Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2010 Ryder Cup

We left Indianapolis yesterday afternoon and flew to Atlanta where we hooked up with the PGA of America and the Team USA Charter. Atlanta was the meeting place because the final round of the Tour Championship was played at East Lake. That event was won by Jim Furyk who woke up this morning $11.3 million richer. Our flight left Atlanta at 11 p.m. EST and we arrived today in Cardiff, Wales, UK at approximately 11 a.m. local time. There is a five hour time difference.

The official PGA party includes Team USA and their wives/significant others; our Captain Corey Pavin and his wife, Lisa; Assistant Captains Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Paul Goydos, Jeff Sluman and their wives; the caddies for the players as well as four PGA Officers/Wives and our CEO. There were also over 100 people on the team charter who had purchased seats and lodging packages. I would estimate that 2/3 of that group were from Bloomington, IN- where Jeff Overton, Ryder Cup team member resides. This was a rowdy bunch who sported IU hats with an America Flag and Overton's name on the hat.

We spent about 4 hours in the Renaissance Hotel after we arrived in Atlanta yesterday. The PGA had a special Team Room, which was great for getting to know the players. The make-up of the U.S. Team is unique with veterans Furyk, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink being joined by young guns Overton, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler.

I will say that if the young guys are feeling Ryder Cup pressure there was no sign of it yesterday and on the flight over. They were all relaxed and taking in the moment! Watson was hell bent on pimping Overton and did so with a large degree of success. Overton had previously been quoted as saying that the best part about the Ryder Cup was going to be meeting Tiger Woods.

Woods showed up about 30 minutes before departure last night wearing a black Nike warmup, baseball cap and black Nike athletic shoes. He slipped into a seat next to Overton who was engrossed in a conversation with his back turned. Tiger tapped him on the shoulder and placed his face nose to nose with Overton. When he turned around he about fell out of his chair and spontaneously responded, "It's Tiger Woods!" That brought the whole place down.

On the walls surrounding the room were life size photos of all the players. Rickie Fowler stopped in front of his poster and took a picture with his I-phone. He turned around and looked at me with a grin and said, "I am not weird. It's just that my forearms have never been as big as they are in this picture!"

Several things impressed me with this team. The players all get along with each other. I don't see any cliques. The young guys respect the older players. The veterans seem to like the enthusiasm of the young guys. It is a great mix of personalities, which is important in team golf.

Once on the plane, I was seated next to Bubba Watson and right behind Fowler and Dustin Johnson. A row in front of them was Tiger. The world's Number One was engrossed in a numbers version of crossword puzzles. He soon got Watson, Johnson and Fowler engaged in the game and they played for several hours. It was almost like a teacher giving his students something to get them calmed down! Mickelson was several rows behind playing gin rummy with three caddies.         

Everybody got 2-3 hours of sleep. We were greeted by the Euro Ryder Delegation which included their Captain Colin Montgomerie and his wife. After that we headed to the Celtic Manor hotel, which is where we stay. We all had lunch in the team room. The PGA Officers had a briefing with our tournament staff and Pavin. It was here that I learned that I will drive a golf car for an assistant captain during the first four rounds on Friday and Saturday. I will be right in the thick of things!

Later this afternoon we attended the joint news conference held by Pavin and Monte. Most questions were driven to Montgomery by the foreign press. He has already announced that the Molinari brothers (Italians) will be paired together as well as Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, both from Northern Ireland. Monte also drew some criticism from the press for the course set up, which is pretty fair and probably doesn't favor either team- something the host captain has control of.

One question directed at Monte was, "If you lose as Captain will it tarnish your Ryder Cup record?"

Monte's response, "No, I was undefeated as a player in Singles matches and that record will still stand."

Great first day!

Ted Bishop   

It is truly special to be with and around Team USA at the 38th Ryder Cup at Celtic Manner. Obviously, being part of the official PGA party has been a phenomenal experience, particularly being around and getting to know the best players that the United States has.

Last night everybody chilled out in the team room. After a full day of travel, it felt good to unpack, relax and just settle in. Everybody met for dinner 6:30 p.m. in the hotel for dinner, The TEAM USA and officials are on the 8th floor and the Europeans are on the 9th floor. Both floors are blocked with security. The teams' dining rooms and game rooms are on the 2nd floor and heavily guarded by security.

The US Team area consists of several large rooms. There is a dining area and next to that is a large room set aside as a game room. This area has ping pong tables, a pool table, fuse ball and video games. When I got to the team room, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were battling it out on the ping pong table. There is a lot made of the rivalry between Tiger and Phil, but I have seen no signs of any animosity at all. They were laughing and competing as you would expect. Mickelson has played in eight Ryder Cups- more than any member of Team USA- and he showed up with his own personal ping pong paddles. He had a selection of several paddles and I am not sure based on what criteria!

Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan were into the video games. Watson started out on the ping pong table, but lost his spot when he got beat by his wife!

Before dinner, all of the players received Rolex watches and other gifts. It was a special night, which concluded with a team meeting. You can appreciate the confidentiality of these team meetings. Obviously, there are issues that can't be discussed outside of the team walls. But, Corey Pavin has been stressing unity all week. The captain did talk about the likelihood of bad weather. He challenged Team USA to show no consternation when the weather gets bad and basically said, "Our challenge and goal should to beat the Euros at their own game in the conditions they think make them favorites."

Pavin's biggest attribute might be his ability to instill on our team how to feed off of the underdog role. I do think that puts the younger guys in a "nothing to lose, everything to gain" perspective.

Today, I walked a practice round with Woods, Mahan, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson. The roughs here are pretty stout. They will get worse as the week goes on. The turf conditions at Celtic Manor are perfect. The greens are already soft and somewhat slow for Tour standards. The players seem to like the course, which has an American look to it.

"This reminds me of playing in Pennsylvania," said Stricker. "With the hills and trees, it kind of has that look."

I walked a couple of holes with Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks, from NBC. "The greens are surprisingly soft," said Miller. "There is a lot of grass on them. It doesn't look like they have been verticut for a long time. The ball gets a little wiggle when it loses speed. This is what Monte wants- greens that are slower than what the Americans like."

