Ryder Cup Role Reversal

By Associated PressSeptember 16, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTAFFAN, Ireland -- One team has never enjoyed such depth, with seven players in the top 20 and none lower than No. 52.
 
The other?
 
Tough at the top, but carrying four rookies whose names would barely be recognized by their mailman.
 
It's the same old story at every Ryder Cup, with one delicious twist.
 
Tom Lehman
Captain Tom Lehman's team goes into the Ryder Cup as the decided underdogs.
The roles are reversed.
 
Underdogs no more, all eyes are on Europe to extend this era of dominance over the Americans when the Ryder Cup gets under way Friday at The K Club in what is expected to be the biggest sporting event ever in Ireland.
 
The Europeans used to have a chip on their shoulder. Now they hoist a 17-inch gold cup proudly over their heads, having captured the Ryder Cup four of the last five times and seven of the last 10.
 
Colin Montgomerie, who has won more Ryder Cup points than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combined, referred to this European team as the strongest assembled in some time.
 
And that wasn't a boast.
 
'No, that's just pure fact,' he said. 'If (captain) Ian Woosnam had picked all 12, he wouldn't have gotten very far from where we are. We are a good team. We hope to be the first European team to win three times in a row. We'd love to be part of that.'
 
There is nothing to suggest that won't happen.
 
Two years ago at Oakland Hills, the Europeans embarrassed Woods and Mickelson on their way to an 18 1/2 -9 1/2 victory, their largest margin since the Ryder Cup began in 1927. The time before that, they hammered the Americans in singles -- a U.S. birthright in golf -- to win at The Belfry.
 
Never mind that the Americans counter with a 1-2-3 punch of Woods, Jim Furyk and Mickelson, the top three players in the world ranking. Or that Americans have captured 20 of the last 28 major championships since their last Ryder Cup victory in 1999.
 
Raise the flags, play the national anthems, and Europe turns into a world beater.
 
'This year, we are definitely the underdogs,' Woods said.
 
It could lead to some interesting dynamics over three days of golf's most intense competition.
 
Europe long has rallied around the perceptions that its players are inferior, and that its tour is like a second-class citizen. They have played the underdog card for so long, and so effectively, that they now are trying to convince everyone they have no chance.
 
Having won seven of the last 10 times, it hasn't been easy.
 
'I think the U.S. team is up for it,' Padraig Harrington said. 'They're going to go in with the same attitude that Europe has gone into the two times, trying to prove a point.'
 
That's not the only turnaround.
 
Team spirit appears to be strong in the U.S. camp. The 12 players looked like a team for the first time when all of them -- Woods and Mickelson included after rearranging their schedules -- took a charter flight to Ireland at the end of August for two days of practice at The K Club and general goofing around.
 
That caught Europe's attention.
 
'We know the Americans have come over to The K Club, first time ever the American team has traveled before the event as 12,' Montgomerie said. 'They mean business, and so do we.'
 
Woods was criticized in 2002 for practicing at dawn on his own, before the rest of his team had breakfast. Two years ago, Mickelson decided not to practice on Wednesday, and the day before the Ryder Cup was found practicing on the adjacent course.
 
Now, the turmoil in the weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup falls to Europe.
 
Montgomerie criticized Jose Maria Olazabal for skipping the final qualifying event in Europe.
 
'It surprised us all that he's not here -- someone who lives for the Ryder Cup,' Monty said in Germany.
 
European captain Ian Woosnam has been criticized for not keeping his players in the loop during the summer, and it led to angry words from Thomas Bjorn when he found out he had been left off the team while watching television in a bar.
 
What could give Europe a rallying point is having Darren Clarke back on the team.
 
Clarke has been playing under constant turmoil the last two years as his wife, Heather, battled cancer that spread throughout her body and finally claimed her life on Aug. 10, leaving behind two young children. Clarke, from Northern Ireland, stopped playing after the British Open and did not return until the Madrid Masters this weekend.
 
It will be emotional, no doubt, to see him line up with the European team and play for continental pride before an Irish crowd.
 
'I wouldn't be playing if I thought it would hurt the team,' Clarke said this week from Spain, his voice choking. 'Heather was always very much behind me all this time, kicking me out of the house to go and play in tournaments. She would have wanted me to play.'
 
Clarke is close to the Americans, too, especially Woods. They played together a few times over the last year, sharing thoughts over coping with death. Woods' father, Earl, died in May after a lengthy battle with cancer and Woods took more than two months off, returning at the U.S. Open and missing the cut for the first time in a major.
 
'It will be great for him to play,' Woods said. 'It will be fantastic for him to have teammates around him. I still think it's going to be hard because every player has his wife there, and it's going to be hard in that environment at times. He knows that. But you have to deal with it one day, and it might as well be now. He was playing well when all this happened.'
 
Clarke was among five rookies for Europe in 1997 that contributed eight points to another victory over the Americans, a scene that has become familiar over the years. Philip Walton won the decisive match in 1995 at Oak Hill, and Paul McGinley delivered the clinching putt at The Belfry four years ago.
 
Now, these unknowns play for the Stars & Stripes.
 
The United States revamped its qualifying process for this Ryder Cup with hopes of getting players at the top of their games going into the matches. With the points at quadruple value this year, all it took was for a few players to get hot, and that's what happened.
 
But no one expected it to be Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich. Two of them (Taylor and Wetterich) have never competed in match play at any level. Wetterich had never met Woods until the week after he made the team.
 
Advantage Europe? Not necessarily.
 
'The unknown is never welcomed in any situation,' Montgomerie said. 'The rookies in the past on these Ryder Cups, on both teams, have performed actually quite well. Who knows what to expect?'
 
None of the rookies has any experience in such a pressure-packed event like the Ryder Cup. Then again, experience has been more like scar tissue for a U.S. team that usually goes home without the trophy.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 36th Ryder Cup Matches
  • Getty Images

    Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

    Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

    Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

    “I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

    The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

    “I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

    Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

    This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

    The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

    Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

    The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


    Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


    A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

    And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

    The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


    Masters victory


    Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

    Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

    Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


    Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


    Green jacket tour

    Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

    Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

    Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


    Man of the people


    Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

    Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

    Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


    Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


    Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


    Growing family

    Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

    Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


    Departure from TaylorMade


    Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


    Squashed beef with Paddy

    Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

    Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


    Victory at Valderrama


    Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

    Getty Images

    Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
    Getty Images

    Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

    By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

    Well, this is a one new one.

    According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

    “No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

    Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

    “If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

    The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

    “I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

    The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

    Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

    Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.