Take a quick lookat the U.S. Ryder Cup roster. Impressive, right? ¬∂ The team captain, TomLehman, is a sensible man and a feisty competitor who has more Kumbaya spiritthan the whole PGA Tour Policy Board put together--the ideal person to lead theteam at a time when the U.S. can count its overseas friends on about threefingers. The team's anchor, Tiger Woods, is maybe the most dominant golfer ofall time. Riding shotgun with Woods (in all likelihood) in the better-ball andalternate-shot matches will be Jim Furyk, the third-ranked golfer in the world,who couldn't spell quit if you spotted him the first four letters. The team'ssecond-best player, Phil Mickelson, has more shots in him than Mel Gibson on aSaturday night, plus three majors. Then there's the team's designatedbulldog-cheerleader, Chris DiMarco, about the only big-name player you've neverseen cry on TV. Throw in two more experienced Ryder Cuppers, flinty ChadCampbell and steady David Toms, and the other half-dozen fellas who round outthe team and you have ... the underdogs!
Sergio García andIan Woosnam, the wee Euro captain, will fight you on this, but there's nodenying it: The Europeans are the favorites this time. Europe has won four ofthe last five Ryder Cups, and this year the match, to be held Sept. 22--24,will be in Ireland at the K Club and "the Irish are very rowdy," saysLuke Donald, himself a reserved Englishman. Ladbrokes, the British bookmaker,has Europe as a 1.72 to 1 pick and the U.S. as 2.37 to 1. All manner of playersand officials and writers will tell you that the Americans have earned theright to travel to Dublin as the Davids. "For the first time the Europeanswill feel as if they're supposed to win," says Doug Ferguson, the APwriter. Geoff Ogilvy of Australia, a neutral and keen observer, says that thisEuropean team is deeper than the U.S.'s, at least on paper.
Yes, theEuropeans are experts at portraying themselves as downtrodden discards, culledfrom Fagin's gang of pickpockets. And yes, it's hard to think of any team withWoods and Mickelson on it as unfavored. As W.C. Fields used to say, It bafflesscience. But if there was any lingering doubt about who ranked where, lastweek's PGA Championship at Medinah sealed the American team's second-classstatus. At least a dozen Americans had a chance to play a solid tournament andearn their way onto the team. On Sunday night, postvictory, Woods was examininga list of the top 10 American finishers. Part of the fun of the PGA in a RyderCup year is that it has more than one winner. There's the winner of theWanamaker Trophy, and then there are the guys who play their way onto the RyderCup team. "Anything change in the rankings this week?" Woods asked, thelist in his hands. He was looking for something and seeing nothing.
"Everythingstayed the same," he was told. Woods didn't speak, and his face revealednothing. There's no upside in saying, "Wow! Nobody stepped up." Whystate the obvious?
One of Lehman'sgoals is to make the Ryder Cup more fun, inside the ropes, for the players. Ifthey're having more fun, he believes, they will be more relaxed and will playbetter golf. That's his theory. The two captains before Lehman, Hal Sutton in2004 and Curtis Strange in '02, came at it more like football coaches. Lehman'scoaching hero is John Wooden, the UCLA legend. ("His whole thing was, Youhave to have fun. If you don't have fun, you're not going to love it, and ifyou don't love it, you're not going to work hard enough to be successful.")If last week's play and the last two Ryder Cups are any indication, it'sobvious that Lehman will have a lot of reprogramming to do. Medinah, and manyof the Tour events leading up to the PGA, showed a massive buildup of scartissue among many of the best American pros.
Last Wednesday,before a shot was struck in anger, the week looked promising for the Americans.Lehman entertained (though barely) the possibility that he would make the teamon points. Two esteemed Ryder Cuppers, Fred Couples and Davis Love III, were inposition to play their way onto the team; so were young talents Lucas Gloverand Arron Oberholser. Lehman could see that numbers 7, 8, 9 and 10--VaughnTaylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich, none of them with Ryderor Presidents Cup experience--could all get bumped off the team if they were toplay poorly and others played well.
Then the cardswere turned in. Couples missed the cut, and Love's play was erratic. Taylor,Henry, Johnson and Wetterich? Varying degrees of not much. Lehman missed thecut, and he and wife Melissa spent Sunday wandering among Medinah's gianttrees, observing Stewart Cink, Jerry Kelly, Tim Herron and, most particularly,Love. Not a single player did anything special. There's a cool vibe that comesoff of Lehman. He says of the Ryder Cup, "It's only a golf match." Butyou can't wave the shaft of your long putter and suddenly make Love relax whenhe's been pressing all year for one reason or another. Mostly he's been tryingtoo hard to make the Ryder Cup team. He had been on every one since 1993, andhis goal was to keep the streak going until the day he was selected captain.But this year he's had only one top 10 finish, missed the cut at the U.S. andBritish Opens and has admitted, with admirable candor, to frailties of themind. At Medinah he was eight under through 45 holes and in position to makethe team and even win the championship. Then on Saturday he made a bogey at therelatively easy par-5 10th and never came back from it, finishing 34th.Regarding the Ryder Cup, Love kept saying, "I'm trying to block itout." But he couldn't. Maybe Coach Wooden could help him.
