SI's plan was toassemble the finest minds in golf, have them analyze next week's Ryder Cup andpredict a winner. When that fell through, we convened this panel of experts fora roundtable discussion: SI senior writers Michael Bamberger, John Garrity,Alan Shipnuck and Gary Van Sickle, plus a PGA Tour pro who participated on thecondition that he remain anonymous
This is an article from the Sept. 16, 2008 issue
SO DO THE CAPTAINSREALLY MATTER?
Shipnuck: Thecaptains [Nick Faldo, far left, and Paul Azinger, left] are only important forthe losing teams, because it's always their fault. That's the captain's role—totake the blame and go down with the ship.
Van Sickle: Idon't recall Hal Sutton doing that.
Shipnuck: Halnever fully embraced his role. Any of us could do the pairings effectively, andthey have minions to plan the shirts and set the menus. The captains can helprelax the team, like Azinger will, or stress them out, like Sutton obviouslydid.
Garrity: I'm inthe not-very-important camp.
Van Sickle: Youmean the captains aren't very important or you're not?
Garrity: [Laughs.]Remember Jack Nicklaus? His team got waxed in the Presidents Cup in Melbourne.I mean, just scorched [20 1/2 to 11 1/2, in 1998]. He got hammered because hisphilosophy was to let the boys play and have fun. Later he wins the PresidentsCup, and all the players and media credited the same approach as the reason forhis success. I think Johnny Miller [on NBC] has a bigger impact on the matchesthan the captains. Miller's opinions reach millions of ears, and he actuallyscares the players. The captain runs around in a cart and waves the flag. He'sa cheerleader when they're playing and a glorified press secretary when they'renot.
Anonymous Pro:Nicklaus does it perfectly. He asks guys who they want to play with and whothey don't want to play with. If one guy's name keeps coming up as a don't,Jack goes up to an individual and says, "Hey, do you think you can playwith so-and-so?" You're always going to play better with your buddies orwith someone you have something in common with. Golf is an individual sport.It's not like the New York Yankees trying to pull together. You're a team, butonce you're on the 1st tee you're on your own except for your partner.
Shipnuck: Nicklaussaid an interesting thing: that the captain's job is to reduce the pressure onthe players. I think Zinger will do that. He has a light touch. Faldo is aremote, distant, forbidding presence that may intimidate some Euros.
Anonymous Pro: Ireally like Zinger. He has talked to darn near everyone who has a Tour card.He's really trying to form a cohesive team. He's a players' captain, more sothan Sutton. Hal was a general in a ten-gallon hat.
Garrity: Since hebecame a TV personality Faldo has shown a real capacity for change andadaptation. He wants to do whatever works. For years in Europe he was a guythat the establishment and other players loathed. He was crusty, uncooperativeand selfish. But he's found a way to change his personality to fit his TV role,and student that he is, Faldo may pick up on Jack's idea of taking the pressureoff his players.
Shipnuck: WhenNick was a player he had a protective bubble around himself, and he thinksthat's what everyone wants. His approach is: I'm here if they need me, they cancall me; I want to give them their space. Sunday night at last month's PGA,Zinger was in the locker room schmoozing, the star of the show. Zinger has aconnection with the players. That doesn't come naturally to Faldo.
Anonymous Pro: Ihate to echo Zinger's comments about Faldo trying to re-create his image now,but most players thought Faldo was unapproachable. I haven't seen Nick outthere kicking up dust with any players, and I've played a lot of tournamentsthis year. Zinger is always mingling in the locker room and on the range. Theirstyles are glaringly different. I'm not sure the Euros will be comfortable withNick, but they've won with Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam—two distinctopposites—so I'm not sure it even matters.
VALHALLA: GOOD ORGOOFY?
Anonymous Pro:Some people may think that Valhalla is a goofy course, but I'll give it onething, it's going to be exciting for match play. One of the most dramatictournaments ever played was Tiger and Bob May in the 2000 PGA at Valhalla. Thebest hole out there is the 15th, a driver or a three-wood off the tee with amid-iron or a short iron to a peninsula-type green with water on the rightside. It's strikingly similar to a lot of holes at Muirfield Village, alsodesigned by Nicklaus.
Bamberger: It'smatch play. Who cares about the course? Valhalla's bland, but that doesn'tmatter.
Van Sickle: Iforget which player nicknamed the green at the par-5 18th hole the Toilet Seat.It's like too many other holes at Valhalla—totally contrived.
Anonymous Pro:Well, the 18th green is quirky. It looks as if it needs to be flipped upsidedown. Having said that, it's still a better finishing hole than the 18th atOakland Hills. [At Valhalla] guys can make 3s, guys can make 7s. Look at the2000 PGA finish—Woods and May birdied 18 in regulation, then hit it into thecrap in the playoff and struggled. It's not the ballbuster you usually expectfor the Ryder Cup's finishing hole, but I like that. Can you imagine abest-ball match going to 18 with four guys all trying to make eagle? Now thatwould be exciting.
WHAT MAKES THEEUROPEANS SO SPECIAL?