I was really impressed with how Tiger hit it today. He only hit two bad shots all day and they both came on the 14th tee. Woods blocked both shots right into a water hazard. Before he hit a third ball, he asked his caddy for a glove which he placed underneath his right arm. This is an old teaching aid to help from keeping the right elbow from flying away from the body. He laced the third tee shot about 50 yards past the entire group. To which Stricker quipped, "Do you suppose if I used that glove, I would hit it that far!"

That brought a smile to Tiger who will likely be Stricker's partner in foursome play. 

A late day lunch was followed by a Rules Meeting with the players and caddies. Various nuances of match play were discussed. John Paramore from the European Tour conducted the meeting. Some lengthy discussion was given on the "advice rule" which is about players, captains and caddies offering assistance during competition. At one point, Paramore gave an example, "If Bubba hits an 8 iron and Tiger hits a 7 iron.....".

To which Woods interjected and said, "Whoa, wait a minute, John. You got that backwards. Bubba hit the 7 iron and I hit the 8 iron." The laughter woke up the snoozers in the room, including Fluff Cowan, the caddy of Jim Furyk.
Tonight we are supposed to have a good steak dinner in the team room. Unless they import beef from America, I don't know how that is possible!

Tomorrow is my one day of competition. The PGA of America Board plays the Euros. My partner will be Ulysses "Junior" Bridgeman who is an Independent Director for the PGA. Junior and I were partners in Louisville at the last Ryder Cup. He starred at East Chicago Washington H.S. (Indiana) and led his team to a state basketball championship in 1971. Bridgeman played basketball at Louisville and enjoyed a lengthy career in the NBA, primarily with the Milwaukee Bucks where he was also the NBA's player rep for many years.

One of our opponents will be Peter Baker from Great Britain, who is a former Ryder Cup team member and Vice Captain of the 2006 Euro Ryder Cup team. Baker actually beat Pavin in the singles matches in 1993!  Junior and I plan on getting revenge for our Captain!

Ted Bishop, PGA       
Day 3

Let the pomp and circumstance of the Ryder Cup begin. In about 30 minutes we leave for a reception with the HRH Prince of Wales at Cardiff Castle. For those that may not know, this is Prince Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth and widower of Princess Diane.

This reception will also include a meeting of the Prince of Wales along with dinner at one of his castles in his home country. We received the proper protocol from the PGA regarding our meeting of the Royal Party. Men are instructed to bow from the neck (not the waist) and women are told to offer a small curtsy (placing your right behind the left heel and bending the knees slightly). The Princes and princesses are referred to as "Your Royal Highness the Prince of Wales."

Both teams and official parties will attend the dinner. We will leave for the Millennium Auditorium for tonight's Ryder Cup Gala, which will be attended by 10,000 people. The featured entertainment will be Katherine Zeta-Jones. She will be joined by Shirley Basset who recorded the hit soundtrack to the James Bond 007 Movie, featuring the song- 'Goldfinger'.

Tomorrow is another practice round with the Opening Ceremonies. These festivities will be televised live tomorrow on ESPN at approximately 10 a.m. EST. The pairings for Round One will be announced at the Opening Ceremonies.

Last night we enjoyed dinner with the team. Afterwards in the team room, Corey Pavin brought in Major Dan Rooney to speak to the team. Rooney has flown three F-16 missions in Iraq and he is a PGA Professional. He is also the founder of the Patriot Golf Day, which has raised over $3 million to offer scholarships to family members of service men and women who have been killed or wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Rooney delivered a riveting message to the team on accountability, dealing with pressure and preparation. There were lots of tears in the room as he recounted many of his stories. When he finished, Phil Mickelson asked for more stories. The players were presented official bomber jackets with the Ryder Cup logo and as one person put it, "It was like watching a bunch of high school kids receive their first letter jackets."

Rooney will be the only person to speak to our team. No one else is needed.

It is pretty apparent that Team USA is ready to play. There is great chemistry with this mix of players. I am sure this is true with every Ryder Cup team. Let's face it, if you can't pull together to compete for your country, you have no real reason to play again. As each day passes, you can sense the players know the task that lies ahead.

Dustin Johnson put it best after Rooney's speech. "That puts everything into perspective. What we do is really pretty insignificant. It doesn't really mean much in the big picture."

He went on to add, "The really cool thing is this jacket. A buddy of mine and me are going to a Halloween Party dressed as the two guys in the movie 'Top Gun'. Now, I have the real deal in this jacket!"

And that ladies and gentlemen, kind of sums up the mentality of the young guns on this Team USA. They seem fearless. The veterans seem poised and they have been great mentors. Periodically, you will witness something like Zach Johnson pulling Jeff Overton aside and saying, "Look, when I played in my first Ryder Cup.........." 

You hear all of the hype about the Ryder Cup, but let me tell you from a close up view- it is not hype. This is the real deal. Pavin put a clock in the team room that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to Sunday night.

He told the team, "When that clock is at zero, this is all over. You will never forget this week the rest of your life. Embrace it, enjoy it and commit yourself."

Let's go USA!

Day 4

I can honestly say that I was not that fired up about Wales as a venue for the 38th Ryder Cup. That was simply total ignorance on my part. Wales is actually the country where the English originally settled before they were driven to England by robbers and militants. There are more castles in Wales than any country in the United Kingdom. The scenery here is beautiful and the people are as hospitable as anywhere I have ever been.

There is a great sense of pride in hosting the Ryder Cup here. This is the most important sporting event to ever be played in Wales and the citizens of this country are coming out in droves to support the European team. The Welsh are a jovial sort. They are continually greeting our American contingent with smiles and well wishes. It is very obvious that this is their chance to show off Wales to the world.

The Minister of Education actually mandated that Ryder Cup history be introduced as part of the educational curriculum in the schools in Wales. They have been preparing for this event for 10 years. Celtic Manor was built to host the Ryder Cup and everything here has been first class.

