A Great Win at a High Cost
LOUISVILLE, Ky. It's starting to feel like every time we go to Valhalla, we're guaranteed great drama. Mark Brooks and Tiger Woods won PGA Championships here in playoffs, and the 37th Ryder Cup provided plenty of fireworks, too. For two reasons, this Cup was especially important.
First, America had to win or, at the very least, be competitive so that the Cup stayed relevant and important.
Second, we were primed to put the ugly episodes of Kiawah and Brookline behind us by conducting these matches in the spirit that Samuel Ryder originally envisioned. The first test was passed with flying colors, but the second was failed miserably.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk did not play their best golf in recent Ryder Cups, and the United States lost by record margins at Oakland Hills and The K Club. This time around, Europe's stars failed to perform. Because Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia were not on form, the Europeans simply couldn't match the United States players' overall level of play.
Harrington seemed out of sorts all week, and he didn't play with the fire and passion that we have seen from him in recent major championships. As for Westwood and Garcia, I don't know if their surprising benching in the Saturday foursomes matches killed their spirit, but they certainly didn't provide the spark the European side needed. For the American side, Anthony Kim took advantage of Garcia's inconsistent play and made a real statement with his singles win. His performance should provide Kim with a real boost in confidence that should serve him well in next year's majors.
Another Ryder Cup rookie who made a big impression at Valhalla, and who could be a force in upcoming majors, was Boo Weekley. Boo's play was tremendous, but his behavior on Friday during the four-ball matches was over the top.
I don't think that Boo intended to be disrespectful to either Westwood or Soren Hansen because the guy doesn't have a malicious bone in his body. He just failed to realize that pointing at the stands and firing up the crowd on the 12th hole before Westwood hit his potentially hole-tying putt was inappropriate. On Saturday and Sunday he continued to play to the crowd, but in a much more appropriate and endearing way. I'm sure he's learned from the experience, and I have to say, his attitude is a breath of fresh air.
Paul Azinger deserves credit for modifying the United States' point system, tweaking the order of play and overseeing the course setup, which gave his team a better chance to compete. I think the European team was unprepared for some of the tee placements on Friday especially, while the widened fairways and reduced rough made it possible for big-hitters to swing away and everyone to hit recovery shots. I hope the folks who set up PGA Tour events were watching.
That said, Azinger disappointed me on more than one occasion.
After Paul Casey, whom I coach, halved his match with Hunter Mahan on Sunday, the European captain Nick Faldo went out of his way to shake hands with both players, but Azinger neglected to shake Casey's. Azinger also made it clear that fans could, and should, cheer the European team's poor shots. That crosses the line of good sportsmanship.
Holding a pep rally downtown and asking the spectators to be the 13th Man and make the place as loud as Freedom Hall or Rupp Arena is one thing. Asking them to be disrespectful of your opponents is another.
Unfortunately, the fans who were less knowledgeable about golf etiquette took Azinger's request to heart, and many poor shots by the Euros were followed by loud cheers. There were even wake-up calls made to European team members in the wee hours of Sunday morning (a repeat of 1991 Kiawah Island). I'm sad to say that this was not America's best sportsmanship week.
Remember, the Ryder Cup is going to be played in Wales in 2010, and the European fans will remember what they saw and heard at Valhalla. If the spectators at Celtic Manor get a little unruly, just remember Azinger's plea for the 13th Man to make its presence felt in Louisville. I fear we are in for more nonsense, just when we were so close to getting it right.
My Parting Shot
If you don't have a fastball, you shouldn't pitch in the Major Leagues. On the first tee Sunday, European fans cheered Graeme McDowell with the chant, "You have your Big Mac, We have our G-Mac!" Don't get me wrong, I love my country, but all the American fans could come up with was a solemn rendition of God Bless America. Come on, a little imagination, please!