Ryder Cup: This is our Olympics – I can hardly sleep, says USA captain Davis Love
Hosts look to be cracking under weight of home expectation, with foursomes in disarray
Thursday 27 September 2012
In the phoney war of words and bluff that rumbles on here until the action starts tomorrow, it was the United States captain, Davis Love III, who blinked first. His poker face imploded as he fought back tears when talking yesterday about how much it means to him to represent the US. Europe's Jose Maria Olazabal, by contrast, has been one cool cat.
Captain Love, as the US team leader is rather creepily referred to here, making him sound more like a Chicago blues crooner, is showing signs of wilting under the pressure. He looked tired even before his eyes began to well up. The stress is showing. "I haven't been getting to bed until 2.30 thinking about my team," he said. "Never mind thinking about theirs. I've had lots of thought about pairings but haven't put pencil to the paper yet." Pencil? How about pen? Time is running out.
The enormity of the occasion and the responsibility he feels for the Stars and Stripes is clearly weighing heavy on his laid-back shoulders. "It seems every two years, everything doubles," he said referring to how important the Ryder Cup is to America, not just golf. "There are sports fans who don't know much about golf apart from the Ryder Cup.
"We just went through the Olympics," Love added. "This is getting like the Olympics for our country." He sounded like the expectations of a superpower were dawning on him.
The players, too, are not protected from the white-hot spotlight. It's a wonder only Love, so far, has been in need of a tissue or a stiff drink. Every single player, all 24 of them, is frog-marched into press conferences one after the other, from Tuesday to Thursday. It's a gargantuan preview on a seemingly never-ending loop. A prolonged bout of foreplay on the outskirts of Chicago unlike any other sporting event on the calendar. No wonder, then, that in the normally starch-pressed sleepy environment of a golf club, once every two years, golf erupts in an orgasmic roar. This tantric release will explode at the ungodly hour of 7.20am tomorrow when the first matches finally get under way.
Love has made no attempt to camouflage his game plan. He couldn't anyway, the course is there for everyone to see. There is no rough. "It doesn't matter if you're charging the hill or waiting for other guys to come to you, what's important is to have a plan," he said. Attention Europe: the US is about to charge the hill. "We need to play aggressively, that's how we play. We need to shoot at the pins, gotta make birdies, get the crowd into it, show some emotion, have some fun and play confidently," he said.
So if Love wants his big-hitting birdie machines to fire up the home crowd shortly after breakfast, why start with the one-ball, alternate-shot foursomes? Why not send out the big-hitting Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson, give them a ball each, and tell them to tear a strip out of Medinah? He's chosen the conservative approach, against his aggressive game plan. Advantage Olazabal and Europe, perhaps. Unless Love is bluffing.
Heck, it's too late to grow rough and Bradley, the 2011 US PGA Championship winner, admitted he has barely even played foursomes. "I played the Shark Shootout with Brendan Steele," he said. An answer that will no doubt terrify the established double acts of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose, and Lee Westwood, who can team up with just about anyone. The smart money for tomorrow morning is on Paul Lawrie.
But what of the Americans? With four rookies on the team, and a losing habit, finding happy couples is more like speed dating. Only Woods and Steve Stricker are guaranteed to hold hands. For Captain Love, it's looking like he's hoping the other 10 get lucky and pull someone they like. Zach Johnson shed some light on to the fact that while the Europeans have partners who are going steady, the Americans are still tiptoeing around each other in the team room and in practice rounds. "I don't know if it's a personality meshing, I think it's a friendship meshing," Johnson said. "We're really trying to figure out who is going to play with who." Hadn't they better hurry up? Johnson ran through some potential dance partners. "I don't think that it was too shocking that you saw Tiger and Stricker playing together, and Keegan and Phil, and Bubba and Webb," Johnson said. "Are they going to play together [tomorrow]? I mean, I would assume," he said. "But I don't have any idea."
It appears Love hasn't made up his mind, yet, either. He's got one day left to avoid any Hapless Hal Sutton decisions. Remember Phil and Tiger in 2004? Played two, lost two. He seems to be relying heavily on the 13th man – the Chicago crowd. His players have picked up on that. Well, it is a home game, after all. "I know the European fans, even with 3,000 here can make a lot of noise," Jim Furyk said. "That's what they're good at. They have their soccer chants and songs. That's part of their culture. But I know that 37,000 Americans can drown out 3,000 Europeans if they want to. That's kind of what happened at Valhalla [when the US won in 2008]."
Love wants it loud but he doesn't want it descending into vitriol. "This is not a war, it's a golf match," he said. Someone should tell him Poulter's not listening. "We are all friends," he said. "But, boy, do you want to kill them in the Ryder Cup." He probably didn't mean it literally.
US beware: Jordan's up for a slam-drunk
America's golfers are far from being the most famous sportsmen on show at Medinah. The basketball legend Michael Jordan (above) will be with the United States team throughout the match, though he has no formal role. Back in his student days at the University of North Carolina, the US captain, Davis Love III, and basketball coach Buzz Peterson would bring Peterson's room-mate Jordan along whenever they played golf. He was an assistant to US captain Fred Couples in the 2009 Presidents Cup and Love is keen to use his positive influence in the team room. However, Tiger Woods recalled his first encounter with Jordan: "The first time I had ever been around him, he fed me some beverages," he said. "The next day was a little bit more difficult than I would like it to be." Now that's the kind of influence Europe could do with.
G-Mac's back in style
Graeme McDowell gave a sneak preview of Europe's shirt via Twitter, which has an artists' impression of the Chicago skyline on the back. After McDowell's exploits during the last Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, the home support would definitely like to see the back of him.
Bradley bags it up
The American debutant Keegan Bradley described how proud he had been during his first practice round because he spent his formative years watching his aunt Pat, winner of six majors, playing in the Solheim Cup. "I texted Pat a picture of my golf bag just to get her excited because I grew up watching her play and looking at her bags and being so amazed."
'I'm back from the dead'
Nicolas Colsaerts believes his period in the golfing wilderness could make him Europe's secret weapon. Three years ago the self-confessed "clown" was ranked 1,305th in the world, now he is a wild-card pick at the Ryder Cup. "This is quite an achievement," the 29-year-old said. "It's funny, because I thought about it, it's almost like I feel like I've come back from the dead, which is a bit of a weapon."
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