We attended last night's state dinner at the Cardiff Castle hosted by the Prince of Wales. We were briefed ahead of time that Prince Charles would do some research on every member of the official party and he would converse some point of individual interest with everyone. When it came my time, he asked where I was from. After I said the Indianapolis area, he said, "That is not too far from Chicago where the 2012 Ryder Cup will be played. Are there a lot of good courses in Chicago? Do you have many good young players at your golf course?"

The dinner featured toasts by various groups including both Captains. At one point, I looked over to Indiana's Jeff Overton. He was grinning from ear to ear and said, "Can you believe we are actually here!?"

The Ryder Cup Gala was spectacular. It featured a wealth of homegrown Welsh musical talent including Catherine Zeta Jones, wife of Michael Douglas. Catherine Jenkins, world class opera star, and Shirley Bassett who recorded 'Goldfinger' and 'Diamonds Are Forever' for James Bond movies. These stars were complimented by a host of Wales talent in what was arguably the best movie performance that I have ever seen. All 10,000 in attendance got everyone geared up for the Ryder Cup!

This morning I did an early morning practice round with Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. I joined Tom Lehman, assistant captain, as the two American players were first out. Lehman is one of the truly class guys in golf. The former British Open winner is loved by the locals and he made every effort to sign autographs and talk to well wishers.

The Europeans were again over an hour late for their tee times which caused our group to catch them on the 10th hole. We skipped over to the 15th tee and finished the round. This is two days in a row that the Euros have backed up the Americans on the course due to arriving late to the tee. Not a good thing in this format.

Mickelson and Fowler had a 'friendly' game. I don't know what the bet was, but they were definitely in their moments, if you know what I mean. Again, it was typical of what you see from the Americans- the veteran spending time with the rookie. Mickelson counseled Fowler on occasion. It is apparent that Fowler respects Phil.

I love Rickie. He is personable, friendly and great for golf. He hails from Southern California and sports long brown hair. He is the smallest of stature on the team. In Lehman's words, "He is really swinging well. Rickie was a little fast the first day, which was just jet lag. But, he has it ironed out now."

Opening Ceremonies are in a couple of hours. Tomorrow's forecast is for rain. The only good news is that they are forecasting 25 mph winds which will mean the rain won't come straight down- just sideways! (Joke) ESPN begins coverage at 2:30 a.m. EST, so you can see it all. Saturday is supposed to be foggy and Sunday decent.

Hope you are enjoying the reports!

Ted Bishop, PGA

I don't know how much time I will have on Friday and Saturday, so I wanted to add a few things.

Tomorrow morning, I will be with the first group of the 38th Ryder Cup at 7:45 a.m. I will accompany Tom Lehman, Assistant Captain. This match will send Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson against Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, arguably the best team that Europe has to offer. ESPN begins coverage at 2:30 a.m. on Friday morning. 

The electricity on the #1 Tee will be indescribable. The Euro crowd will be charged up with clever cheers, jeers and songs. The previously hospitable crowd will become hostile. The few hundred Americans will be outnumbered by nearly 50,000 rowdy European fans. I really cannot put into words what it will be like.

Corey Pavin was asked who will hit the first shot tomorrow. Will it be veteran Mickelson or rookie Johnson? "I will let the players decide. They will do what makes them most comfortable." Stories of Ryder Cup #1 tee shots are legendary. The greatest players in the world will get lumps in their throats that produce suffocating results.

The second match pits Matt Kuchar and Stewart Cink against Ireland's duo of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Next up is Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker against England's Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher. The final match of the morning will be American rookies, Bubba Watson and Hoosier Jeff Overton against Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington. The afternoon pairings will be announced thirty minutes before the first tee time. 

The morning format will be a best ball competition where the players each card a score and the low score counts for the team. In the afternoon, it will be alternate shot which means that one player tees off on #1 and his partner hits the second shot. The players alternate shots until the competition ends.

Captains put a lot of thoughts into pairings trying to match game styles, personalities, etc. This morning Curtis Strange, ESPN analyst, sought out Lehman and asked, "Will there be any thought in matching players in the alternate shot based on what ball they play?"

Lehman's response, "Absolutely not. The balls are all good today and that will have no bearing on the pairings."

If the weather does what it is supposed to (rain all day), players will likely be able to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the closely mowed areas. This will allow the players to wipe mud off of their ball, which can certainly affect the flight of the ball and the accuracy of the shot. According to Mark Wilson, PGA Rules Chairman, this was a landmark decision which was introduced at the K Club in Ireland in 2006 when conditions were extremely wet. "We did it in Ireland and it enhanced the competition. It had no impact on the outcome of the matches, It was the right thing to do," said Wilson.  

The British tabloids have criticized Pavin for having F-16 fighter pilot, Major Dan Rooney speak to the U.S. Team on Tuesday night. They say it demonstrates the United States' infatuation with war. Some of those same tabloids have run pictures of Hunter Mahan's girlfriend in a Dallas Cowboys cheerleading costume. She had previously been a Cowboys' cheerleader and the British have made some snide remarks about this. Ridiculous..... 

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem is staying across the hall from me. As we rode up the elevator tonight his wife, Holly, asked what time they were going to the course. "We will be on the #1 tee at 7:15 a.m. That's thirty minutes before the first group goes and I want to experience the crowd."

I think that says it all!

Ted Bishop, PGA

At the conclusion of the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, losing European captain Nick Faldo issued the following warning to Americans, "Be sure and bring your waterproofs to Wales." That was his best advice of the weekend.

It is 9:45 a.m. local time and play for Sunday has yet to start after more overnight showers and a steady morning rain. Six matches remain in the third round of what is now a revised Ryder Cup format. While the U.S. leads 6-4, it trails in all six of the third round matches. Interestingly, if we never hit another ball the competition would end 9-7 in favor of the U.S. because any unfinished match is deemed to be a tie. This would result in each side receiving 1/2 point for each of the six matches.

