Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Next Ryder Cup captain should be ...

Now it should be Jay Haas's turn as Ryder Cup captain.

The next matches are two years and an ocean away -- in Wales -- but already there's speculation about who the next American Ryder Cup captain will be.

There's a natural wave of emotion to bring Paul Azinger back but he looked surprised when asked about the possibility Sunday evening.

If Azinger will do it again, great. But I'm guessing he'll turn it over to someone else. American captains have traditionally been one-term guys, plus Zinger will be 50 in two years and the Champions Tour awaits.

So the PGA of America should forget its unwritten rule that captains should be major championship winners, preferably PGA Championship winners, and give Haas an honor he deserves.

He's still in touch with the PGA Tour players, has a great touch with people and has earned it. When you've received the Bobby Jones Award from the USGA, the game's highest honor, you're worthy of a Ryder Cup captaincy.

Haas played in several Ryder Cups and he'll be one of Fred Couples' assistants at the Presidents Cup next fall in San Francisco, so he'll be perfectly suited.

Couples won't get it because of his Presidents Cup captaincy. Corey Pavin has been mentioned as the next Ryder Cup captain, with Davis Love in four years, when he'll be 49.

Jay Haas should be the next American captain.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Boo's influence more than words

The word is compatibate.

And the American Ryder Cup team can thank Boo Weekley for it.

Leave it to Boo to throw out a word that really isn’t a word to describe what made this Ryder Cup team different from the last three that, apparently, didn’t compatibate.

Boo couldn’t exactly define what compatibate means when asked Sunday night but it means something like 16 ½ - 11 1/2 , which was the final score at Valhalla Golf Club.

Maybe the Ryder Cup comes down to nothing more than which team plays the best. There is a strong correlation between holing putts and winning trophies, no matter which trophy is at stake.

But U.S. captain Paul Azinger had a plan that first popped into his mind a few years back when he was watching a documentary. If he ever captained the Ryder Cup team, Azinger decided he would use the concepts he learned from the documentary, which suggested breaking big groups into smaller groups.

With 12 players on his team, Azinger broke them into four-man groups for practice rounds, team matches and, I’m guessing here, seating assignments at dinner.

It was easy to pick out the groups.

The alpha group included Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan and Justin Leonard. Funny, how they were the first four guys to go out in Sunday’s singles.

The second group included southerners Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes Boo Weekley and Pennsylvania native Jim Furyk, who was an adopted southerner while in Louisville.
Those four, coincidentally, went out in the middle of the singles lineup.

The final group – Stewart Cink, Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell – the mild-mannered, quiet guys went at the end.

“I had to sell it to the players and they were, to a man, behind this,” Azinger said.
See what happens when you compatibate?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Europeans rally in morning, trim U.S. lead

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Despite the decision by captain Nick Faldo to rest stars Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, the European team closed the gap on the United States in Saturday's morning session at the Ryder Cup, cutting the American lead to 7-5 entering the afternoon four-ball play.

The Europeans got a huge boost from the team of Henrik Stenson and Oliver Wilson, who rallied from 4-down to upset Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim 2 & 1.

Europe also got help when Miguel Angel Jimenez and Graeme McDowell won the 18th hole to salvage a tie against Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan.

Ian Poulter and Justin Rose easily defeated Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell 4 & 3 while the American's only win came in a 3 & 1 decision by Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry over Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson.

“We're digging deep,” McDowell said. “We're over here to win the trophy.”

Faldo's strategy to sit Garcia and Westwood, saying he wanted fresh legs in the morning matches, could have backfired with the Europeans starting the day three points behind.

When Mickelson and Kim began misfiring, however, the momentum shifted. The Americans lost six of the last 11 holes in the match, often creating their own problems with wayward tee shots.

“For Stenson to turn that match around with Ollie Wilson, that is just fantastic,” Faldo said. “I said, ‘Just chip away, one at a time, one at time' and he really looked after Ollie Wilson. Just unbelievable.”

- Ron Green Jr.

Friday, September 19, 2008

MJ shows up as Ryder Cup spectator

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In his blue jeans, white T-shirt and white Ryder Cup cap, Michael Jordan spent Friday just the way he wanted – watching the Ryder Cup matches at Vahalla Golf Club.

Jordan, who has attended every Ryder Cup since the 1997 in Valderrama, Spain, intends to spend the weekend at Valhalla before returning to Charlotte in advance of the Charlotte Bobcats’ preseason training camp.

“It’s my favorite event (outside of basketball),” Jordan said while watching Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim play Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson Friday morning.