Anonymous Pro: TheEuropeans are freaking strong. I look at their lineup and go, He's a stud, he'sa stud, he's a stud ... and they lost Luke Donald. With Tiger out, PadraigHarrington and Sergio García (left) are probably the best players in the worldright now. Robert Karlsson could be a silent assassin. He could win threepoints without anyone noticing. Lee Westwood has been playing fantastic.
Shipnuck: Europe,top to bottom, is way superior as a group of ball strikers. Two or threeplayers left off their team are playing better than anyone in the U.S. lineup.The depth of Europe compared with the U.S. is depressing.
Anonymous Pro: Nooffense to Ben Curtis and some of these new guys, but there's nobody on theU.S. team who scares anyone. The Euros walk in with their shoulders back like,We own this event. We walk in like, My God, are we ever going to win this thingagain? The Euros expect to win. They know they have the secret formula. Theyall smoke the same peace pipe. They have it figured out. They relax and havefun and kick our butts.
Bamberger: TheEuros won't be overconfident. You're never overconfident when you're playing aroad game. Plus, it's simply not the European nature. Overconfidence might'vebeen the Americans' problem when they started losing regularly in the mid-'90s.Just look at the personality of the best player in the world, Harrington. He'salways saying, I suck, I need to get better, I need to work harder, and did Imention that I suck?
Shipnuck: Padraigmissed the cut at the Barclays and spent about eight hours on the range thereon Saturday. He keeps his head down, works hard and sets the tone for thatteam.
Bamberger: Weshould pause for a moment to remember the greatness that was Colin Montgomerie.He was a quote machine, and we'll all be a lot poorer without him there. Butit's a new era.
Garrity: One thingthe Euros lose with Monty is gamesmanship. The American fans picked on him,called him names. The Euros have always been able to feel self-righteous thattheir big guy is battling insurmountable odds. That was a nice card for them toplay. They might miss that.
HERE'S HOW ITTURNS OUT ...
Garrity: Thepressure is off. Expectations are low. I say the Americans win, but it'll beclose.
Shipnuck: I haveto take Europe. The talent disparity is too great. I could see it being closegoing into Sunday and then the Euros take eight of 12 singles matches.
Bamberger: Don'tthe Americans usually play better in singles?
Van Sickle: That'sbecause it's already over by Sunday.
Bamberger: TheAmericans win a close one. Azinger will make the difference, just like Nicklausmakes the difference in the Presidents Cup. There's something special aboutZinger. He's an odd combination of a guy who's fun but really intense. TheAmericans haven't had a captain like that, maybe ever. Not Watson, not Curtis,not Lehman, certainly not Sutton. I think the captain does matter in the RyderCup, and Zinger will get the best out of his players.
Van Sickle: Healso negotiated a little-known deal that if the matches end in a tie, thecaptains decide the winner by playing Foosball. Zinger's a mortal lock in thatone. Seriously, I agree with Michael—Zinger is worth four points. That enablesthe Americans to close the gap and create an exciting finish, and they lose bya single point. Europe keeps the Cup, America earns a moral victory andinterest in the event is, thankfully, rejuvenated.
Anonymous Pro:People will lambaste me if I don't pick the U.S., but I honestly think Europeis too strong. It'll be closer than in years past, although how could it notbe? It'll come down to the final three or four matches on Sunday—or at least Ihope it does. I still think Europe is going to do it and, man, I hate sayingthat.
Van Sickle: Whatif the Americans get clobbered again?
Anonymous Pro: Wepark the Ryder Cup bus by the practice tee, and the first 12 guys who get onare the new team. We've changed the points. We've given the captain more picks.We've tried everything else. Screw it.
Four That CouldSettle the Score
No. 6 500-YARD LAYUP?
This was the best hole on the front nine—until Jack Nicklaus redesigned it. Thegreen was moved back 80 yards, but it's still probably a three-wood off the teeto the end of the fairway. The second shot over the pond—Floyds Fork—to anarrow, angled green was once a short- or mid-iron but is now anywhere from 190to 230 yards and stupid hard. The 6th won't be popular; players hate to beforced to lay up on long holes.
No. 7 RISK ANDREWARD
The 7th has two fairways. The one on the left is a shortcut that knocks off 50yards and leaves a dangerous second shot to get home in two. The fairway to theright is the safer, three-shot route. You'll see great match play strategyhere. If one team successfully takes the shortcut, does the other teamfollow?
No. 18 PHONY BUTFABULOUS
The weird trilevel green epitomizes the artificial look of the entire course.That said, the 18th is going to be the most exciting Ryder Cup finishing holesince the 18th at the Belfry. The green is easily reachable in two. The fairwaybunker is twice as big as it used to be and the landing area is smaller, butthis is match play: You'll see players going for broke and matches won herewith eagles or lost with bogeys.
Hole by Hole
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
No. 16 NICE ANDNASTY
Welcome to Nicklaus's clinic on how to make a hole harder. One, move the teeback 50 yards (to 511). Two, add bunkers around a green that previously hadnone, notably one in front that turns the approach into a forced carry.Assuming captain Azinger allows substantial rough, players won't reach thisgreen if they miss the fairway, which makes the hole nasty and thereforepivotal. You'll see halves with bogeys.
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