I rode back to the hotel this morning with Peter Hanson who is playing with Miguel Angel Jimenez against Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson. Hanson said there is speculation that spectators might be prohibited from being allowed to enter Celtic Manor today because of the wet ground conditions. Talk about neutralizing home field advantage! We will see how that plays out.

There is no question that play will flow into Monday. After round three is completed there will be 12 singles matches. There are 28 scheduled points available in the Ryder Cup. The U.S. needs to win 14 to retain the Cup since it is the defending champion. Play will be halted at 6:37 p.m. local time on Monday if needed. That being said, remember what I just said. Any matches that have not been completed by the deadline on Monday would be deemed halved matches- no matter their standing. This is all part of the signed captain's agreement done earlier in the week. This is the first time in the history of a Ryder Cup (began in 1927) that the competition has spilled into Monday.

In my opinion, the long day yesterday affected the U.S. team. We had good momentum coming out of round two with a 6-4 lead, but everybody seemed a bit flat late in the day. Team officials probably wished the matches would have been called earlier. It was cloudy and darkness was setting in. It was similar to Friday when the Euros had early momentum and the delay helped the U.S. regroup.

Much has been made of the leaking rain suits that the U.S. team had on Friday. The suits' specifications were reviewed ahead of time and approved by the Corey Pavin and the PGA of America. Quite simply, the gear did not perform. It has been a source of ridicule for the official party- and it should be. Ironically, according to Phil Mickelson's caddy the manufacturer posted a headline on its website last week proclaiming, "May the best rain suit win!" That quote has since been removed!

This morning our players arrived at Celtic Manor by 6:30 a.m. Pavin insisted the Rules Committee issue a more specific rain plan than they did on Friday when each hour resulted in a delayed announcement keeping the team in limbo. It was decided that play would not start until at least Noon. Pavin sent the players back to the hotel for rest. We will see how the rest of the day unfolds.

Ryder Cup play can define stardom. Jeff Overton has been labeled "a menace" by the BBC with his hot putting and streaky play. His unassuming Midwest demeanor has made him the darling of his teammates, fans and media. Overton has had a smile on his face all week, except after yesterday's match when he and Bubba Watson lost in the alternate shot format.

Said Watson, "Jeff and I are wound up all of the time. We feed off each other and the alternate shot probably doesn't best fit our styles- as partners."

Stewart Cink has probably been the stalwart thus far for the U.S. His crucial birdie on the 17th yesterday in round two put the Americans two points ahead in the matches when it looked like they might be tied. Jim Furyk has played well. Pavin made the decision to put him with Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson for mentoring purposes and Furyk has been up to the challenge.

I have spent every minute of the competition with Tom Lehman, former Ryder Cup captain and British Open winner. Lehman who also won this year's Senior PGA Championship is an assistant captain. The four assistants get assigned to groups and the PGA Officers drive their carts and service the players with towels, food, drink and whatever else is needed. It gives me an up close perspective of the competition which will stick with me for years.

Lehman is well respected by the Euro fans. He has been gracious to say the least. He stops and talks when it is appropriate. He will pose for an occasional picture or autograph. Lehman has been a study in good behavior and a great example for today's players.

A terrorist alert was issued this morning to Americans in Europe. Reports are that al-Quada has some type of mass killing planned. It has left a bunch of people in our contingent very nervous because they are obviously 50,000 spectators at this event and security is different than in the U.S. I am thankful that we have a charter flight back to America.

There is a lot of golf left to be played. Turner Broadcasting which launched PGA.COM is estimating that Monday will be the largest internet sports viewing day in history. Many people will be at work watching the live streaming video from their computers.

Hopefully, the U.S. team will rebound today if golf is played and win at least 2 points in round three which will put the competition at 8-8 heading into the singles. A 6-0 sweep by the Euros would put them ahead 10-6 and the Americans would really be up against it.

As I end this, it appears the rain has stopped and the skies are getting lighter. It is now a matter of the course drying out enough to get play started. It is windy. All elements seem to favor the Europeans at this time. History tells us that Americans have performed their best for centuries when in an underdog role!

Ted Bishop, PGA  

Here is Sunday's plan. Play will begin at 1:30 p.m. local time (that is 8:30 a.m. in the U.S. EST). Today will be a completion of the 2 Alternate Shot and 4 Best Ball matches (Round Three).

The Singles Matches will be played in their entirety on Monday beginning at 9:05 a.m. local time (4:05 a.m. EST) with the final match teeing off at 11:17 a.m. (6:17 a.m. EST).

The unfortunate dynamic in this finish is for all of the people who traveled to Wales and have commercial flights back to the U.S. on Monday. One of those is Thomas Gibson, star of the TV series Criminal Minds. He is with the Pavin party. I just spoke to him here at the hotel and he has to be back in Los Angeles on Monday.

"This is a real bummer. I have been consumed with the Ryder Cup for a week and now I have to miss the final round of play," said Gibson moments ago. "I am sure a lot of other people are in the same boat. This has been one of the greatest weeks of my life!"

There is good news for all of you back in the U.S. Take a sick day and watch all of the Ryder Cup finish LIVE on the USA Network, which should be available on all cable and satellite outlets or get live updates on "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio. Greeny will keep you in the loop!

Ted Bishop, PGA    

Ryder Cup- 2010 Finale
On the day after the longest Ryder Cup in history, I am feeling somewhat like Eduardo Molinari must have felt after a 21-year old PGA Tour rookie named Rickie Fowler smacked him with four straight birdies to salvage a crucial tie in one of the wildest final days ever played since the event began in 1927.

You would think that writing a finale for this week would be easy. There is nothing easy at the Ryder Cup! That was once again proven on Monday. The weather got far more publicity than the warmth and hospitality of the Welsh. Twenty years from now I suppose I will remember the mud and rain at Celtic Manor. For sure, I will remember the walk to the closing ceremony and the heartfelt handshakes offered by fans lining the walkway.

Some have said that the American players don’t have the same Ryder Cup passion as do their European counterparts. I just spent nine days with our team. Trust me, they care.

