Ugly Weather Ugly Americans

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- There are times when the Americans just can't win, such as the Ryder Cup.
And sometimes, they don't even have to wait for the matches to get under way.
The weather turned so nasty Wednesday morning, with 40 mph gusts that toppled a few trees and brought the rain sideways, that The K Club was closed to the public for nearly three hours. U.S. captain Tom Lehman sent his players back to bed, and only later did both teams believe it best to play for thousands of spectators who eventually got onto the course.
But it was no time to take golf seriously, not with the wind blowing the ball all over the place.
Lehman fulfilled a prediction he made in February by creating what was believed to be the first 'twelvesome' game in Ryder Cup history, his entire team playing nine holes on a gray, miserable afternoon.
But there was a twist.
They worked on their short game, starting each hole from about 120 yards away. The gallery wasn't aware of this, so when Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the Americans walked from the fourth green, past the fifth tee and kept marching down the middle of the fairway, the Ryder Cup got its first dose of booing.
'You don't give a damn about Ireland's public,' shouted one man behind the tee, and hundreds of others nodded.
Another man asked Jim Furyk to stop for a picture. He walked over to man's wife, put his arm on her shoulder and posed with a smile.
Walking back toward the fairway, Furyk said, 'I guess we're just the ugly Americans.'
Lehman later asked for a mulligan.
He realized his squad should have performed at least on the first tee, where the grandstands were packed with people. And when he caught up with his team on the seventh hole, he told them to tee off on No. 9, the only drives they hit all day.
'We walk down the first hole to about 120 yards short of the green and started from there, and kind of left everybody sitting in the stands by the first tee waiting,' Lehman said. 'That was a mistake. We should have hit a tee shot at least on the first hole. To all of those fans left waiting, I apologize. That was my mistake.'
There's always something at the Ryder Cup.
Woods riled the English fans at The Belfry four years ago when captain Curtis Strange allowed him to practice at 6 a.m., as he normally does, finishing about the time fans were just showing up.
Last time outside Detroit, the Americans were criticized by their own gallery for not signing autographs during the practice rounds. There was a policy against autographs, which the Europeans gladly violated with hopes of winning favor on foreign soil, and it worked.
Lehman's apology was sincere, but he had no regrets about what unfolded on The K Club.
Furyk recently described the Americans as looking 'constipated' when they get to the Ryder Cup, but not on this day. Asked to describe what kind of game it was, Scott Verplank replied, 'Fun.'
It was quite a scene, the 12 Americans and their caddies on the same green, all dressed in black rain suits (an appropriate color).
Each player put $100 into the pot on each hole, and formed teams for an alternate-shot match that started within about pitching wedge range except on the par 3s. In case of a tie, there was a chip-off on each hole to determine the winner.
Verplank and David Toms were formidable, although don't read too much into that pairing.
Verplank won a chip-off on the third by pitching from a knoll beyond the green, over a bunker to within a foot. On the next hole, the par-5 fourth, the players started from 240 yards away, and Woods, Furyk and Brett Wetterich were the only players to reach in two. No matter: Toms chipped in for eagle and the other guys missed their putts.
The drama came at the par-4 seventh, a peninsula green.
Not only did Lehman have them stop short of the pond, they had to skip the ball off the water and over the rocks rimming the green, similar to a tradition during practice at the Masters.
Verplank hit a masterful shot that skipped off the water, over the rocks and banged hard enough into the slight slope that it rolled about 20 feet away from the pin. J.J. Henry and Zach Johnson hit shots that plopped and sank. Chad Campbell was last to hit, and he skipped it over and up to within 3 feet. Wetterich, his partner, knocked in the putt with the entire team watching.
Chris DiMarco gets into the Ryder Cup, even in practice.
He won a chip-off from the bunker on No. 8 by blasting out to 15 feet, while Wetterich left his in the sand. It must have been the first skin for DiMarco, because he instinctively raised and shook his fist, looking at the fans for some cheers, not realizing they didn't care.
But there was banter along the way, even with the caddies.
Mike 'Fluff' Cowan was walking to the eighth tee when he spotted an Irish teenager wearing a New York Yankees cap. Cowan has roots in New England, and he couldn't resist.
'Name me one player on the New York Yankees. Just one,' he challenged him.
The kid shrugged his shoulder and Cowan walked away in mock disgust until the kid returned the challenge.
'Name me a Kerry footballer,' he said.
'Ian Coughlin,' Cowan replied, choosing two common names from this part of the world.
Then they headed off to the practice range, where the Europeans worked quietly. There wasn't much time left, for the black-tie gala dinner was to start at 7:30 p.m.
'We took a day that could have been not a whole lot of fun out there -- grinding it out, putting for pars and bogeys and not making very many birdies -- to having a good time,' Toms said. 'That's what we've been stressing to each other. Enjoy the competition, and I thought we did some things where the fans seemed to be enjoying what we were doing.
'Plus, I won some money,' Toms said. 'So it was good.'
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