Tiger Woods once talked of Ryder Cup gamesmanship – not sportsmanship.
Whatever ship we’re talking, it’ll be Europe’s best against Uncle Sam’s and right now Europe, after a stunning come-from-behind win on US soil in 2012, holds bragging rights. All they have to do is tie the event to keep the title. The battle will be struck at the Gleneagles course in Perthshire, Scotland September 23 to 28. (For those that want to sow their winning oats, or drown their wanning sorrows, go check out the Glenturret, Scotland’s oldest whisky distillery nearby.) For you Scots, congratulations: home-grown Stephen Gallacher made the team as a wildcard pick. And Ian Poulter, who has won seven Ryder Cup matches in a row, along with Lee Westwood, round out the European side.
Right now the Europeans have the big guns in McIlroy, Kaymer, Garcia, and Rose. But the USA is captained by icon Tom Watson. Is his captaincy an edge over Europe’s? Paul McGinley is well aware of Watson’s playing record, but he’s got the horses - and he has his own memory of sinking the putt on the 18th of the 2002 Ryder Cup to clinch a European win…and it may not do wonders for American players to know that their 64- year-old boss can beat them on any given day. Right now, with the exception of thoroughbred Phil Mickelson, and Ricky Fowler who wowed in EVERY major T5, T2, T2, T3 this year, the USA side sorta resembles the Expendables.
Watson’s not leaving anything to chance. He’s taken the time, through talking and playing with candidates to get “inside their heads…” as he puts it. He says they’re motivated to the “nth degree.”
Watson’s picked Hunter Mahan, who won the 2014 Barclays; he is the only American “team-worthy” to win a tournament this year since the mashie niblick was put out to pasture – or at least since this past April when Matt Kuchar won. He also picked Keegan Bradley, and Webb Simpson. He wanted players whose swings wouldn't crumble under pressure. (Truth be known, Watson would like to scrap the “wild card picks” outright.)
Watson feels complacency helped capsize the USA team in 2012 when they squandered the huge lead. He knows that won’t be a factor this time. (But lingering shame on the American side might be either a killer or a catalyst.)
Watson, for what it’s worth, is the LAST captain to win the Ryder Cup while on the road.
Road or home, the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup uniforms, to paraphrase the UK Telegraph's wordsmith, Matthew Norman, are incredibly execrable.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “A man comes to measure his greatness by the regrets, envies and hatreds of his competitors.” If that is the case, no wonder the Ryder Cup has seen its share of contentiousness, like, no pun intended, the contentiousness on par with what American Paul Azinger and the Spanish magician Seve Ballesteros unleashed from as far back as 1989. Or the rough sailing as evidenced when Tiger and Phil played together in 2004.
Call it conduct unbecoming or misconduct becoming common…
Outside of Phil Mickelson, who will be playing in his tenth Ryder Cup, all eyes will beam in on the glory of Rory. McIlroy, if he could be cloned, what with his winning the Open, The World Series Championship of Golf, and the PGA, would singlehandedly preclude even holding this event. And, for good measure, Justin Rose won the Scottish Open and the Quicken Loans National 2014 just before Rory’s rampage – so that makes these two the hottest guys going.
In your excitement to get off the fence and scramble for either side make sure you don’t buy hot tickets and make doubly sure your tickets get you into the Ryder Cup itself; many ticket hospitality “packages” - worth 100s of pounds - do not.
Our aforementioned Paul Azinger may have been involved in his least Ryder Cup controversial – or sensational - act when he opined that Tiger Woods should not be on this year’s Ryder Cup. Tiger agreed. He told Tom Watson so. Of the seven appearances Tiger has made in the Ryder Cup, his side only won once.
Azinger was captain when the Americans last won in 2008. To the Americans, it must seem like decades ago. This team could also use “Zinger’s” incredible bunker play, as evidenced in the 2002 Ryder Cup when he holed his bunker shot on the 18th to keep the States in the game. He and his caddy slapped hands so hard the gallery fell down.
Ryder Cup manners, as alluded to, are rarer than a composed Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Every civilized person rues the riotous group hug on the 17th green at Brookline in 1999 after Justin Leonard sank a 50 footer - and regrets that Jose Maria Olazábal couldn't then sink his putt to shut Uncle Sam up.
While the pundits may disagree on who will win this year, here’s one thing they can all agree on: there is no more pressure-packed position to be in than having to play Sunday in individual head-to-head matches. You've only got your country, or continent, on your shoulders.
It’s going to crush some – and catapult others.