS FASTH *
Ryder Cup rookie could be Euros' secret weapon.
Fairways-and-greens game perfect in team matches.
PIERRE FULKE *
As first European to qualify for squad--way back in January
2001--has grown some bark defending his worthiness.
SERGIO GARCIA *
Brookline Bawler will try to play it cool, but is way too
emotional to keep feelings in check for three days.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON **
New slow-play rule put in with foot-dragging Dubliner in mind.
Euro workhorse will play every session.
BERNHARD LANGER ***
Elder statesman (first Cup: '81) only player on either side to
remember kinder, gentler days of event.
PAUL MCGINLEY **
Unheralded Gaelic footballer stuffed U.S. in '91 Walker Cup and,
with Harrington, won '97 World Cup.
COLIN MONTGOMERIE ***
Public enemy No. 1 in '99, Monty's sure to be a grandstanding
host, but bad back could limit his playing time.
JESPER PARNEVIK ***
Florida Swede bonded with Americans on 9/11 when he ran for his
life from the Plaza--six miles from ground zero.
PHILLIP PRICE **
Will Welshman be a one-time wonder like Peter Baker (3-1, '93) or
a rookie bust like Andrew Coltart (0-1-0, '99)?
LEE WESTWOOD ***
Has played poorly--and is getting worse. Death-spiraling
Englishman can't wait for next week to be over.
SAM TORRANCE *
Seemingly affable captain has two words for those who have
forgotten what he's really all about: Fork off!
RATING: *** = How about a hug? ** = Semi-snuggly * = Loaded for
Ballesteros looked up at me standing over him and said, "Is this
the way you want to play today?"