On Mondaymorning, nine o'clock Chicago time--as President Bush was holding a pressconference on the state of war and peace in the Middle East--Lehman was in thepress tent at Medinah announcing his two captain's picks, Cink and ScottVerplank, both experienced Ryder Cuppers. Lehman was working on about twohours' sleep. He had spent Sunday night speaking, on the phone or in person, toa dozen or so other players who were in the vicinity of the top 10. In pickingCink, ranked 12th on the points list, he skipped over No. 11 John Rollins, whohad missed the cut at Medinah. In selecting Verplank, No. 20 on the list, hepassed over Kelly and Herron, plus Love and Couples and himself.
Love receivedupdates from Lehman his assistant, Corey Pavin, about how the long Sunday nightwas going, both before and after Love and his wife, Robin, went to seeTalladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. "I knew they were strugglingabout what choices to make," said Love. "I said all along that I neededto make the team on points. I told Robin that maybe I should make it easier onthem by taking my name out of it. He needs players who are 100 percentphysically and [are] playing well, and I'm not either. Robin said I should letthe process run its course. I wouldn't have picked me. Melissa Lehman's outthere, watching me from behind a tree, and I'm missing putts knowing that she'swatching. If I can't make those putts, I don't deserve to be on theteam."
Cink and Verplankwill help cement the U.S. position as the underdog, with help from young Taylor(30), Henry (31), Johnson (30) and Wetterich (33). The match will turn on whatthose six do. For 20 years the European path to victory was not determined byhow Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie performed; youexpected those guys to hang with any player in the world. Europe won becauseits best golfers played with heightened emotion. But Europe also won becauseits second-tier players--Steven Richardson, Philip Walton and Paul McGinley, indifferent years--outplayed the U.S.'s second-tier players time after time.Traditionally, Ryder Cup overachievement by the second-tier players has beenthe province of the Europeans.
Europe won toobecause it was easier to go into the Ryder Cup as the underdog. "There'ssomething about beating the United States of America in anything that turns thecrank of everybody, whether it's Hezbollah or the European Ryder Cup team,"says David Ogrin, one of Lehman's friends, who will also be his assistant atthe K Club. You can be sure some PGA official is going to try to shut Ogrin up.Sentences like that, they can make you forget that the U.S. is the underdog. Itreally is.
"I would saythe U.S. team is the underdog, and the U.S. is probably going to win," saysOgilvy, the U.S. Open champion. He expects that the Americans will becomfortable at the K Club, an American-style course designed by Arnold Palmer.He predicts that American frustration with its dismal record over the lastdecade will spur action. Finally, he cites the fun the U.S. team had whilewinning last year's Presidents Cup.
Fun is Lehman'soperative word. In a year when Woods lost his father and DiMarco lost hismother and Clarke lost his wife--and a ghastly number of Americans andEuropeans and Iraqis and Lebanese and Israelis have lost loved ones throughwar--playing an international golf match ought to be a good time, no matter whois on the team, no matter who wins. That's the message from Coach Wooden toCaptain Lehman, and from Lehman to us.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
A largelyinexperienced U.S. team will go into the Ryder Cup as an underdog. Here's theskinny on the Americans who will tee it up against the Europeans at the KClub
|1. Tiger Woods|
Skinny ... Must come up big. Could be his team, if he cares
|2. Phil Mickelson|
Skinny ... Must come up big. Could be his team, if he dares
|3. Jim Furyk|
Skinny ... Great in singles, but Tiger's partner only 1-9-1 in pairs
|4. Chad Campbell|
Skinny ... Has a ton of game, as well as this rep: good hit, no putt
|5. David Toms|
Skinny ... Straight and versatile. Pair him with anybody, even Phil
|6. Chris DiMarco|
Skinny ... Loves a good fight, and awesome in alternate shot
|7. Vaughn Taylor|
Skinny ... Quiet, dependable grinder could play a Toms-like role
|8. J.J. Henry|
Skinny ... See Campbell, Chad
|9. Zach Johnson|
Skinny ... He wants the ball. Team him with his pal DiMarco
|10. Brett Wetterich|
Skinny ... Bomber hasn't earned a point since the Memorial
|CP Stewart Cink|
Skinny ... Needs to have a good start. Can make the big putt
|CP Scott Verplank|
Skinny ... Yeah, he's steady. Steady like Curtis Strange in '95?
No. 10 Wetterich MC'd in almost half his starts, including thePGA.
Henry made the team by winning the Tour stop in his nativeConnecticut.
Herron, who had to tie for seventh at the PGA to make the team, finished14th.