Vindication & Vindictiveness

September 28, 2008

With a differentplayer coming up big in every session, the first U.S. Ryder Cup win in nineyears was truly a total team effort

IN OTHER teamsports—pennant-race baseball would be Exhibit A—a cliché in better clubhouseseverywhere is, "On this team we have a different hero every night." Andso it was for Team USA at the Ryder Cup. The golfing lads, in uniform for theweek, played five in three days, all day games: the Friday morning alternateshot, the Friday afternoon better-ball, with more of the same on Saturday, thenconcluding with the Sunday singles. Your American golfing heroes:

• Justin Leonardin Session 1, during which the diminutive Texan, thin-lipped and gritty, puttedas he did during the Clinton years while introducing his playing partner,fellow Lone Star Stater Hunter Mahan, to the peculiar ways of alternate-shotgolf and the unique intensity of the Ryder Cup.

• Phil Mickelsonin Session 2, during which the dimpled lefthander from San Diego, with apedestrian team-events record over the past 15 years, played the Leonard rolefor another rookie, introducing a fellow Californian, Anthony Kim, tobetter-ball Ryder Cup play.

• Kenny Perry inSession 3, during which the pride of Franklin, Ky., paired with Jim Furyk tohandily defeat one of the strongest European pairings, Padraig Harrington ofIreland and Robert Karlsson of Sweden, along the way giving one million (or atleast 40,000) flag-waving Kentuckians on the Valhalla Golf Club hillsidesreason to cheer even more lustily.

• Boo Weekley inSession 4, during which the good ol' boy from the Florida panhandle paired withlong-whacking Kentuckian J.B. Holmes, whooped and spat his way around thecourse while holing putts and winning the only full U.S. point of the Saturdayafternoon session, along the way also winning adoption by the partisan,drawling crowds as an honorary Bluegrasser.

• Kim in Session5, during which the loose, talented 23-year-old, playing against Sergio Garcíaof Spain in the critical leadoff position in the Sunday singles, made 10 3s in14 holes, giving the U.S. its first point of the day and setting the tone.

Kim, winner of twoTour events this year, was given the leadoff position by Paul Azinger because,the U.S. captain said, he had an "aggressive" personality. WhichAzinger definitely meant as a compliment. "I welcomed it," Kim said ofhis spot in the order. He has shown, this year in general and last week inparticular, that his confidence is not simply a façade, that he is thesecond-best American golfer and that he may be ready to go head-to-head withTiger Woods. If Ryder Cup golf doesn't freak you out, nothing reallyshould.

Part of Kim'ssuccess last week was a product of his natural exuberance. He's as outgoing asWoods is reserved, and in victory on Sunday, Kim slapped hands with hundreds offans and doused them with champagne, never taking a Purell break. (Woods isgerm-phobic.) Kim said of his Ryder Cup experience, "I wouldn't trade thisfor $10 million."

As a coach,Mickelson was superb last week. He slowed Kim down at times, putting an armaround his shoulder and getting right in his ear. Mickelson's own golf was goodat times but mediocre overall. (He was trounced by Justin Rose in the singles.)Still, from start to finish Mickelson seemed like a 24-hour party person, andKim was a big reason why. "He's just a funny, funny dude," Mickelsonsaid. "I had the best time hanging out with him." It was the latestexample of the teacher learning from the student.

Then there was thenatural: Weekley. Every successful team has a mascot. Last year, when the U.S.won the Presidents Cup, Woody Austin played that role memorably, and atValhalla, Weekley may have outdone him. Weekley concocted a word, compatabate,that was immediately employed by his 11 teammates to describe the high goal ofteam unity. Azinger spoke often of the importance of the 13th man, the Kentuckyfans, and no player did more to inspire them, including galloping off the 1sttee on Sunday with his driver between his legs as if it were a hobbyhorse.Weekley is viewed on Tour as a loner, somewhat diffident. Last week, betweenhis teammates and the fans, the honorary Kentuckian looked as if he had foundlove, maybe for the first time as a pro. He said of his team, "I think weactually became a family." He was dead serious.

