Americans turn to turn the Ryder Cup tide

By Associated PressSeptember 18, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ryder CupLOUISVILLE, Ky. ' Paul Azinger had pairings in his pocket and butterflies in his stomach.
 
As the last of his American players headed to the 10th tee for the final practice session Thursday at the Ryder Cup, Azinger acknowledged some nerves for the first time all week at Valhalla.
 
It was different from being a player. He felt more like a parent sending his child off to college.
 
Paul Azinger and team
Paul Azinger leads his team into the opening ceremonies Thursday. (Getty Images)
Azinger has done all he can to stop Europes recent dominance in the Ryder Cup. He overhauled the qualifying process to field the best team. He set the course up just like he wanted, with moderate rough that should yield lots of birdies. He tried to convince his players that the past'Europe has won three straight and five of the last six'means nothing.
 
Its like drawing back a bow string, he said, motioning like an archer. You pull it back for two years, and now youve got to let it fly. All you can do is hope youve got it pointed in the right direction.
 
He turned to Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim to set the right course.
 
Mickelson and Kim, who have been asking for a partnership over the last month, will be the opening foursomes match Friday morning against double major champion Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson.
 
The whole team is anxious to play, Mickelson said. Anthony and myself have been talking about this for some time. I love that we are able to get off in the first group and get out and hit the first shots because again, weve been wanting this day to come.
 
Turns out Azinger was toying with the press about pairing Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes to fire up their home crowd in Kentucky.
 
He put Perry in the final morning match with reliable Jim Furyk, but they face Europes most formidable pair in Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. Garcia is 8-0 in foursomes, while Westwood is unbeaten in his last 10 team matches.
 
Sergio and I have played well together in the past and taken in a few points for the European cause, so we will be looking to do the same again tomorrow, Westwood said.
 
Justin Leonard, whose 45-foot putt at Brookline in 1999 gave the Americans their last victory, will play with Hunter Mahan against Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey, while Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell take on the English duo of Justin Rose and Ian Poulter.
 
The final practice day included an inspirational visit by Muhammad Ali, who posed with both teams on opposite sides of the golf course. European captain Nick Faldo was so moved that his voice quivered and eyes glistened when talking about meeting the heavyweight champ.
 
An incredible moment, he said.
 
Now all thats left is to see how this heavyweight fight takes shape.
 
The Americans have not led after any session on any day at the Ryder Cup since winning at Brookline. And they have not led after the opening session of four matches since 1991 at Kiawah Island.
 
We have six rookies on the team, which I think is a good thing, said Steve Stricker, one of those rookies at age 41. We havent experienced some of those defeats in the previous years. And I think its important that we do get off to a good start to gain some momentum and just roll from there. Its a long competition. Theres five rounds. So if you do get behind, theres plenty of time to make it up.
 
Friday and Saturday feature four matches of foursomes (alternate shot) and four matches of fourballs (better ball), with the Ryder Cup concluding Sunday with 12 singles matches.
 
Of the 28 points available, Europe as the defending champion only needs 14 to retain the cup.
 
The Americans will be without Tiger Woods, the No. 1 player in the world with 14 majors and 75 victories worldwide, although there is no talk about an asterisk because they havent been winning the Ryder Cup when he was playing.
 
Its one of the few events weve been to where Tiger really has not been mentioned at all, Faldo said. The Ryder Cup is bigger than any one player. We play for points. Tiger has not crossed my mind this week.
 
Faldos pairings were no surprise.
 
A British photographer captured them with his zoom lens when Faldo whipped out his notepad during Wednesday practice, and while Faldo jokingly said it was a list of sandwiches for his team, his pairings were exactly what was on the slip of paper.
 
The only secret to the Ryder Cup, just like most any other tournament, is making putts.
 
And no team has putted like Europe.
 
The guys have been on good form, Faldo said. We know golf. We understand golf. We start back at level ground with America, and we will do our utmost to move forward. Thats really it.
 
Faldo is the most celebrated European player in Ryder Cup history, having set records for most teams (11) and most points (25). Unlike previous captains, however, he has been somewhat of an outcast since he last played the Ryder Cup in 1997 at Valderrama.
 
Mark James famously trashed Faldos good-luck note in 1999, and he has been missing from European camaraderie the last three matches, getting no closer than the broadcast booth.
 
But he has four rookies who know only the Faldo that won six majors, not the aloof player with singular drive to the top. And typical of most European teams, this is a happy bunch full of laughter and purpose.
 
Im loving every minute of this, Faldo said. This really is the best experience Ive ever had as a non-player, inside and outside the ropes. This is the most special week of my life right now, and we havent even started yet.
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Report Cards
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  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
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    Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

    Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

    “I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

    “It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

    The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

    “All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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    Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

    He picked up his clubs three times.

    That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

    This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

    Not that he was concerned, of course.

    Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

    “It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

    At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

    “I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

    Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

    Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

    Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

    In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

    That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

    “He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

    “I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

    Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

    Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

    So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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    Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

    By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

    Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

    Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

    Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

    He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

    “I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

    “With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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    Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

    So much for that.

    Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

    He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

    What’s the difference now?


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

    “I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

    Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

    “I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”