“It was more than I expected,” said Bubba Watson. “The best part of the week was being with the other guys. I never really knew Phil (Mickelson) that well until this week. He told some of us young guys that he wanted to be more of a mentor. Phil said he that his days are winding down and he wants to help younger guys do the things that will grow the game.”

That comment captures the real spirit of the 2010 United States Ryder Cup team. It was a mix of veterans and young guns. All week, the rookies were being counseled by those who had Ryder Cup scars from previous years. Corey Pavin will never get the credit that he deserves for leaving his mark on this team. Losing captains get burned in effigy.

Facts are facts, and the last U.S. team to win on foreign soil was in 1993 when Pavin played himself. Pavin’s team came closer to recording a road win than any team in 17 years. I didn’t see Pavin hit one shot at Celtic Manor. He brilliantly set his lineup for the singles matches, mixing vets with rooks in hopes of always being able to stop the bleeding if things went wrong in any part of the lineup. That strategy worked perfectly.

My Monday assignment was once again with Tom Lehman, assistant captain. We worked the final four groups which included Mickelson, Fowler, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan. As we drove to the range Lehman predicted, “We got the last four groups. If things go right it will come down to us.”

Early on, the blue stripes dominated the leader board, which ditched the idea that the Americans needed to get off to a fast start. At one point during the first seven groups, the U.S. trailed in 5 matches. When all 12 groups hit the course, the Americans were behind in eight matches. As every golfer knows, things can turn in match play and gradually a tsunami of strength began to build for the U.S..

“How about Stricker? All we ask him to do is go out and beat Westwood. He is the silent assassin,” remarked Lehman after the Wisconsin deer hunter dumped his English foe.

As we reached the 12th tee, Lehman showed his guile. He said, “We have got to turn two of these matches around. You take the cart and go with Slu (Jeff Sluman, assistant captain). You guys stay with Hunter. I am going to walk with Rickie.”

At the time, Fowler was 4 down with 6 to play and I thought to myself that was a strange move by our most experienced assistant captain since Mahan was only 2 down with 7 holes to go.

“Little did we know,” quoting Chuck Thompson who called Bill Mazeroski’s famous grand slam in the 1960 World Series. Fowler was about to hit his own version of a Ryder Cup grand slam with those four closing birdies.

If much is made of Mahan’s unfortunate chip on #17 to close out the 2010 Ryder Cup, it will be done by imbeciles who have never had the misfortune to experience anything even remotely close to the pressure that he did. There were probably 30,000 spectators on the hole with hundreds of millions of TV viewers watching the most dramatic finish to a sporting event in years.

Jim Furyk put it best. “I have experienced about everything you can in golf. But, I have never had the pressure of being in the match that will decide the Ryder Cup. All of the players on both teams feel real bad for him because that could have happened to anyone.”

The mood in the U.S. locker room was subdued as expected. Players were offering unsolicited support to Mahan. There was already talk of 2012. “I will tell you this,” said one caddy. “I will take the same 12 guys in this locker room to Medinah in 2012.”

The unique spirit of the Ryder Cup is captured at the closing ceremonies. Both teams walk side by side. Standing ovations are given by one team to its opponent showing appreciation for the week of competition. The Ryder Cup is awarded to the winning captain and eyes focus to 2012. Do we really have to wait two years for this?!

On Monday night, the European team invaded the U.S. team room around 10:30 p.m. Mickelson and Woods had been taking on the world in ping pong and with a large degree of success, I might add.

Padraig Harrington interrupted the festivities and said, “Our best against your best, boys!”

The Americans sent Matt Kuchar and the Euros put up Peter Hanson, the Swede. To quote Dustin Johnson, “There was a bucket of money on the floor for this match!”

Kucher destroyed Hanson in the final match of this year’s Ryder Cup. There was solace for the Americans. And for Kucher, as Sluman put it, “He just guaranteed that he will be at least a Captain’s pick in the next four Ryder Cups! I think this ping pong thing started a tradition.” 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Lisa Pavin: Ryder Cup Preview

My first experience with Corey Pavin was in December of 2008 in New York City. The PGA of America was announcing him as the Captain for the 2010 United States Ryder Cup team. It was a whirlwind 48 hours that consisted of an introductory dinner in Manhattan followed the next day by a press conference at Tavern on the Green. Interviews with ESPN, Fox News, Bloomberg and NBC were sandwiched around a photo shoot in Times Square.

The focus of those two days in New York was on Corey Pavin, as it should have been. But, it was apparent to me that Lisa Pavin would leave her mark on the 38th Ryder Cup in Wales. Wives of Ryder Cup captains play different roles. “The Captainess” as Lisa describes herself has been very engaged in much of the administrative planning that makes the Ryder Cup a very special event for all involved.

I had the opportunity to sit down with “The Captainess” this week. She shared some unique insights on the 2010 Ryder Cup which will be played at Celtic Manor next week. Lisa Pavin is engaging, never short on opinions, patriotically driven and totally loyal to her man! Here is what she had to say.

The Ryder Cup is upon us, what does it feel like? Two years of planning, expectations and the build up- it is finally here!

(LP) “I feel an array of emotions and it rides just like a roller coaster, full of highs and lows. Just last Friday night, we finished our West Coast Media Blitz with Corey throwing a STRIKE at Dodger Stadium. I got in the car and said to Corey, “Honey, that was the last one… the last of our official outings with the PGA.”

I got a little emotional knowing that these outings, these appearances, these activities that we were honored to be a part of were essentially finished. Of course, until we get to Wales! I know that in the last 3-4 months, I have had bouts of pure craziness trying to raise a 2 ½ year old, both cell phones ringing off the hook, emails from PGA HQ, the scheduling of Corey’s PGA Tour and Champions Tour travel- along with appearances for the PGA of America. I thought when is this craziness going to end!

However, at the end of the day, I feel much honored to be a part of the PGA family and I will miss it all.”

You put your personal stamp on the 2010 Ryder Cup by designing a special logo for this competition. What prompted this and what statement does it make?