Among Kentuckians,there was probably nobody on either team that needed victory more than Perry.He's had a long, remunerative and mostly unremarkable career, and before lastweek he had done two memorable things: He lost the 1996 PGA Championship atValhalla in a playoff to Mark Brooks, and he skipped this year's U.S. andBritish Opens in order, by his thinking, to help secure a place on the Ryderteam. As for the other majors, he wasn't in the field at the Masters, and hepulled out of the PGA after one round with a scratched cornea. At Valhalla hefinished the week 2-1-1 after a resounding singles victory over Henrik Stenson."I figured this week was going to define my career," Perry said."You know what? It made my career."

The career ofLeonard, the 1997 British Open champion who had fallen out of the top 100 by2006, has been back on solid ground for two years, but last week he showed thathe might be ready to contend in majors again. He played twice on Friday withMahan and did so again on Saturday morning, winning 2 1/2 points. (On Saturdayafternoon, when Azinger wanted to rest him, Leonard walked the course,following his teammates and eschewing the cart offered him.) He won thosepoints the way he won his Open, and the way he got into a playoff in anotherBritish Open and in a PGA—with his putter. It's one thing to win at Memphiswith good putting, which Leonard did in June. It's another thing to make goodstrokes in the Ryder Cup. Last week his stroke was so solid and reliable, itbrought to mind only one other in golf: that of Tiger Woods himself. "Thisweek," Leonard said, "is a step in that direction, to contend in majorsagain."

At Valhalla, whenLeonard wasn't making putts, he was managing the considerable talents of hispartner, Mahan, who, like most young golfers, can be a high-strungperfectionist. (Leonard himself used to be one.) "What I told him,"Leonard said, "was that Hunter Mahan golf was good enough." Mahan, inhis interviews, was using that language almost verbatim, and no doubt the wordswere a factor in propelling him to a stellar 2-0-3 performance. He had come tothe Ryder Cup looking to bury critical comments he had made about the event,and he could've tried too hard, but Leonard surely helped with that.

As he sat next toAzinger at the postvictory press conference, it was easy to see Leonard as afuture Ryder Cup captain. He has the detail-oriented personality that the PGAbosses like, and he has the critical win-the-point, no-crying-in-publicmentality that typified Azinger's reign. When Leonard spoke of the keys to theU.S. victory, he went technical right away: Azinger had reworked the selectionprocess, and that made an enormous difference. Someday, Leonard said, he'd loveto be captain.

Azinger wouldaccept no such credit. He cited the rookies, the course maintenance, thereturning lettermen, the fans, the players' wives, the opponents, the PGA ofAmerica officials, the caddies. One stud per session—someone on Friday morning,someone else on Friday afternoon, do it again on Saturday and Sunday—Azingerdidn't see it that way, and why would he? "Victory," John F. Kennedyonce said, "has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan." For theAmericans, you could explain the U.S. win a hundred ways, with a different heroin each retelling.

Second-guessedfrom start to finish, captain Nick Faldo was the recipient of the blame forEurope's failings—deservedly or not

FALDO SNARLED.Faldo sobbed. Faldo lashed out. Faldo left in a huff. Faldo was angry, caustic,mistrustful, sarcastic, flippant, careless, petulant and rude. ¬∂ Don't you lovethe British newspapers? On the eve of the Ryder Cup they turned every pressconference with European captain Nick Faldo into a scene from The Dark Knight,with you-know-who as the Joker. Faldo was "an accident waiting tohappen" (The Guardian), "a potentially huge embarrassment" (TheSun) and "Captain Cock-Up" (The Mirror). Faldo, fumed a writer for TheMirror, was a guy "whose mind often seems so warped with self-regard anddisdain for others that he makes you wince when he speaks." ¬∂ And that'swhat they thought of their man before he lost the Ryder Cup. ¬∂ I'm thinkingmaybe it wasn't entirely Faldo's fault. A pinch of blame has to go to reigningBritish Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, who scored a mere half pointfor Europe. A modicum of accountability must be assigned to Sergio García, whocame to Kentucky with the best winning percentage in Ryder Cup history and leftwith no wins, two halves and less sparkle than Anthony Kim's belt buckle. Asmidgen of scorn should be reserved for Lee Westwood, who after scoring 8 1/2points in the two previous Ryder Cups, contributed only one point at Valhallaand sulked when he was asked to sit out the Saturday morning foursomes.