“I love the competition. There’s no money. It’s all about pride. Every shot makes somebody happy or sad.”

Jordan said he’s been in Louisville since Tuesday, playing golf with friends before the matches began Friday.

Next fall, when the top American professionals face the International team in the Presidents Cup matches in San Francisco, Jordan is expected to be an assistant on captain Fred Couples’ staff.

“I heard I have no choice,” Jordan said. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mickelson gets wish, is paired with Kim

When Anthony Kim qualified for the U.S. Ryder Cup team earlier this year, Phil Mickelson quickly called captain Paul Azinger and asked to be paired with the Wachovia Championship winner.

“I said, ‘Way to go out on a limb, Phil. You want Anthony Kim, really?” Azinger cracked after announcing the pairings Wednesday afternoon.

Mickelson got his wish, pairing with Kim to face the powerful European duo of Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson in the first match at 8:05 a.m. Friday.

If there was a surprise to the pairings, it was that Azinger elected not to pair Kentuckians Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes in the first match, as he hinted he might.

Instead, Perry will play with Jim Furyk in the final morning match against Europe’s top duo, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.

“It just made sense to me that it would be a really solid pairing,” Azinger said.

Azinger added that he will play all 12 players on Friday, meaning Boo Weekley, Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Holmes will play in the afternoon best-ball matches.

Faldo wouldn’t make the same commitment about playing all of his players on Friday.

“I’m not going to make any promises or assumptions or anything,” Faldo said.

The United States has not led after the morning session since 1991 and has not led at the end of a day since its famous winning comeback on Sunday in 1999.


- 8:05 a.m.: Phil Mickelson-Anthony Kim vs. Padraig Harrington-Robert Karlsson.

- 8:20: Justin Leonard-Hunter Mahan vs. Henrik Stenson-Paul Casey

- 8:35: Stewart Cink-Chad Campbell vs. Justin Rose-Ian Poulter

- 8:50: Kenny Perry-Jim Furyk vs. Lee Westwood-Sergio Garcia

Missing Tiger, hidden dagger?

So how much does it matter that Tiger Woods isn't part of the United States Ryder Cup team this year?

Think about that for a second. He's the best player in the world by far, he's an intimidating presence and he's a good teammate, even if he isn't the rah-rah type in the room.

Of course, it makes a difference that Tiger isn't here at Valhalla.

Are you kidding?

I know all about his 10-13-2 record in these matches. That's not great.

But, no offense to Chad Campbell or Ben Curtis, but wouldn't you rather send Tiger out than one of them?

Captain Paul Azinger has Tiger on speed dial this week but not in his lineup. I doubt Azinger will ring Tiger to chat about the events but you never know.

Without Tiger, the Americans have another motivational tool at their disposal, as if they didn't have enough already given the recent history of this event. Imagine the satisfaction of taking down the favored Europeans without Tiger.

It's tougher without Tiger. But not impossible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

State secrets revealed at Ryder Cup?

During the Wednesday Ryder Cup practice session at Valhalla Golf Club, a television camera zeroed in on a sheet of paper held by European captain Nick Faldo as he talked with his team.

The image showed Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood paired together as were Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson while the other names were listed in no particular order.

It, of course, set of a frenzy of speculation that Faldo's Friday morning pairings, at least the first two, had been discovered. Alert the CIA. Mobillize the Secret Service. Call captain Azinger.

Faldo tried to tap-dance around the issue during his daily press briefing, saying first it was a sandwich list ("who wants tuna, who wants beef, who wants ham") then later said they are pairings for Thursday's final practice session.

Part of the fun in the run-up to the matches is how the captains will pair their players and how the pairings will fall. Unlike the Presidents Cup, where captains are privy to each other's selections, the Ryder Cup pairings are treated like state secrets.

It would be a bigger shock of Faldo doesn't pair Garcia and Westwood together Friday morning than if he does. It's what almost everyone else would do.

Captains like to play coy and may do that with their teams in order to minimize the disappointment to the four players who must sit out during each session prior to singles.

Azinger has been elusive when asked specifics but has made it clear he wants to put Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes together and, if he does, he'll put them out first Friday to start the fun.

He may put Boo Weekley with Jim Furyk and Anthony Kim with Phil Mickelson.

The plan, Azinger said, is for all 12 Americans to play Friday. Faldo said he intends to play all of his players on the first day too. But, Faldo added, the matches start and things change.

