The Ryder Cup Alphabet

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If only the Ryder Cup was easy as A-B-C for an American side that has lost five of the last six meetings against the Europeans in this biennial competition that is the closest thing golf has to a Super Bowl.
 
Get used to that statistic, by the way. Youre going to be hearing a lot the next few days about how the U.S. has failed to win this thing five of the last six times.
 
The Ryder Cup is one of the hardest sporting events to handicap. Every player on both teams is capable of shooting a 65. And every player on both teams is capable of shooting a 75. The Ryder Cup is match play, not medal. But you get the point. Who will get hot on what day is difficult to predict.
 
What we know for sure is it will all start Friday morning at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. Meanwhile what follows here is a potpourri of Ryder Cup facts, figures and opinions. They are listed, appropriately enough, in alphabetical order.
 
A is for Alternate shot. The Euros switched the order up on the Americans at Valderrama in 1997 and opened with fourballs (best ball) Friday morning. Azinger has changed it back. Alternate shot takes getting used to. The Americans will do well to rehearse it extensively this week at Valhalla during the practice rounds.
 
B is for Boo. The Kentucky crowds will be howling and crawling all over any matches involving native Kentuckians Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes. But if rural Floridas Boo Weekley gets hot, look out. The locals will adopt this country boy as one of their own and there will be hootin in the hollers of Valhalla, the likes of which the Euros will have never seen.
 
C is for Curtis: The quiet American, Ben Curtis, has the game and the temperament for match play. He rarely shows emotion. He rarely makes the kind of mistakes that cost a hole. Hes a sleeper.
 
D is for Demeanor. The Americans will be well-served to act like theyre happy to be there. Go to the dinners. Sign the autographs. Smile. It all creates a karma conducive to whipping the crowds into a proper frenzy.
 
E is for Edwards: The late, great caddie Bruce Edwards was the first person to reach Justin Leonard after Leonards historic Ryder Cup putt at Brookline in 1999. Edwards was working for Ben Crenshaw that week as a captains assistant. A moment of silence, please.
 
F is for Faldo. Easily the most controversial captain, leading up to the matches, in Ryder Cup history. Depending on what and whom you believe, Faldo is reviled by his own players, brilliant in the way he can analyze competition and changed for the friendlier from the monomaniac who won six majors in his golfing prime.
 
G is for Golf. The Ryder Cup is golf at its intense best. It is, to repeat, the Super Bowl of golf. The majors are the majors. But they dont post the scores at Augusta with American flags next to the final totals.
 
H is for Harrington: Padraig Harrington is the strongest player mentally on either side. If the Ryder Cup comes down to one match in the Sunday singles and Harrington is playing in that match, the Cup will be going back to Europe.
 
I is for Ian Poulter: Perhaps the player under more pressure than anybody else on either team. Faldo went out on a limb to pick him. A Euro victory in which the gritty Poulter plays well is the dream scenario for Faldos legacy.
 
J is for Jingoism: If the atmosphere at Valhalla resembles an SEC football game, more power to the crowds. If it gets out of hand and becomes unsportsmanlike, we will be the ugly Americans.
 
K is for Kim. The 23-year-old Kim is the poster boy for a generation of young American guns who have grown up itching to end the Euro Ryder Cup dominance. Nobody on the American team is hungrier. AK has a measured fearlessness wise beyond his years that translates perfectly to the competitive cauldron of Ryder Cup match play.
 
L is for Louisville: An American city in the best sense. The Kentucky Derby. Louisville Sluggers. Bourbon. Kentucky fried chicken. Cassius Clay. And now a Ryder Cup.
 
M is for Monty. If the Europeans lose, the biggest second guess will not be the omission of Darren Clarke from Faldos squad, it will be absence of lifetime Ryder Cup warrior Colin Montgomerie. When the final chapter is written on a Montgomerie career that was astonishingly good in Europe and head-scratchingly bad in the U.S., the accent will be on his Ryder Cup achievements and the fact that he was able to show up for the matches and always display top form even if he hadnt been playing well in the weeks leading up to the competition.
 
N is for Natty. One of these years one of the two teams is actually going to show up at a Ryder Cup in outfits that look sharp.
 
O is for Jose Maria Olazabal, Faldos only vice-captain and likely Europes next captain at the 2010 matches in Wales. And you can pencil Montgomerie in for the job at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014.
 
P is for Phil: The highest-ranked player on either side (No. 2 in the world.) Mickelson has underachieved (9-12-4) in Ryder Cup play. And he annoyed at least one captain (Hal Sutton in 2004) by going off site to practice in the days leading up to Europes 18 - 9 thrashing of the Yanks in 2004 at Oakland Hills. Memo to Phil: Stay at Valhalla all week.
 
Q is for Q&A. In a recent give-and-take with Golf World magazine Paul Azinger was asked if he would trade rosters with the heavily-favored Europeans. .no way, Azinger said. But theyre scary good.
 
R is for Rookies: The Americans have six Ryder Cup rookies on Azingers team. The Europeans have four. Thats more than 40 percent of the combined rosters. So much for experience.
 
S is for Sergio. Garcia is the hottest player coming into the Ryder Cup and the one with the best career Ryder Cup record, an astonishing 14-4-2. More than any other player on either side, Garcia lives for the Ryder Cup. His appetite for this event is matched only by U.S. captain Paul Azinger.
 
T is for Tiger Woods. He wont be playing this time. The worlds best player is still recovering from knee surgery. One of the biggest losers on this front is Jim Furyk. Woods enjoys Furyks company, ability and competitiveness as a match play partner.
 
U is for Underdog. The Americans have earned this distinction the hard way: By losing five of the last six Ryder Cups. And if Langer had made the six-footer at Kiawah in 91 and if Leonard hadnt canned the bomb at Brookline in 99, the Europeans could have won seven of the last eight.
 
V is for Valhalla. This Jack Nicklaus design has been tinkered with and tailored to encourage long-ball U.S. hitters like Mickelson, Holmes, Kim, and Perry to take chances. The Euros know the drill: Hit it in the fairway, hit it on the green, make the putt. Thats the stuff, boy-o. Theyve seen this movie before and they love the ending.
 
W is for Westwood. Much has been made of the Westwood-Clarke pairing we wont see at Valhalla. But Westwood and Garcia are 4-1-1 lifetime as Ryder Cup partners. Look for Faldo to pair them morning and afternoon Friday and Saturday.
 
X is for the X factor. The X factor in the last six Ryder Cups is that this event is in the DNA of the Europeans. Its in their genes. They are bred to play Ryder Cup, not so much for the glory of Europe but to beat the Americans. Fair or unfair (mostly unfair in my opinion) America is a target for the rest of the world in all sorts of ways these days.
 
Y is for You Da Man. The first fan at Valhalla to scream this inanity should be dipped into a toxic water hazard, strapped into a chair and made to watch re-runs of The Home Shopping Network.
 
Z is for Zinger. He bleeds red, white and blue. He demanded the PGA of America change the qualifying points system and the number of captains picks. He will be a hands-on captain. And he will not be above delivering a Saturday night tongue-lashing in the team room if sloppy play has left the Americans behind once again going into the Sunday singles.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
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