To tell the truth,I didn't actually see Westwood sulk. But I never saw Faldo snarl, sob, lash outor leave in a huff, either. From my seat in the peanut gallery, Europe'scaptain came across as composed, amiable, respectful, enthusiastic, wry,supportive, gallant and, yes, flippant. (I like flippant.) I did see Faldochoke up with emotion last Thursday when he tried to express his admiration forMuhammad Ali, whom he had just met for a photo op. But Faldo did not sob. Hiseyes got moist, that's all.

It is possible, Isuppose, that my British colleagues know Faldo better than I do. They werecloser to the Englishman in his playing days, when he was so busy winning majorchampionships (six) and setting the alltime Ryder Cup points record (25) thathe had little time or patience for his wives (three) or tabloid journalists(hundreds). The scribes remember, as if it were yesterday, how Faldo celebratedhis victory at the 1992 British Open by thanking the press "from the heartof my bottom."

That would explainthe fury in Euroland when Faldo snubbed the popular Darren Clarke and the notso popular but effective Colin Montgomerie—heroes of the 2006 Ryder Cup—towaste a captain's pick on spiky-haired Ian Poulter. (Faldo's defense: "He's23rd in the world, and he just holed a putt to finish second in the OpenChampionship.") It would also explain the howls of disbelief on FleetStreet on Friday when Faldo turned in a Day 2 foursomes lineup that did notinclude the previously unstoppable team of García and Westwood. (Faldo'sdefense: "The age of playing all five matches is over.") Those twobonehead decisions alone cost the Europeans I don't know how many points.

I don't know howmany because Poulter, wounded by the insults, played like a god for Europe andscored a match-high four points. As for the pairings debacle, Faldo's playersmuddied the water on Saturday by pointing out that a tired and listless Garcíahad asked to sit out a match. "So Lee had lost his partner," Faldosubsequently snarled—er, stated—"and I didn't want to throw him out therewith a new partner that he hadn't practiced with." That strikes me as areasonable explanation, but then I haven't spent as much time with Faldo as theBritish scribe who accused him of "ironclad solipsism" has.

Actually, I sawnothing at Valhalla to suggest that Faldo was dictatorial, overwrought,unhinged or any of 20 other press characterizations. At the beginning of theweek he assembled his team on the 1st tee for a visualization exercise designedto overcome first-drive jitters. He then sent them out to practice asthreesomes instead of the usual foursomes, saying "when you're doing a lotof chipping or putting around the green, four is a crowd." In anotherinnovative move Faldo invited several potential Ryder Cuppers to follow himaround, including two-time European tour winner Martin Kaymer. "You can'tguess what this week is about, even in your wildest dreams," Faldoexplained. "So this was one of my ideas, to bring some players along andfor them to feel it."

Northern Ireland'sGraeme McDowell seemed to buy Faldo's act. "I think he's very calm, cooland calculated," said the Ryder Cup rookie, who sank a passel of clutchputts and scored 2 1/2 points for the losers. "He's really involvingeveryone—caddies, wives, partners, the whole team." McDowell's sentimentswere echoed by third-time Ryder Cupper Paul Casey, who said, "I've seen aside of Nick I've never seen before. He's pouring it out, all the stuff he'sstored up during the years. I think he's been a great captain."

