Friday, October 5, 2012

2012 Ryder Cup- Closure

GolfWeek Magazine featured an article this week entitled “Oh, Ryder Cup, you fill us up.”
The crux of the article was about how the Ryder Cup made golf look cool. From the loud cheers on the first tee while Bubba Watson hit his opening shot with a hot pink driver to the names that dropped in on Medinah to witness the competition last week, golf shed its crusty image and opened the door to a new fan base.
Consider that Justin Timberlake, George Lopez, Bill Murray and Toby Keith joined great athletes like Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan at Medinah. Only at the Ryder Cup would appearances by two former U.S. Presidents get lost in the surroundings.
George H.W. #41 and George W. #43 dined with us in the team room on Saturday night. They both offered words of wisdom to the U.S. team. Republicans everywhere are hoping that the inspirational messages, which failed to vault the Americans to victory, aren’t a sign of things to come!
Former President Bill Clinton phoned Davis Love III from Italy. Jack Nicklaus showed up Sunday morning to do a preview for Sky Sports, the European version of ESPN. Former Ryder Cup Captains such as Corey Pavin, Dave Stockton, Hal Sutton, Lee Trevino, Tom Lehman, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Billy Casper and Dow Finsterwald hung around Medinah all week.
Trevino was on the course for all five sessions. On Friday morning he walked up to the 8th tee and crouched beside me while Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods were playing their match. He leaned over to me and whispered some words of advice.
“Why don’t you do something constructive and go over there and break Tiger’s driver,” grinned Trevino as Woods was missing fairways left and right. Trevino played on six Ryder Cup teams from (1969-81).
“When I played at Birkdale in ’69, I had to find my own way to the golf course, and I could barely get food,” said Trevino.
Last week Medinah drew more than 240,000 spectators. The Ryder Cup was watched in 600 million households and was expected to generate $130 million for Chicagoland. Players were not only well fed, but some like Rory McIlroy, even got police escorts to the golf course.
You could say that the Ryder Cup has been transformed since 1983. In advance of that Ryder Cup, rights-holder Roone Arledge, president of ABC sports, offered to pay the PGA of America $1 million not to broad cast the Ryder Cup.
The last two Ryder Cups have been decided by identical scores of 14 ½ to 13 ½ in favor of the Europeans. The Euros have now won 10 of the past 14 Cups including seven of the last nine. But, the U.S. could have been sitting on three straight Ryder Cup possessions if not for a quirky set of circumstances in 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales.
During session two, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk were paired together in the foursome competition (alternate shot) against Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Furyk hooked his tee shot outside the ropes into the mud and slop on the fourth hole. The U.S. team received relief from casual water. Fowler took the drop and hit the second shot just short of the green and it appeared the U.S. would halve the hole with pars.
As Furyk and Fowler walked to the green they stopped, had a brief conversation, and summoned the rules official. It seems that Fowler was carrying the ball that he had been teeing off with in his pocket. He inexplicably took the drop from casual water with the wrong ball and proceeded to hit the shot which resulted in loss of hole in match play.
To make a long story short, the American team wound up winning the 18th hole to gain a tie with Westwood and Kaymer resulting in ½ point. Had Fowler not incurred the penalty, the Americans could have won the match 1 up and earned a full point.  This would have produced a 14-14 tie and the U.S. would have retained the Cup at Celtic Manor because it was the defending champion.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon at Medinah, Tiger Woods stands on the 18th tee with a 1 up lead on Francesco Molinari. If Tiger halves the final hole, the U.S. earns another 14-14 tie and retains the Ryder Cup for the third time in a row. I have to believe that had these been the circumstances, Woods would have been in a different place mentally than he was when it was clear the Euros had won the Cup with Kaymer’s putt against Stricker in the match ahead.
The only solace from the Fowler incident was that during last week’s rules meeting with the U.S. team, Rules Chairman David Price emphasized the point of finishing each hole in the foursome matches with the same ball that started play on the hole.
I told this story during an interview I did on Tuesday night on the PGA Tour Radio Network. I received an email from a high profile former Ryder Cup Captain saying it was “a very poignant story……. But, it’s time to move ahead to 2014.”
That’s good advice, but it’s easier said than done. The Ryder Cup is like Christmas, except we only get it every two years.
Oh, Ryder Cup, you did fill me up.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ryder Cup Wrap

