The Virgin Atlantic team charter will depart London at midday on Monday, with those players not already in the States aboard and various other dignitaries, wives and guests in tow. Im assuming players get first choice on the upper-class cabin.
Soren Hansen, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Graeme McDowell and Robert Karlsson are all in the field for Mercedes-Benz Championship in Germany this week. A limited field tournament which will give those players a tough week of tournament golf ahead of the Ryder Cup.
Lee Westwood wanted to be in the field following his withdrawal from the Omega European Masters with tendonitis but because he hadnt planned to play in Cologne, he didnt enter. He couldnt grab a late entry because all the sponsors invites are taken with big name players ' Stuart Appleby, John Daly, Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer among them. Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose have been spending time at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla., where each has a home. They even teed it up in a three-ball over the weekend.
Nick Faldo certainly has been in contact with the players giving advice and getting ready for the matches. One wonders what Faldo, a master tactician and mind game specialist, will have been instilling in the team and what weaknesses he sees the U.S. side that he will use to fire up his team.
The one disadvantage the Americans have is their lack of playing preparation. The PGA TOUR doesnt have an event this week ' to give the players a rest ' but if they dont want to rest and actually want to keep playing then they better dust off their Hooters Tour membership card.
The PGA TOUR Playoffs almost force players to take this as an off week. Whereas the Europeans have the option of tweaking their schedule to rest prior and play the week or two before, like Miguel Angel Jimenez and Robert Karlsson. There lies a fundamental difference in the tours ' the European Tour needs a Ryder Cup victory. It helps business, brings in sponsors and gives them a huge amount of pride.
Does Ponte Vedra have the same economic reason to win as Virginia Water? I think not. Im not saying the PGA TOUR doesnt want a Ryder Cup trophy to show sponsors, but is its absence a deal breaker? I dont think so.
Turning to the darkside
One of the greatest true amateurs in the game has gone to the darkside. The traditionalists at the R&A must have choked on their hillbillies when hearing the news last week that Gary Wolstenholme has finally made the decision, at 48, to join the professinoal ranks.
Gary wasnt necessarily a true amateur. It wasnt as though he was the owner of the local car dealership who had to take a week off in April because he won the U.S. Amateur. Gary has been playing golf pretty much fulltime ever since Ive known him, and doing extremely well ' twice a British Amateur champion, representing his country 218 times at international level and beating Tiger Woods in the 1995 Walker Cup singles, are among the more noteworthy achievements.
Wolstenholme also played in the U.S. Open this year but struggled with the length of Torrey Pines, Gary is a short hitter but has deadly accuracy and a stellar short-game.
Wolstenholme will play in the European Tour Qualifying School stage one this week, and hes accepted an invitation to play the Kazakhstan Open next week on the Challenge Tour.
Before you chuckle at the host country, take note that the Kazakhstan Open is the richest full-field Challenge Tour event on the schedule, with the winner guaranteed a place on the European Tour next season. The players enjoy the trip to the former Soviet Republic and the views of the Tien Shien mountain range from the course are spectacular.
This week in European golf
The European Tour plays the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Cologne. The Challenge Tour heads to China for a co-sanctioned event with the Chinese Golf Federation, the Qingdao Golf Open offers a prize fund of $500,000. The LET visits Austria for the UNIQA Ladies Golf Open presented by Raiffeisen.
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