In Louisville, it all happens at The Brown

Sunday September 21st, 2008

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Each day, when the golf is over, everybody goes back to The Brown, in downtown Louisville, which the lady bartenders, who are native girls, pronounce Lewaville.

\nOK: not everybody. Not you, not me, but a few hundred special people, anyway. All the players, Europeans and Americans. All the caddies, all the wives and girlfriends, all the officials. All the old hands. One night, there was Mr. and Mrs. Ben Crenshaw having a five-course dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Strange in the hotel's main dining room. The tanking stock market was not even a rumor. It was Ryder Cup, as Gentle Ben always calls it, no pronoun necessary. Ryder Cup is golf's holiest week and a reunion, too.

\n Boo Weekley and Lee Westwood could easily pass each other in the hotel lobby, dark and brassy. It's unusual for both teams to stay in the same hotel, but that's what's happening this year, and it adds to the flavor of the whole thing. Westwood, an Englishman, is working class through and through; no braces on his teeth in his scrappy childhood. There'd be every reason to think Westwood would like Boo's off-the-cuff-humor and his no-airs manner, but you can be sure he truly despises Weekley's raise-the-hands gesture after almost every holed putt. Also, Boo's spitting thing. Not cricket. There are no spittoons at The Brown. If Westwood and Weekley shared one of the small elevators, there wouldn't be more than a nod.

\n On Thursday night, some American caddies were at the hotel bar when cell phones started buzzing. They all filed out and were met at the lobby by the U.S. players for an impromptu meeting at what passes for Louisville's town square, a few blocks from The Brown. There was a pep rally for the masses with Paul Azinger presiding. He was backed, to his surprise, by his players and caddies. It was at that pep rally when Cap'n Collar (you may remember the old Peter Jacobsen imitation of 'Zinger) told the throng that it was OK to cheer missed European shots. Beers were raised and the Americans went back to the hotel.

\n All week, The Brown was crawling with police officers and rental cops shooing away autograph seekers and nodding discreetly to grand old men from Ryder Cups past: Curtis and Ben among other captains. Mr. Dave Stockton. Mr. Raymond Floyd. Mr. Tom Lehman. Mr. Tony Jacklin. Etc. Ryder Cup is golf's autumn reunion. The Masters is hello; the Ryder Cup is goodbye. Both have their purpose, and you wouldn't want it any other way.

\n To enter the European players' room you have to go by a stunning photograph: Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal in silhouette, arms outstretched as they wait to congratulate each other on something, the whole thing bathed in an orange light. The picture oozes passion. Inside the players room is every kind of Kentucky bourbon you could want, and most anything else, too.

\n About those teams. This is subjective, of course, but they aren't particularly likable this year, neither one of them. The Euros used to be the Boston Red Sox, when the Sox were losers. Now they are still the Boston Red Sox, semi-arrogant winners. The Americans are dangerously low on charisma. There's Phil — and what a Ryder Cup captain Mickelson will be in about 10 years, and there's . . . Well, the most important guy: Azinger. After getting his players off the first tee Friday morning, he said what he really wanted to do was go back to The Brown and get in a nap. Playing for pride will wear you out.

\n You need a good home away from home. Some Lewavillians of the old school prefer the Seelbach Hilton down the street, and come Derby time you can't get a room at either (but at least you can get in the lobby). But the Brown is special, and it's no wonder both teams wanted to camp out there. The caddies, with team rooms of their own, didn't get into the bag-lugging business ever expecting such finery, but there they were, sleeping on fine Egyptian cotton sheets, raising a finger for a Jack Daniel's or a Bud, retaining a sense of balance about the whole thing. During a practice round, Muhammad Ali, native son, came out for a photo op. It was a sad sight, in a way, with his listing head and big dark glasses. One of the bagmen put an arm around the great champ's shoulder and reported at The Brown that night, "He's still warm."

\n At The Brown at night, the players, the caddies, the wives, the girlfriends, the old hands, the officials — they could let their hair down, and every night they did. On Saturday night, there might even be some sleeping. But not much.

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