That's part of the fun.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Five questions for Ryder Cup week

Five questions as Ryder Cup week begins:

1. Will the Americans finally win?

That's a definite maybe.

Considering there's no Tiger Woods -- even if he is 10-13-1 in the Ryder Cup -- maybe is better than no.

The edge going in belongs to the Europeans if for no other reason than they have Sergio on their side. He's playing great and he plays the Ryder Cup like he's possessed.

But I'm not as down on this American team as some may be. I like what Anthony Kim brings and Jim Furyk is always solid. If Phil MIckelson plays well and guys like Hunter Mahan and Kenny Perry are on, this might be the end of the streak.

2. How much do the captains matter?

Not as much as everyone believes.

Sure, they're high profile, particularly in this case with Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo the perfect foils for each other. And they get a ton of attention in the build-up because they're the ones waiting for their teams to come together.

Azinger and Faldo are both dominating personalities. It's been amusing to watch the mini-storm about the fact Faldo has just once assistant captain -- the wise Jose Maria Olazabal -- while Azinger has Olin Browne, Dave Stockton and Raymond Floyd.

Ultimately, both captains will make their own decisions.

And the winning captain, strangely enough, is the guy whose players tend to make the most putts during the week.

3. Aside from Sergio, do the Europeans have a secret weapon?

He's not a secret but beware Robert Karlsson. He won Sunday on the European Tour and has three top-10 finishes in major championships this year.

Karlsson has a great short game and a cool demeanor. Watch for him to be a big factor this weekend.

4. Who are some likely pairings?

Well, Faldo killed the automatic Lee Westwood-Darren Clarke pairing when he selected Ian Poulter instead of Clarke. It's possible Garcia and Westwood may go out together given their past success together in team play.

Padraig Harrington can play with anyone and Faldo may send him out early with a rookie, maybe Soren Hanson or Oliver Wilson, to help them get comfortable.

As for the Americans, Azinger may go with Kentucky boys J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry together one time, banking on some bluegrass magic. The fact is most spectators at the Ryder Cup are from around the country, not around Louisville, so that emotional edge may be minimal.

5. Who will be the American team leader?

That's a question Azinger is probably asking.

On paper, it should be Mickelson and he'll try, though it may not be a role that fits him well. Furyk is a tough guy and he'll be a steady presence as will the underrated Stewart Cink.
As for a fiery guy, Anthony Kim is just a rookie but he may feel right at home.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Golfing greats gather at Rock Barn

Walking into the banquet room inside the clubhouse at Rock Barn Wednesday morning was, as someone there said, like walking into a museum.

Outside, the pro-am for the Champions Tour event was being played with today's stars on a tour that's built around yesterday.

But in the banquet room, scattered around circular tables with bacon, eggs and coffee in front of them, were the so-called Great Grand Champions of the PGA Tour.

There was Billy Casper, the most underrated great player of all time. There was Miller Barber, Don January, Dow Finsterwald and Gene Littler.

There was Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford, who didn't win as many events as some players in the room but had everlasting impacts on the sport. There was Walter Morgan and Jim Ferree and others.

Bob Goalby told stories as he introduced each player to the amateurs who were playing in the nine-hole pro-am with the legends. He made jokes about Doug Sanders missing a short putt to lose the British Open and found other targets, all in good and gentle fun.

A few times each year, these old guys get together to play a little golf, tell some stories and bask in the glow of who they are and what they did.

Golf is bigger, flashier and different than it was when they were among the best in the world.

But like it does for all of us who play, it remains the tie that binds.

Monday, September 08, 2008

In any language, LPGA plan was a disaster

After getting blowtorched in the court of public opinion, the LPGA has wisely decided to rescind its plan to penalize players who are not coversant in English by 2009.

The question is whether the tour, which has traveled a rocky road under commissioner Carolyn Bivens, has done serious damage to itself or, as the marketers like to say, its brand.

It certainly didn't help itself.

In the days and weeks after the policy was revealed -- it had not officially gone into effect -- the tour was ripped by the media, some players and, more to the point, some sponsors and advocacy groups.

State Farm Insurance, a long-time supporter of the tour, urged adminstrators to reconsider the idea.

Shortly before Bivens announced the policy would be revised to eliminate the threat of suspensions, there were reports that the Asian Pacific American Legal Center planned to publicly demand the policy be rescinded.

It all swirled into a public relations disaster for a tour that can't afford one.

There is no question the tour has had a problem with so many of its Asian players -- there are approximately 45 Koreans on tour -- not speaking English. It has made pro-ams, where much of the money comes from, awkward, media room sessions difficult and trophy presentations strained.