I thought so too,but apparently I was wrong. A great captain would have thrown García under thebus for asking to sit out, as U.S. captain Hal Sutton did four years ago to anaive Chris Riley. A great captain would have blamed his team's defeat on theboorish behavior of the opposing team's fans, as European captain Mark Jamesdid nine years ago at Brookline. A great captain, watching his team fall to theAmericans on Sunday, would have snarled, sobbed, lashed out and then left in ahuff. Faldo merely raced around Valhalla in a golf cart, handing outencouragement to his players and praise for the U.S. team and their captain,Paul Azinger. "Twenty-four guys have given their hearts and souls in thisevent, and Europe has come up short," Faldo said on Sunday evening."But the golf was fantastic."

He was thinking,perhaps, of Robert Karlsson, whose two points—a win and two halves in fourmatches—grievously understated his brilliant play. In the Saturday four-ballthe tall (6'5") Swede birdied seven of the last 10 holes alongsidecompatriot Henrik Stenson to wrest a half point from the hot combo of HunterMahan and Phil Mickelson. Karlsson then blistered the previously formidableJustin Leonard on Sunday by the score of 5 and 3. Afterward, Karlsson threw abouquet to Faldo, saying, "At the end of the day, it's very easy tocriticize, but he's been an excellent captain."

A losing captain,the Faldo haters pointed out with relish. One bomb thrower among the journosended the European team's final press conference on a sour note by tellingFaldo that "under your leadership the European team has changed from awinning team to a losing team. How hard is that for you to take?" JoséMaría Olaàbal, Faldo's vice captain, shook his head in anger. "Thatquestion," he said, "doesn't deserve an answer."

But one—two,actually—had already been provided. "We hold the golf clubs, and we hit theshots," said Westwood, who pointed out that the foursomes session he andGarcía had missed was the only one that Europe won. "So Nick was right todo that." Then García, not known for being a gracious loser, put it evenmore bluntly: "If I would have played better and won my match, maybe wewould be talking and writing a different story. It had nothing to do withNick."

Faldo, gratefulfor the show of support, refused to snarl.

The bastard.

DAY 1

Finally, a FastStart
Here's when the Ryder Cup was really won

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

U.S EUR. FOURSOMES
1/2 1/2 ANTHONY KIM and PHIL MICKELSON halved PADRAIGHARRINGTON and ROBERT KARLSSON Americans come back from 3 down on backside
1 1/2 1/2 JUSTIN LEONARD and HUNTER MAHAN def. PAUL CASEY andHENRIK STENSON 3 and 2 Leonard gets his first Ryder Cup win
2 1/2 1/2 CHAD CAMPBELL and STEWART CINK def. IAN POULTER andJUSTIN ROSE 1 up Captain's pick Poulter off to shaky start
3 1 JIM FURYK and KENNY PERRY halved SERGIO GARCIA and LEEWESTWOOD Perry lets top Euro pairing off the hook

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

U.S. EUR. FOUR-BALL
4 1 KIM and MICKELSON def. HARRINGTON and GRAEME MCDOWELL2 up Team Comeback again rallies from 3 down
4 2 POULTER and ROSE def. BEN CURTIS and STEVE STRICKER 4and 2 No birdies for Curtis as Poulter-Rose rebounds
5 2 LEONARD and MAHAN def. GARCIA and MIGUEL ANGEL JIMÉNEZ4 and 3 Suh-WEET! Nothing beats taking down Sergio
5 1/2 2 1/2 J.B. HOLMES and BOO WEEKLEY halved SOREN HANSEN andWESTWOOD "Boo-S-A!" gets into Westwood's head

DAY 2

Holding Pattern
U.S. looking good after taking Europe's best punch

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

U.S. EUR. FOURSOMES
5 1/2 3 1/2 POULTER and ROSE def. CAMPBELL and CINK 4 and 3 Eurosjump out to 5-up lead and never look back
6 4 LEONARD and MAHAN halved JIMÉNEZ and MCDOWELLMcDowell's clutch birdie on 18 salvages half point
6 5 STENSON and OLIVER WILSON def. KIM and MICKELSON 2and 1 After fast start, wheels come off top U.S. pairing
7 5 FURYK and PERRY def. HARRINGTON and KARLSSON 3 and 1Perry's iron play, Furyk's putter blunt Euro charge