(LP) “In doing research and looking at past years’ clothing, all I kept thinking was ‘I want something different.’ Corey and I consulted with people in the fashion industry. We wanted the 2010 team to stand out. As I dug up photos from the 1950’s to 1970’s Ryder Cup teams, the idea of having vintage and retro inspired clothing became my inspiration.

This was when Corey passed me the baton. He was beginning his 28th season of playing and doing it on both Tours- on top of his responsibilities as Captain. And you think Corey really wanted to talk about clothing when he had so many others things on his mind? Not so much!

I felt like having a logo would really take the vintage/retro look up a notch. Here was my chance to do something different and make the 2010 team stand out. Two things were important to me. It needed to signify USA- it had to be bold; it had to be red, white and blue. The logo had to unequivocally remind Team USA of what and who we were playing for……. The Ryder Cup and the United States of America.”

Sneak preview the team clothing and the process of picking the various lines.

(LP) “I spent a couple of days in New York City visiting with various vendors. This can be a very tough process because we needed a vendor who was willing to produce a small number of items with a quick turnaround. These vendors only have about three weeks to produce custom-fitted suits, slacks, tops, sweaters, vests, tuxedos and rain gear.

We chose Hickey Freeman for our formal wear, men’s pants and women’s Opening Ceremony coats. We used Peter Millar for our shirts and sweaters. Sun Mountain did the rain gear and Imperial supplied hats and visors.”

What kind of hat will Rickie Fowler wear? (His trademark is a flat billed cap)

(LP) “Hopefully his style- just the same color! At least that’s what I asked for…….”

What was the best part of the Ryder Cup experience? What was the worst part?

(LP) “Without a doubt, the best part of the last 22 months has been watching my husband’s DREAM come true. Not every player gets to add “Ryder Cup Captain” to their resume. There is no worst part about this experience. I do wish, however, that our daughter was older so she could remember the journey with us.”

What does Corey Pavin offer this Ryder Cup team? What makes him a unique captain?

(LP) “Corey is always calm, whether in a good or bad situation. And that is a very important quality to have when leading a team. You don’t want your team to know if the Captain is anxious, excited, upset or stressed. His ability to remain calm will just allow the players to go out and play. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have emotion. In fact, quite the opposite!! He just knows when and where to let his emotions come out.

In the past 2-3 months, Corey has opened up and communicated with all potential players. He continued to talk to the top eight as they made the team and consulted with them when he made his four captain’s picks. He flew to Boston several days before the four picks were made. He sat down and talked with the top 20 guys that he was considering. They all knew where they stood with Corey.

This week he is flying to Atlanta to meet with the entire team, minus the 2-3 players not in the Tour Championship. He has taken on responsibilities without people asking, knowing that this can only build team strength heading to Wales. I’ve had several players and members from the PGA mention that they haven’t see a Captain as highly interested in the team, as a WHOLE, as much as Corey has been.

I also think that being a player on three Ryder Cup teams himself; a potential player who was passed up on one team and being an assistant captain in 2006 has given Corey a good insight to many aspects of the Ryder Cup. He is able to relate to players on several different levels because in has been in their shoes.”    

How much interaction have you had with the team and wives since the team was selected? What will your role be during the matches?

(LP) “I leave all of the communication with the players to Corey. I did text to congratulate a few who were new to the team. But, I haven’t and won’t get in the way of how our Captain deals with Team USA. That is his duty.

As far as wives, I made sure that I reached out to the rookies, and the wives or girlfriends who have never been part of a Ryder Cup team. I had met most of them at a BBQ we hosted during the PGA Championship. I also called any Tour wives that I didn’t really know. I gave them my phone number and wanted them to know that I was available to communicate.

I addition, I did the same with caddies. We wanted them to know that they are a valued part of the team. Yes, it is 12 superstars in terms of the players, but these superstars have a lot of support through their caddies, wives or girlfriends and it is important to make these people feel part of the 2010 Team, too.

My main objective is to make everyone from Officials of the PGA, to players, to caddies and to family feel that ALL of us contribute to Team USA. None of us could be here without each other. We want to have fun, but we need to stay focused on our task and our goal, which is bringing the Ryder Cup back to American soil.”

Corey Pavin has full appreciation for the efforts of his wife, “She has helped me out tremendously in a multitude of ways. With Lisa taking care of many details, I have been able to focus on Team USA, captain’s picks and the pairings.”

The Captain is probably being a bit modest on his assessment of “The Captainess”. The Ryder Cup is a unique competition that possesses components not found in other sports. Granted, Lisa Pavin won’t be hitting any shots next week in Wales, but her finger prints will be all over Team USA. In her own way, she has set a standard for the future U.S. Captain’s wives- and it has been a good one.   

Thursday, July 15, 2010

2010 British Open Championship

2010: The Open Championship/ St. Andrews, Scotland

Every five years or so, the Open Championship is played at St. Andrews, the world’s  oldest golf course created some 600 years ago. Located on the St. Andrews Bay, which feeds into the North Sea on Scotland’s rugged northeastern coast, this quaint little village is the Bethlehem of Golf. It all started here.

This is the 150th Open Championship. This competition is the oldest of its kind in the world. Willie Parker won the first Open at Prestwick in 1860. The runner-up that year was a chap named Tom Morris, Sr., known today as Old Tom Morris.

Born in 1820, Old Tom is credited as being a great player, clubmaker, greenkeeper and golf course designer. He excelled in every facet. To understand St. Andrews, you must know about Old Tom Morris.

He apprenticed under Allan Robertson, who was recognized as the world’s first golf professional. Robertson made featherine balls. When the gutta percha ball surfaced in 1849, Roberston and Morris had a famous split when Old Tom recognized the new ball “as the future of golf.”

Morris left for Prestwick in 1850 where he served as its first greenkeeper. He did double duty in 1860 as he prepared the course for competition and finished second in the tournament. Old Tom would go on to win four Open Championships. His first was in 1861. A year later he won by 13 strokes, which is the largest margin of victory in British Open history. After winning in 1864, Morris became the oldest Open champion at the age of 46 in 1867 and that record still stands today. Sorry, Tom Watson.

