Road Underdogs


Ryder Cup

Phil Mickelson is the only member of this year’s American Ryder Cup team who was even playing on the PGA Tour when the United States last won the cup on foreign soil.

Tiger Woods was a senior in high school at the time.

Rickie Fowler was barely out of diapers.

It was 1993.

With Tom Watson as captain, with 51-year-old Raymond Floyd winning three matches, the United States defeated Europe 15-13 at The Belfry in England.

“Listen for the quiet,” Watson told his team before that victory.

Team USA bag
Team USA heads into the 2010 Ryder Cup with the odds stacked against them. (Getty Images)
Basically, Watson was telling his players to revel in the power they possessed to shut up opposing crowds with good shots and good putts.

“When you don’t hear those big roars, and it’s quiet for a few holes, you’re thinking this is pretty good,” American Jim Furyk said of playing a Ryder Cup on foreign soil. “But when their putts go in, you’re going to hear some big roars.”

While Furyk expects a respectful crowd, he’s also preparing for something you don’t hear week in and week out on the PGA Tour. He’s preparing to hear cheers when Americans miss putts.

“When you are standing over a 10-foot putt to halve a match and the ball lips out and everyone cheers, it’s not the greatest feeling in the world,” Furyk said. “But I think it’s great. When you hear people cheer when you miss, it’s a learning experience, but I love it. I think it’s the greatest. I think their fans are fantastic, and I enjoy that part of it. If you compete, you appreciate it.”

Americans haven’t had much luck keeping the volume down in Europe since that last American victory over there 17 years ago. And it promises to be loud at Celtic Manor in Wales this week if Europe gets on a roll. Ryder Cup officials are expecting to break the European attendance records set at the K Club in Ireland four years ago, when more than 45,000 fans per day came to see the matches. More than 260,000 fans are expected to attend for the week, twice the population of Newport, the Welsh host of to these matches.

“It’s a huge advantage to have your fans,” Furyk said. “When we were in Kentucky two years ago, those people were going insane. Our fans were going crazy. When you are playing around Valhalla, and you hear the big roars going up, you know the U.S. is doing good. You don’t know what’s happened, but you know someone from the U.S. knocked in a big putt. That’s what the big roar is for. Same thing over there. You hear that, and you get that feeling, they’re coming.”

The power a home crowd possesses to ignite momentum wasn’t lost on Paul Azinger at Valhalla. Someone should have given the American captain a pair of of pompoms. He raced his golf cart just ahead of key matches to whip up the crowds waiting for the action. He’s lucky he didn’t blow out a rotator cuff or two the way he waved his arms and exhorted the fans as he motored around the course there.

With those large European crowds expected this week, with typical cool and wet Welsh weather forecast and with the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor familiar to European players, Ladbrokes sets the odds at 4-to-7 in favor of Europe extending its winning streak at home to four.

Europe’s won the last three competitions on its home turf by a cumulative score of 48½ to 35½ with victories at Valderrama in Spain, The Belfry in England and the K Club.

The Americans got squashed 18 ½ to 9 ½ at the K Club in that last venture overseas.

“I’ve never won a Ryder Cup over there,” Mickelson said. “This will be my eighth team, my fourth opportunity [on foreign soil], and I think it would be very cool if we were able to do that.”

Mickelson was 0-4-1 at the K Club. Overall, he is 3-7-4 playing away games in Ryder Cups, but he isn’t alone in his futility on the road. Woods is 6-7-2 and Furyk 4-7-2.

Europe’s Ian Poulter is a road warrior. He has played in two Ryder Cups, both on the road, but boasts a 6-1 Ryder Cup record.

“Pulse rate was pretty high, to be honest,” Poulter said of plugging his ball on a tee at the first hole of his first Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills outside Detroit in ’04. “It was interesting getting the ball on the tee. Silly as that may sound, if you get up close to some of those guys when they’re trying to put the ball on the tee peg, you will see their hands shaking. 

'You’re fired up. Your adrenaline is rushing, and your nerves are going and that first tee shot is not very nice. So just get up and hit it really hard. It’s amazing. There’s no experience like it.”

Steve Stricker made his Ryder Cup debut two years ago at Valhalla but will be making his first road debut this week.

“I was definitely more nervous at the Ryder Cup than the Presidents Cup, for whatever reason,” Stricker said. “You just feel that sense of history, I guess, at a Ryder Cup, that you’re at something a bit more important. It’s a situation where you get to really learn about yourself, learn how to handle the pressure, and you find an inner strength most times where you can deal with it and hit the shots that are called for. You find yourself feeding off that pressure.”

Europe features six Ryder Cup rookies, the Americans five, but there’s clearly an advantage making your debut in front of a home crowd. Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton won’t have that advantage in their first Ryder Cups.

“It’s a little bit of the unknown, like going to Tour school for the first time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” Furyk said. “It’s our job to let those guys know what to expect. But you have some brash guys. Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, they don’t seem to be fazed by much. Bubba, Overton, Kuchar, too.”

Tom Lehman was captain of that American team that got crushed in Ireland. He’s an assistant captain in a return overseas this year.

“It’s about mental toughness, who is not going to be intimidated,” Lehman told reporters Monday upon the Americans' arrival in Wales. “In Europe, it’s almost like a soccer experience in some ways.

“One of the mindsets we were looking for is those who can say they are going to take a crowd that is very vocal and partisan and try to prove to them what they are capable of and shut them up. Some personalities are very good at that. Some are not.”

Lehman said Tiger Woods is very good at that.

American captain Corey Pavin played on the last American team to win on foreign soil. He was an assistant captain under Lehman in Ireland. He doesn’t expect the crowds in Wales to be anything like soccer crowds.

“I don't see a situation happening out there that people will applaud for bad shots or missed putts,” Pavin said. “The way it's happened the last few Ryder Cups, and being over at The K Club in '06, there's a nice pause if an American misses a putt or hits a bad shot. There's a nice, polite pause before there's applause. And I think that's the way it should be. There might be a comment here and there that somebody makes, but it's few and far between, and I think the fans out there are very respectful of both sides, and I expect the same to happen here.”

Pavin hopes it ends up being a quieter battle than the Europeans hoped it would be.