Bunker Shots Magic and Mojo


Blasting into the week ahead, from Ryder Cup magic and mojo to rank-and-file angst.

Ryder Cup

The Ryder Cup

Chemistry matters.

Camaraderie, too.

Such notions seemed overplayed within the boundaries of team golf, and then along came Paul Azinger with his pod system.

Azinger’s social game planning as American Ryder Cup captain two years ago was strong evidence that maybe team bonding really does make a difference. His structured, almost formulaic approach to team building was the story behind the American victory at Valhalla. Without superstar Tiger Woods, the United States ended its three-event losing streak to Europe looking more like brothers-in-arms than they ever have.

Some of us believed hot putters trump kindred spirits every time, but Azinger changed the nature of the debate. He made us wonder if camaraderie can serve as a fireplace for stoking hot starts. He made us wonder if you can create momentum before the first putt drops.

And now here comes European captain Colin Montgomerie, determined to show there’s another intangible important in the creation of winning momentum.

Montgomeries believes an inspiring speech can stoke a hot start.

“The Ryder Cup begins not with the first shot, but the speeches the two captains make at the opening ceremony,” Montgomerie told the Daily Mail of London. “There's definitely a game that goes on between the captains, and it seems to make a difference psychologically, as to what happens when the action begins.”

Montgomerie alluded to American Hal Sutton and European Nick Faldo for making speeches that failed to inspire.

“It's part of a trend, where the team whose captain gives the best speech tends to start well the next day and that sets the tone for the match itself.” Montgomerie said. “I know how important it is from how it made me feel. In 2004, Bernhard Langer gave a brilliant, ambassadorial speech and we lost only one-and-a-half points on the opening day. Azinger gave the best American speech in recent times and his team came flying out of the blocks.

“So my job is to make sure my team leaves that opening ceremony on Thursday, and they're thinking to themselves: 'Captain Monty, I think we're going to be all right in his hands.'”

Oddly, Montgomerie confessed he enters this Ryder Cup having already prepared both a winning and losing speech.

Camaraderie, bonding, inspired speeches.

Their effects are impossible to truly measure. And yet if this Ryder Cup comes down to a single missed putt, it’s likely the multiple autopsies sure to follow will offer up some profound psychological reason the putt fell or didn’t fall.

Bunker shot: First, there was speculation American captain Corey Pavin might not choose Tiger Woods as a captain’s pick if Woods didn’t make the team on points. Then Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy announced that he would love to play Woods in the Ryder Cup and that every European player would “fancy his chances” against the slumping Woods. Just last week, NBC’s Johnny Miller pointed out that Woods has failed to lead in Ryder Cups. And now, there’s speculation Woods might spend some time on the bench for the first time in his Ryder Cup career. The world’s No. 1 player arrives in Wales with a large supply of the best fuel in sports: disrespect.

Mell’s pick: Europe wins 14 ½ to 13 ½.

  • Course: Celtic Manor’s The Twenty Ten Course, Newport Wales. Par 71, 7,378 yards.
  • Purse: None.
  • TV times: Friday, ESPN, 2:30 a.m.-1 p.m. (ET); Saturday, NBC, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (ET, tape delay); Sunday, NBC, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. (ET).
  • Last time: The Americans rallied without Tiger Woods, ending a three-event losing streak with a 16 ½ to 11 ½ victory against the Europeans.

PGA TOURPGA Tour (75x100)

Viking Classic

A week after the FedEx Cup Playoffs end, the PGA Tour gets back to basics with the first of five Fall Series events.

Golf’s rank-and-file get serious about the business of securing PGA Tour cards for 2011.

Sean O’Hair is the only player among the top 60 in the world rankings in the field this week. He’s No. 25. Heath Slocum is the next highest ranked player teeing it up at No. 61. Count John Daly, David Duval, David Toms, Charles Howell III, Rocco Mediate and Boo Weekley among the biggest names in the event.

Bunker shot: It’s Bubble Boy season. The Fall Series begins with Chris Stroud as Mr. Bubble Boy at No. 125 on the money list. He’ll try to hold that spot through the season finale, the Children’s Miracle Network Classic (Nov. 11-14). The biggest names outside the top 125 who are in danger of losing fully exempt status for 2011 are Jonathan Byrd (No. 130), Rocco Mediate (No. 188) and John Daly (No. 194).

Mell’s picks: Winner – Brian Gay. Contender – Chad Campbell. Darkhorse – Woody Austin.

  • Course: Annandale Golf Club, Madison, Miss. Par 72, 7,199 yards.
  • Purse: $3.6 million (winner’s share, $648,000).
  • TV times: Thursday-Sunday, Golf Channel, 8-10 p.m. (ET).
  • Last year: Event rained out, unplayable course conditions.


Ensure Classic at Rock Barn

Jay Haas is back to defend his title in a bid to win for the first time this season.

Haas, 56, has won 14 Champions Tour titles but none since the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship almost a year ago.

Bunker shot: A hand full of players may have trouble playing cross eyed this weekend. There are four former Ryder Cup captains likely to be playing with one eye on the Ensure Classic and another on the Ryder Cup matches at Celtic Manor. Tom Kite, Hal Sutton, Mark James and Bernhard Langer all served as captains. Nearly a quarter of the Ensure Classic field played in a Ryder Cup.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Jay Haas. Contender – Bernhard Langer. Darkhorse – Hal Sutton.

  • Course: Rock Barn Golf & Spa, Conover, N.C. Par 72, 7,046 yards.
  • Purse: $1.75 million (winner’s share, $262,500).
  • TV times: Friday-Sunday, Golf Channel, 2-4 p.m. (ET).
  • Last year: Jay Haas closed with a 65 to defeat Russ Cochran and Andy Beach by two shots.


Soboba Golf Classic

With just five events remaining, the pressure builds.

Every player among the top 30 on the Nationwide Tour money list is teeing it up this week.

At season’s end, the top 25 earn promotions to the PGA Tour.

Bunker shots: Life changing leaps will occur in golf’s best developmental league over the next five weeks. Nate Smith took a large one Sunday winning the WNB Golf Classic. With his victory, he leaped from 78th on the money list to 25th. That makes him the Nationwide Tour Bubble Boy this week.

Mell’s picks: Winner – Jamie Lovemark. Contender – Kevin Chappell. Darkhorse – J.J. Killeen.

  • Course: Country Club at Soboba Springs, San Jacinto, Calif. Par 71, 7101 yards.
  • Purse: $1 million (winner’s share, $180,000).
  • TV times: Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel, 4-6 p.m.
  • Last year: Jerod Turner defeated Derek Lamely by two shots.