He returned to St. Andrews in 1865. By this time, his young son Tommy was already becoming a Scottish legend. People in this part of the world would argue that Young Tom Morris was the world’s first junior golf phenomena. Sorry, Tiger Woods. Young Tom’s accomplishments are legendary.

At the age of 13, Young Tom Morris won a celebrated exhibition match against the world’s best players. In 1866, at age 16, he was victorious in a star studded professional event at Carnoustie. He won the first of his four Open Championships in 1868, beating his father in what is still the only father/son combination to finish first and second at the British Open. That same year, Young Tom had golf’s first recorded hole-in-one. 

Young Tom receives credit for the creation of the Claret Jug, which is presented to the Open champion. Traditionally, the victorious player was presented with the Challenge Belt after winning the Open. When Young Tom won his third straight Open in 1870, he retired the Belt and the Claret Jug became the new prize. There was no Open in 1871 and Young Tom grabbed the Claret Jug in 1872.   

Three years later, while playing in an exhibition match Young Tom received word that his wife and child died during child birth. Morris died three months later on Christmas Day. The cause of death was not known.

“People say he died of a broken heart but if that was true, I wouldn’t be here either,” said Old Tom Morris.

Following his son’s tragic death, Old Tom consumed himself in his duties at St. Andrews and became actively involved in shaping the design of some of the world’s greatest courses. Besides Prestwick, he gets credit for Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Carnoustie and Royal County Down. Today, the 18th green at the Old Course is named in his honor.

Old Tom toiled at St. Andrews until his retirement in 1904. During his 39 years as the greenkeeper he instituted many of today’s modern golf course maintenance practices. In 1899, he took on an apprentice greenkeeper at St. Andrews named Donald Ross who would become a future golf course design genius.

Morris died in 1907 and is buried beside his son in a cemetery that is at the old Cathedral ruins in St. Andrews, just a few hundred yards up the hill from the Old Course. There are many hair raising experiences when a golfer makes their first pilgrimage to the town of St. Andrews. Visiting the gravesites of golf’s most famous father and son is near the top of the list.

The inscription on Young Tom’s tombstone reads as follows: “Deeply regretted by numerous friends and all golfers, he thrice in succession won the Championship belt and held it without envy, his amiable qualities being no less acknowledged than his golfing achievements.”

Everything about St. Andrews, the town and the Old Course, explodes with history and uniqueness. The Old Course greens average a square footage of 22,267- compared to 6,435 at Augusta National and 3,500 at Pebble Beach. The Old Course only has 11 different greens because there are seven double greens. And in one of those mystical instances of golf numerology, the sum totals of the two holes sharing each of the double greens conveniently equals 18 (2/16, 3/15, 4/14. 5/13, 6/12, 7/11 and 8/10).

Of all the British Open venues, St. Andrews has the widest fairways. It would appear to be the widest course in championship golf. The shared first and 18th fairway alone is 140 yards wide. But, the bail out area on every fairway always produces the toughest approach angle to the green.

One hundred fifty years of championship golf. The extraordinary features of the Old Course. The village of St. Andrews overlooking the North Sea. The gravesites of Old and Young Tom. This is truly golf’s version of Bethlehem!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bethpage Black

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman brought plenty of attention to the term “Bucket List” in a movie that they co-starred in a few years ago. For those that don’t know, a bucket list is a term that defines the things that an individual would want to do before they leave this Earth.

Golfers often talk about their own bucket list when it comes to the courses they want to play before they die. In my case, Augusta National, Pebble Beach and Prestwick in Scotland are courses that highlight my own personal bucket list. These are places that I have been lucky enough to play. There are many other venues that I have been fortunate enough to experience, but until this week those three stood out.

Augusta National is every golfers dream. Pebble Beach could be the most spectacular setting in the world. Prestwick was founded in 1851 and was the site of the first 12 British Open Championships. It’s hard to beat that lineup, but after this week I will add a fourth to my bucket list.

Bethpage Black on Long Island was the site of the 2002 and 2009 United States Opens. Tiger Woods won the first Open at Bethpage and Lucas Glover prevailed last year when Bethpage became a swamp after late June rains deluged the New York City area.

The Bethpage Park complex is owned by the State of New York and it consists of five golf courses- the Black, Red, Blue, Yellow and Green. While the Black course gets the modern day recognition, the Green was built in 1923. The Red and Blue were opened in 1935, one year ahead of the Black. Tillinghast, the famed golf course architect, gets the credit for designing the courses at Bethpage.

Dave Catalano is the Director of Bethpage State Park. He has served in that position since 1995. Catalano actually first started to work at Bethpage in 1967 when he got out of college. He once served as the golf course superintendent for the Green course.

“My job is to keep everything coordinated, which is not an easy task sometimes,” says Catalano. “We have 50-80 employees who are charged with taking care of the five golf courses, adjacent polo fields and picnic areas.”

The Bethpage experience is widely known in golf circles. Players line up the night before to secure precious starting times. When I played last Tuesday, the five Bethpage courses entertained nearly 1,700 rounds- that day!

“I would say that 1,700-1,800 per day is a little busy,” observed Catalano. “Our typical day this year is around 1,450. Play is down this year. We have had perfect weather, so I would say the economy has had an impact. We raised our fees and that probably hurt as well.”
The fees to play the Black course, assuming you can get on, are $135 weekdays and $155 on weekends. Residents can play for $70 and $80, respectively. Fees on the other four courses at Bethpage range from $36-$41.

The thing that makes Bethpage extremely unique is that you see walkers with pull carts, people toting their own bags, blue collar types and the Manhattan execs. No golf cars are allowed on the Black course. The parking lot extends over acres because it takes some space to accommodate vehicles for 1,800 people. The clubhouse area is like the proverbial ant hill with golfers crawling everywhere. It’s difficult to find 20-feet of open space on the putting green and plan to stand in line if you want to hit a warm-up bucket.

However, the entire buzz is left behind when you step onto the first tee at Bethpage Black. You are about to enter a tranquil, but brutal course that sports some of the world’s toughest holes. I have been fortunate to play Augusta National the past two years. I can tell you that Bethpage Black matched the pristine playing conditions that The Masters site is known for.