                       The Ryder Cup is the only major sporting event in the world where the losing team has to sit and watch the winners receive the trophy. Sunday night as darkness fell on Medinah Country Club, the American contingent marched to the massive stage and watched the Europeans reap the harvest of their Ryder Cup victory- the greatest comeback of all time.
You remember those times in life when the hands on the clock seemingly creep from minute to minute. Will this ever end? That was Sunday night in Chicago. Only at the Ryder Cup do you have to throw on a coat and tie and go congratulate the winners. Only in golf would something like that happen.
If the Closing Ceremonies weren’t enough, the PGA of America requires its players and officials to attend the post mortem press conference in the Media Center. As the two vans took us to our destination one of the players quipped, “Any chance we could just keep on driving through the gates and get out of here?”
Once inside, Davis Love III continued to exert his role as the keeper and protector of his twelve man squad. He fielded all of the obvious questions about why Phil and Keegan didn’t play Saturday afternoon; why Tiger and Stricker were at the end of the lineup; what he would do differently if he had the chance.
Jim Furyk took the most brutal question when asked what was tougher, the way he lost the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone WGC event earlier this season or dropping the final two holes in the Ryder Cup. Furyk’s answer was short and to the point.
“Obviously you have never played on a team,” he said as he glared at the reporter. “I let these eleven guys down today. What do you think?”
Following the media session, the players scattered to their rooms and eventually to the team room. We, as officials, had to attend a farewell dinner with the Ryder Cup Europe officials. The dinner did not get started until around 9 p.m. and didn’t end until Midnight. It wasn’t anything that any of us Americans were looking forward to. This is a tradition that has existed for many years.
Until 1995, the two teams actually attended the farewell dinner. Both captains decided that it was just too much to ask the losing team to sit through dinner watching toasts and celebrations from the winners. However, the Ryder Cup officials decided that the tradition would continue for everyone but the players, mainly on the insistence of the Europeans.  
Sunday night, Ryder Cup Europe could not have been more gracious. Honestly, they were still in as much shock by their victory as we were our loss. While the PGA of America solely owns the U.S. Ryder Cup, three different entities share ownership of the European side of it- the European Tour, the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland plus Ryder Cup Europe.
We were privileged to have two former European Ryder Cup members at this year’s farewell dinner. Peter Baker from England and Jean Van de Velde of France are both directors for Ryder Cup Europe. Van de Velde was a member of the 1999 European Ryder Cup team that fell to the Americans at Brookline, MA. That was the year when the U.S. trailed by the same 10-6 score after Saturday’s play and Captain Ben Crenshaw uttered the famous phrase, “I have a good feeling about this.”
The U.S. went on to rally just like the Europeans did on Sunday. Ironically, Van de Velde fell victim to Love III in the singles match at that historic Ryder Cup finale at The Country Club. The memories are still vivid for the Frenchman.
“This loss by the Americans will sting for a long time. They will wake up tomorrow and feel the pain,” said Van de Velde as we dined and wined together Sunday night. “It will take a while to get over this one. For me, there is some redemption tonight. It eases some of my pain from 1999.”
Van de Velde certainly knows the pain of defeat. He nearly achieved an upset victory at the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, when he was the clear leader playing the closing holes. He arrived at the 18th tee needing only a double bogey six to become the first Frenchman since 1907 to win the world’s oldest tournament. He had played error-free golf for much of the week and birdied the 18th hole in two prior rounds.
Despite a three-shot lead, Van de Velde chose to use driver off the tee and proceeded to drive the ball to the right of the burn and was lucky to find land. Rather than laying up and hitting the green with his the third, Van de Velde decided to go for the green with his second shot. His shot drifted right, ricocheted backwards off the railings of the grandstands by the side of the green, landed on top of a stone wall of the Barry Burn and then bounced fifty yards backwards into knee-deep rough.
On his third shot, Van de Velde’s club got tangled in the rough on his downswing, and his ball flew into the Barry Burn. He removed his shoes and socks and gingerly stepped through shin-deep water as he debated whether to try to hit his ball out of the Barry Burn, which guards the 18th green. Ultimately, he took a drop and proceeded to hit his fifth shot into the greenside bunker. Van de Velde blasted to within six-feet from the hole, and made the putt for a triple bogey seven.
This dropped him into a three way playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. Lawrie, a member of both the ’99 and ’12 Ryder Cup teams, would eventually triumph in the playoff.
On Sunday night, I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask the great Frenchman which hurt worse- the loss of the 1999 Ryder Cup or the debacle at the Open Championship. One thing was apparent though, Van de Velde was still smarting from that ’99 Ryder Cup defeat.
Call it the Miracle at Medinah, the Massacre at Medinah or the Medinah Meltdown. It really doesn’t matter. This one is going to hurt for a long time.