Even though the Ryder Cup has been around for 87 years, in some ways 2012 might be the year that the competition has transformed to another level. Certainly, for the United States it is a year where rookies and the youth of the team are defining the future of the American Ryder Cup legacy.
It’s hard to say if players like Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker will ever play on another Ryder Cup team. Who knows how many Ryder Cups that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will be a part of as players. There is little doubt that Furyk, Mickelson and Woods will someday be Ryder Cup Captains. It’s doubtful that Stricker will be a captain since he never won a major championship.
Keegan Bradley became the first rookie since Loren Roberts in 1995 to start out the competition with a 3-0 record. He drug Mickelson along as a partner and the ’12 version of the Ryder Cup is the first time that Phil has ever won three or more points in a Cup match. Those two played 44 holes as partners this week and only trailed three holes.
It was totally Mickelson’s choice to sit out on Saturday afternoon. He made that apparent on Friday night as I wheeled him and his wife, Amy, in from the 18th green after watching the end of the Stricker-Woods match. He said he wanted to rest of Saturday afternoon so he could be ready for his singles match. It’s a chance for Mickelson to finish 4-0 in the 2012 Ryder Cup and it will certainly open a new chapter in his Cup history which was dismal prior to this year. He entered 2012 with a 11-17-6 record.
Bradley has sought out Mickelson as a mentor since winning the 2011 PGA Championship. It’s well known that the two play high stakes practice round matches and Mickelson has seemingly made Keegan his protégé. Bradley played with such great emotion in his three matches that at one point on Friday after making another long birdie putt he screamed so hard that he actually saw black spots in his eyes.
Then there is Bubba Watson who has now started a Ryder Cup first tee tradition for himself by revving up the crowd into a cheering frenzy while he is hitting his tee shot on the opening hole. The first tee at the Ryder Cup is always crazy and Bubba has taken it to another level. It’s brilliant and the modern day PGA Tour version of Happy Gilmore follows the tee shot by “high fiving” fans all the way down the first hole.
PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem has been a guest of the PGA of America and he has got to love what he sees from this new breed of Tour players. Jason Dufner either has great nerves or none at all. This guy has a worse hair problem than McIlroy, but absolutely nothing seems to shake him up.
We bumped into each other on the team floor on Friday night and he asked me if I was having fun. I said yes and countered the question, “How can you not have fun this week.” That’s a volume of content for Dufner.
That seems to be the key for the Americans. Davis Love III talked about making sure his team keeps things in proper perspective all week and he talked about “having fun.” In golf, having fun happens when you play good. It’s kind of the chicken and egg scenario. It seems to be easier to first play good and then have fun rather than play good by having fun.
And you can’t forget Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker. Simpson has flown under the radar at this Ryder Cup because he has been Bubba’s partner. The fact of the matter is that Webb has probably hit more good shots than Bubba and made more birdies. They are the perfect team because Simpson seems to be okay with the “Bub-ba Wat-son” cheers on every hole. Simpson just keeps smiling and pouring in birdies while his partner hauls in the accolades.
Saturday morning I drove Mandy Snedeker in a golf cart for 18 holes as she watched her new eleven million dollar man (Fed Ex Cup winner) team with Furyk to beat Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell 1 up. Mandy is eight months pregnant and you can talk all you want about the pressure of playing in a Ryder Cup, but let me tell you, driving an expectant mother through speed bumps and clumpy roughs is no picnic either.
“This week is incredible. We have never experienced anything like this,” she said as we headed up the 14th hole yesterday. “I hope this is the first of many Ryder Cups for us because this is just the coolest thing we have ever done.”
In 2010, at Celtic Manor, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson were rookies. Kuchar was 1-1-2 in his four matches and DJ was 1-3-0. This year as partners they are undefeated in two matches. The experience that they gained in the rain and slop in Wales has no doubt paid off this year. Zach Johnson is the middle man on the team playing in his third Ryder Cup. He has been Dufner’s partner and Zach now has an all-time winning Ryder Cup record thanks to 2012.
The Team USA torch has been passed. Zach will be the wily veteran and the nucleus will be comprised of the likes of Bubba, Webb, DJ, Duf, Sneds, Kuch and Keegan. In professional golf you know you have made it when people recognize you by anything but your first and last name. These eight guys have achieved that type of fame in 2012 and it could spell lots of trouble for the Europeans in the years that lie ahead.