Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ryder Cup Preview

Back in 1927 Samuel Ryder, an English businessman, entrepreneur, golf enthusiast and golf promoter, funded an international golf competition between the twelve best professional golfers in the United States and the twelve best in the United Kingdom. It’s a pretty safe bet that he had no clue where this golf match would grow.
Ironically, Ryder originated the idea of selling garden seeds in “penny packets” and he built a very successful business on this concept. His concept on this international golf match between the U.S. and the U.K. is probably the most powerful seed ever planted because no golf competition in the world can rival that of the Ryder Cup.
Early matches between the two sides were fairly even. After World War II, repeated U.S. dominance led to a decision to extend the representation of the British and Irish team to include continental Europe in 1979. Jack Nicklaus approached then PGA of America President, Don Padgett, about the idea of expanding the matches to make them more competitive. Padgett, a native Hoosier, agreed to the idea.
This change was needed because the Ryder Cup had become a lopsided competition that held little or no fan interest. In fact, back then the PGA actually had to pay network TV to televise the competition.  The decision to expand was prompted by the success of a new generation of Spanish golfers of the time which included Seve Ballesteros. Europe has now included players from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden.
Since 1979, Europe has won the Cup eight times outright and retained it once by tying. The Americans have won seven times of this period. Recently, however, the Ryder Cup has been dominated by Europe. The United States has only won the Cup once since 1999. Next week 24 of the top 35 players in the world rankings will converge on Medinah Country Club in Chicago. In the history of the Ryder Cup this will its strongest field- ever.
There are 28 points up for grabs in the three day competition. Friday and Saturday will feature four matches morning and afternoon. The format will be foursome (alternate shot) and four ball (better ball). Then on Sunday, there will be twelve singles matches, which will determine the winner of the Ryder Cup. Since the Euros are the defending champions, they can retain the Cup with 14 points and a split.
The 2012 United States team will be led by Davis Love III who was selected two years ago to be the captain. Love has spent the past couple of years planning, picking out team uniforms, watching players and trying to mix up a recipe for American success. Love is all about trying to create an environment where his players “won’t be trying too hard to win.”
The U.S. squad will feature Tiger Woods (2), Jason Dufner (6), Bubba Watson (7), Webb Simpson (8), Steve Stricker (10), Dustin Johnson (12), Keegan Bradley (13), Matt Kuchar (14), Phil Mickelson (15), Zach Johnson (16), Brandt Snedeker (18) and Jim Furyk (28).
The European lineup, which is captained by Jose Maria Ozazabal, includes Rory McIlroy (1), Luke Donald (3), Lee Westwood (4), Justin Rose (9), Graeme McDowell (17), Sergio Garcia (19), Peter Hanson (23), Ian Poulter (24), Paul Lawrie (27), Francesco Molinari (31), Martin Kaymer (32) and Nicolas Colsaerts (35).
The Americans have the higher rated team, but don’t let the rankings deceive you. The combined Ryder Cup record of the U.S. team which includes four rookies is 41-59-16 (.410). The Euros are 60-32-18 (.652) and have only one newcomer- Colsaerts from Belgium. On top of this, expect Olazabal who with his 18-8-5 career Ryder Cup record and one of the fiercest international competitors ever, to impart a lot of wisdom on his team.
Traditionally, the host captain will work with the golf course superintendent to set up the golf course to best suit his team. Paul Azinger did this at Valhalla in 2008 by shaving roughs, offering easy pin placements and putting his team in position to make birdies. The strategy paid off. Love has done some of the same at Medinah.
The roughs are down. Stricker was appointed as “the designated putter” and rumors have it that he and Love made a recent trip to Medinah to work on hole locations. Besides giving his team a friendly golf course to play, Love will try to do the same with the team environment next week in Chicago.
Michael Jordan, who played basketball at North Carolina when Love was on the golf team, will be hanging around the U.S. squad to impart wisdom, humor and competitive strategy. Love picked his good buddy, Fred Couples as an assistant captain. Couples has directed the last two President’s Cup teams to victory. He is popular and respected by the players. Another assistant captain is Jeff Sluman, former PGA Champion and a Chicago native who is no stranger to Medinah.
Three United States’ Presidents will probably attend the Ryder Cup at some point next week, including Barack Obama and the two Bush’s.
The stage is set for the 39th version of the Ryder Cup, which has really robbed the attention of this week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. It’s hard to believe that all of this hype this was made possible with a penny packet of garden seeds.
“The Ryder Cup is the most pressure packed and dramatic competition in all of sports,” says Jon Miller, President of Programming for NBC Sports. “We have covered it all. Wimbledon, the World series, Super Bowls, the Stanley Cup, the Olympics and nothing compares with the pressure of the Ryder Cup.’
What else is there to say? I look forward to taking you on my Ryder Cup journey next week in Chicago. 

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