However, the threat of suspension was too much.

It is not wrong for the tour to encourage its foreign players to learn to speak English and it has had a program in place to help them for three years.

But the heavy-handed policy was a mistake.

Intent on dealing with one problem, the LPGA created an even bigger one that may leave a stain.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Singh: Not bad for an old guy

Recently, NBC commentator Johnny Miller said Vijay Singh is playing the best golf any 40-something has played since Ben Hogan was hitting soft fades in his heyday.

He's probably right.

Singh has been on a remarkable roll, winning three of his last four starts, including the first two FedEx Cup playoff events to sap the drama out of the season-ending money grab.

In the process, Singh has reminded us of what an exceptional player he is, not just now but over the span of his career. He's not in the best of the best class -- that's Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and a few others -- but Singh is just outside it.

And imagine if he could putt.

Singh is, at times, a terrific putter. You don't win 34 PGA Tour events including three majors by slapping it around on the greens. It's no great revelation, however, to point to Singh's perpetual love-hate relationship with his putter as his most glaring deficiency.

His reputation has been built on his legendary practice regimen and his devotion to the gym, where he spends more time than some basketball coaches. Sheer work and will account for a sizeable portion of Singh's success but he also possesses rare talent.

It has been tough for the public to warm up to Singh over the years, in part because he's been so guarded with the media. There's obviously a funny, playful side to Singh -- there are too many stories and compliments to dispute it -- but it's been hard for the world to see.

I don't think Singh cares much about how popular he is, though he's earned enormous respect. In the process, Singh seems to have softened and why not?

At 45, he's still close to the prime of his career.

And he keeps reminding us of it every week.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Azinger throws a zinger into Ryder Cup choices

As U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger announced his four at-large choices for his Ryder Cup team Tuesday morning, everything was going fairly close to expectations.

Steve Stricker was a lock. He's too good to leave off and he's playing well, something in seriously short supply among the American side.

Hunter Mahan made sense. He made some silly remarks last month about how guys didn't want to play in the Ryder Cup and, discovering he sounded like a jerk, Mahan recanted and deserved the spot Azinger offered.

J.B. Holmes wasn't a surprise. Azinger has seemed infatuated by Holmes' enormous power off the tee and his familiarity with Valhalla, where the matches will be played in two weeks. It didn’t hurt that Holmes is a Kentucky native, though the fact remains that the vast majority of fans on site in Louisville will be from someplace outside Kentucky state lines. This isn't going to be like Rupp Arena, in other words.

The shocker came when Azinger named Chad Campbell as his final choice.

Chad Campbell?

What about Rocco Mediate? Or Scott Verplank? Or D.J. Trahan? Or any of a half-dozen other guys?

No, Azinger chose Chad Campbell, who finished tied for seventh Monday in the Deutsche Bank Championship, thereby earning a spot based on Azinger's pre-determined criteria -- whomever is playing well at the moment.

Azinger was, in effect, trapped by his determination to go with the hottest American players because there really aren't any.

He thought about rookie Kevin Streelman but that would have been an ultra long-shot pick.

He thought long and hard about Mediate, whose personality would have been worth at least half a point to the American side.

He thought about a bunch of guys and settled on Campbell, who seemed almost as surprised as everyone else that he was picked.

Campbell had a nice run in July when he finished tied for seventh at the John Deere and third at Milwaukee but those aren't high-profile events. He did have a tie for 14th at the World Golf Championship event at Firestone but, until his top-10 in Boston, he had a missed cut and a tie for 65th. Not exactly smokin.'

The truth is Azinger didn't have many easy choices.

Across the pond, European captain Nick Faldo was already getting beaten up for picking Ian Poulter over Darren Clarke, a move that has the tabloids in a frenzy.

By his own admission, Azinger is a control freak and likes to be a dominant personality. He restructured the team selection process to give himself more say-so in his roster in part because he wanted it that way and, in part, because nothing else has worked for the Americans since 1999.

He solicited advice from many people, crunched some numbers and, finally, made his own choices.

There is a tendency to give the captains too much credit for what goes right and what goes wrong in the Ryder Cup. They make the pairings, pick the outfits then sit back and watch.

Azinger will bring the fire to the American team. In Faldo's case, there is reason to wonder if the players can warm up to a coach who was so coldly dismissive of others for so many years. Is this the year when the Europeans' famous cameraderie finally fails them?

Questions, questions.

And it's still more than two weeks before we get any answers.