Memo to Captain Azinger
Get copies of the U.S. mens basketball teams pulsating 11-point victory over Spain in Sundays gold medal game at the Beijing Olympics.
When your team arrives at Valhalla next month for the matches against Europe, show them tapes of this game. Over and over.
Make sure they take note of the complete lack of self-consciousness and selfishness by the winners. And remind your players that American coach Mike Krzyzewski, with a lot of help from U.S. basketball mahout Jerry Colangelo, convinced 12 of the biggest basketball egos and richest hoopsters on the planet to buy into the concept.
Winning the gold, Colangelo and Krzyzewski espoused, was more important than winning an NBA title. And to a man, the U.S. players, behind team leaders LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, bought into the concept heart and soul.
The American basketball players, unlike recent previous U.S. Olympic teams, actually wanted to be at the Olympics. And they showed their support for other American Olympians by appearing regularly at other venues to cheer.
Their enthusiasm for the Olympics in general and their specific task at hand was palpable. And that went a long way toward winning the crowds in China. At Athens four years earlier, a spoiled and arrogant American team had been booed and rooted against.
Zing ' or is it Zinger? ' the crowd isnt going to be a problem at Valhalla in Kentucky where the fans, without much encouragement, will make this Ryder Cup sound more like an SEC football game than a golf competition.
But thats what everybody said in Detroit four years ago when the Euros thrashed captain Hal Suttons side with impunity. During the practice rounds the Euros couldnt have been more gracious, signing autographs and finding time for the fans that lined the fairways at Oakland Hills.
The Europeans not only acted like they wanted to win, they acted like they were enjoying the entire experience. And none of them found the need to go off-site to practice during the days leading up the matches.
If international superstars like Bryant, James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and the rest of Krzyzewskis team could find time to embrace every last bit of the Olympic experience, theres no reason why players like Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry and Ben Curtis cant do the same during Ryder Cup week in Kentucky.
In fact, captain Azinger, right about now Id be chartering a plane to whisk Krzyzewski to Louisville to address your team. If Kobe or LeBron or Dwyane want to ride a cart and be seen during the matches, Im all for it.
These guys subjugated their own immense senses of self-importance for the greater good of the American team. If the best American players in the NBA can get behind the notion that Olympic gold is bigger and better than securing an NBA title, is it so far-fetched to insist the American Ryder Cup team buy into to the idea that recapturing the Ryder Cup is more important right now than winning a major?
The Euros dont have the same problem. Of course, their goals are similar to those of the Americans. Padraig Harrington knows that the three majors he has won in his last six major starts will go a long way toward defining his golfing legacy.
But I still havent seen a European exult after a major championship triumph the way 12 Europeans go collectively and delightedly over the top as a team when they beat the Americans.
There are a lot of American hoops junkies who believe Olympic mens basketball gold medal is a national birthright. Today, that right has been restored.
There are a lot of American golf devotees who believe the Ryder Cup is also a national birthright. Problem is, the U.S. hasnt won the Cup since 1999.
The cynics say whipping up all this kind of patriotic frenzy ignores the fact that the Europeans simply putt better than the Americans in the Ryder Cup. Well, they said the same thing about the American three-point shooting.
When it counted, in recent Olympic failures, the U.S. couldnt get the ball in the hole from beyond the arc. When it counted this time, especially in the final game victory over a Spanish team bravely playing over its head, the Americans started making their 3-pointers. They made 13 of 28 3-pointers in the final and shot close to 40 percent for the Games.
Announcer Doug Collins, who played on the U.S. team that lost a heartbreaking gold medal game to the Russians way back in 1972, suggested that the improved accuracy was tied into the commitment that the Americans had made.
So in closing, Zinger, everybody knows the talent you will be taking to Valhalla wont be as comparatively dominant as the talent Krzyzewski took to Beijing. But theres no reason the commitment cant be there.
Used to be the players complained about too many dinners and functions during Ryder Cup week. Then the captains began finding ways to get their players out of all the obligations, which fostered a sense that the Americans were being coddled.
My advice, captain Azinger, is to show your players the moving pictures of Kobe and LeBron pulling their jerseys in front of their chests and pointing proudly to the letters U.S.A. Tell your players if they want to play in next months Ryder Cup, theyre going to need to show up, shut up, keep up and go along with the program.
If Americas best professional basketball players can do it, so can Americas best professional golfers.
Our basketball teams coaches and team leaders were committed to one goal. And the commitment spread from the top on down in China like a powerful flame.
This, too, can happen to our Ryder Cup team.
Finally this to the American players: Your captain burns with the same kind of single-minded intensity that Krzyzewski brought to his task in Beijing. Paul Azinger will take a metaphorical bullet for you. Be prepared to do the same for him.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead
New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.
The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.
"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."
Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.
It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.
Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.
Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore
SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.
Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.
He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.
Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.
The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.
''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''
Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.
He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.
Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.
Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.
''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''
13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest
Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.
Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.
“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”
Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.
McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi
It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.
Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.
Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.
“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”
Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.
“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.
This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.