My foursome on Tuesday included my daughter, Ambry. We were joined by Doug who sells lubricants and lives in The Hamptons. He packed his own sack. Our fourth player was Tom, as anesthesiologist from New Jersey, who showed up with a pull cart. Tom set the tone on the first tee, “Well, we are here. We might as well play it all the way back.”

Doug and I looked at each other and said, why not. So, we tackled the 7,498 yard par 72 obstacle course. As Doug would later describe Tom’s game, “He hits it forever, but he has no zip code.”

Pace of play for our round was five hours and 15 minutes. My highlight was making a birdie on Number 4. This is the signature hole for the Black course. It is an uphill par 5 that plays longer than the 517 scorecard yardage.

Catalano said it best, “The diversity of our players at Bethpage is really unique. We have all races, all economic types. To do that everyday and host U.S. Opens with the best players in the world is pretty special.”

The term Bethpage is a Biblical reference to a strip of land that lies between Israel and Jerusalem. According to Catalano, founders of the Bethpage community encouraged government leaders to name this special spot with that in mind. They did it with geographical implications in mind.

After Tuesday, I would propose that from a golf standpoint, the name is absolutely perfect. With all its beauty, serenity, craziness, crowdedness, diversity, hackers, avid players and best golfers in the world- Bethpage Black lies somewhere between everything in the sport of golf. Bethpage Black just landed squarely in my bucket!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bishops Make History

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA of America Secretary Ted Bishop gets understandably emotional when thinking back to the days when his youngest daughter, Ambry, began showing interest in golf.
"She was about six or seven and could hang out at a course all day. She would play one or two holes, then head to the nearest pond to look for golf balls, and repeat that," said Bishop, the general manager and director of golf at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club in Franklin, Ind. "I didn't think that she would ever have the attention span to play.
"Well, she went on to earn a full-ride scholarship to Indiana, was a four-year letter winner and she became a fine college coach. When she decided to become a PGA member, she knew it would be a tougher road. It was the one she picked and I'm very proud, of course."
LaRosa, who turns 28 on Feb. 23, earned PGA of America membership Feb. 12, as part of an 81-member class advancing through the PGA Professional Golf Management program at the PGA Education Center in
Port St. Lucie, Fla.
LaRosa is believed to be the first daughter of a PGA national officer to attain PGA membership.
"It feels good to be done, knowing that I have achieved it," said LaRosa. "I believed that it was the right career path for me. It is definitely a great feeling to be able to share this with my Dad, my family."
LaRosa added her latest accomplishment despite a busy job description – she is an assistant professional at St. Andrews Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., and is serving in her sixth season as women's golf coach at St. John's University in Queens, N.Y.
In 2004 at age 22, LaRosa became the youngest active Division I college coach. During her rookie season, she guided St. John's to its first Big East Conference championship and earned Coach of the Year honors.
"When you accomplish something like that the first year, they say it is all downhill after that," joked LaRosa. "I am lucky that I can schedule both jobs. First, there's the great experience working at St. Andrews with [PGA head professional] Charlie Hicks and with assistant Greg Bisconti [low PGA club professional in the 2009 PGA Championship].
"When we travel with the team in the spring, it is pretty easy. The fall is the tough part. I am blessed to be at St. Andrews, which keeps me updated in golf and as a professional. As a coach, I love the interaction with the girls.
"I'm not your typical coach. I am not out on the road recruiting, but relying upon videos and upon information from PGA Professionals who recommend players."
Bishop said that he had seen his daughter's competitiveness carry over into coaching.
"She always had tremendous nerves in the toughest most pressure-packed situations," said Bishop. "I saw her coach that way."
While in the early years of her St. John's coaching term, LaRosa split time while working for the Metropolitan PGA Section in Elmsford, N.Y.
"Ambry's enthusiasm and passion for golf was immediately evident and she brought a professional perspective to our Junior Golf programs," said Metropolitan PGA Executive Director Charles Robson. "When she decided to enter the golf professional ranks at The St. Andrew's Golf Club it was certainly our loss and their gain. She has been a great asset to their staff. Her ability to balance her job here and at St. Andrew's with her commitment to St. John's and her goal to become a PGA member is a great testimony to her upbringing."
LaRosa's journey to PGA membership received perhaps its biggest boost from her most trusted "study partner" – her husband, Rob LaRosa, the PGA head professional at Sterling Farms Golf Course in Stamford, Conn.
The couple met in 2005 while both attended a First Tee meeting in the Metropolitan PGA Section, and were married in January 2008.
"I'm very proud of what Ambry did," said Rob. "She had a lot of pressure upon her, knowing that I had made it through the program in 18 months and with her Dad being the Secretary of The PGA. She definitely went down the right path to becoming what is the blueprint for becoming a golf professional.
"I'm not afraid to say that she is a better player than I ever will be. I think that she can compete well against the guys, and as a PGA member she now may enter many of the member championships."
Last summer, Ambry tied for eighth in the 2009 Lincoln Women's Metropolitan Open Championship, with her father as caddie.
Ambry has received the guidance of another coach, Michael Breed of Greenwich, Conn., a PGA teaching professional and host of Golf Channel's popular program, "The Golf Fix." Breed said he received a call from Bishop last year, asking if he could take a look at Ambry's game.
"After spending time working with Ambry, I knew that she could be successful," said Breed. "She is a real hard worker, and she called back to let me know that she shot a 69 with her members.
"What she has done to earn PGA membership doesn't surprise me. She has the desire to be successful. She applies what she hears on the practice tee to her coaching. She has a love of people and a desire to help kids. She does it almost instinctively. I believe that if you improve yourself and given an opportunity, you can go and improve others as well."
The Bishop-LaRosa PGA membership lineage is expecting a new addition soon.
Ted Davidson, the husband of Bishop's eldest daughter, Ashely, is an assistant professional at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club who is planning to enroll in the PGA Professional Golf Management program.