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

U.S. EUR. FOUR-BALL
8 5 HOLMES and WEEKLEY def. HANSEN and WESTWOOD 2 and 1Benched in a.m., Westwood still looking for first W
8 1/2 5 1/2 CURTIS and STRICKER halved CASEY and GARCÉA Strickercarries Curtis to a miraculous halve
8 1/2 6 1/2 MCDOWELL and POULTER def. FURYK and PERRY 1 up Wow!Euros make eight birdies, Americans seven
9 7 MAHAN and MICKELSON halved KARLSSON and STENSON EvenKarlsson's six-birdie streak isn't enough

DAY 3

Cup de Gr√¢ce!
After a few tense moments, U.S. wins in a rout

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

U.S. EUR. SINGLES
10 7 KIM def. GARCIA 5 and 4 How hot was AK? Ten 3s (sevenunder) in 14 holes
10 1/2 7 1/2 MAHAN halved CASEY One of three Americans without aloss
10 1/2 8 1/2 KARLSSON def. LEONARD 5 and 3 Without a single birdieby Leonard, Karlsson cruises
10 1/2 9 1/2 ROSE def. MICKELSON 3 and 2 Englishman heats upmidround to build a 4-up lead
11 1/2 9 1/2 PERRY def. STENSON 3 and 2 Career-defining week for48-year-old Kentuckian
12 1/2 9 1/2 WEEKLEY def. WILSON 4 and 2 Wilson no match for Boo'seagle and six birdies
13 1/2 9 1/2 HOLMES def. HANSEN 2 and 1 Controversial captain'spick comes through
14 1/2 9 1/2 FURYK def. JIMÉNEZ 2 and 1 Nice to see a veteran likeFuryk clinch the Cup
14 1/2 10 1/2 MCDOWELL def. CINK 2 and 1 McDowell may have been therevelation of matches
14 1/2 11 1/2 POULTER def. STRICKER 3 and 2 Faldo knew what he wasdoing in picking Poulter
15 1/2 11 1/2 CURTIS def. WESTWOOD 2 and 1 Hard to imagine Westwoodgoing without a win
16 1/2 11 1/2 CAMPBELL def. HARRINGTON Ditto 2008's two-time majorwinner

INDIVIDUALRECORDS

The FinalTally
Ranking the players by order of contribution

U.S. W-L-H EUR. W-L-H
MAHAN 2-0-3 POULTER 4-1-0
HOLMES 2-0-1 ROSE 3-1-0
WEEKLEY 2-0-1 MCDOWELL 2-1-1
FURYK 2-1-1 KARLSSON 1-1-2
KIM 2-1-1 WILSON 1-1-0
LEONARD 2-1-1 STENSON 1-2-1
PERRY 2-1-1 CASEY 0-1-2
CAMPBELL 2-1-0 GARCIA 0-2-2
CURTIS 1-1-1 WESTWOOD 0-2-2
MICKELSON 1-2-2 HANSEN 0-2-1
CINK 1-2-0 JIMÉNEZ 0-2-1
STRICKER 0-2-1 HARRINGTON 0-3-1

Fresh news andviews from SI and Golf Magazine writers at GOLF.com/presstent.

PHOTOPhotograph by Robert BeckCHANGE AGENT Azinger (center), who asked for more captain's picks and revised qualifying criteria, set the win-the-point, no-crying-in-public tone that distinguished the U.S. team. PHOTOSTEADY HAND Leonard (top) used experience, and a hot putter, to help Mahan. PHOTOBIG BROTHER Mickelson (below) was off and on, but his coaching of Kim was superb. PHOTOPhotograph by Fred VuichEASY TARGET Settling some old scores, the British press mocked Faldo and criticized many of his decisions, ignoring the fact that his players found him to be a farsighted captain. PHOTOPhotograph by Fred VuichFALLING STAR The hero of past Cups, García was benched and failed to win a match. PHOTOKOHJIRO KINNO (KARLSSON)TOUGH OUT Karlsson, who drubbed Leonard in singles, was better than his record. TEN PHOTOS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)