LOUISVILLE, Ky.(AP) U.S. captain Paul Azinger knows the Ryder Cup is as much about sportsmanship as it is about golf.
Sportsmanship, however, takes on a little different hue during the Cup. Azinger told fans at Valhalla it was OK to applaud when the Europeans make a mistake.
Azinger knows it doesn’t sound sporting, but he has played on enough U.S. Ryder Cup teams to know cheering against the opponent is common practice in Europe.
“Essentially, you know, when we go over there, they cheer when we miss,” Azinger said. “I don’t think that the American fans are really into what the Ryder Cup is all about in the fact that, you know, there is that other element.”
Azinger stressed it wasn’t a slam on European fans. In fact, he praised them.
“If we lose a hole or we miss a putt, they cheer,” Azinger said. “I don’t think the American fans get that part. Golf is, everybody oohs and aahs, but the European fans, they get it. The American fans, they don’t, and they are not used to that.”
They’re not used to having massive pep rallies either at the Ryder Cup, but thousands of fans packed the pep rally. Azinger planned on attending the event alone and even ordered his team to stay behind to rest up for the long Friday ahead.
When Azinger hopped on the bus with his “13th man” shirt on, he found the rest of the team waiting for him.
“He just looked at us and said, ‘Good to see my authority is being followed as the captain,”’ Hunter Mahan said.
A MESSAGE FROM TIGER: One of the more meaningful text messages that Paul Azinger received on the eve of the Ryder Cup came from the one player he wished he had on the team – Tiger Woods.
“He sent me one last night that said, ‘Kick their (behind),”’ Azinger said after the morning matches. “I told him the team was in a good place, practicing well and very prepared. And to call me if he had any input.”
There was no need for Woods to call. The United States had a 3-1 lead in the morning, the first time since 1991 that it won the opening session of matches.
PHIL’S PATIENCE: Phil Mickelson rarely shows much of a temper, but he couldn’t help himself Friday morning.
With his foursomes match all square, and Europe inside 4 feet for a birdie attempt, Mickelson was trying to hold his chip from just off the 10th green. He turned around and glared at photographers right after his ball made contact.
Someone had clicked his camera early, causing a distraction.
“C’mon, guys,” Mickelson complained. “Who did that?”
He didn’t let it go there. Mickelson panned the cluster of photographers, trying to figure out the culprit. Once he identified the photographer, Mickelson stared at him.
“I’m going to ask you to be removed,” Mickelson said. “That is so uncool.”
Police and marshals walked toward the photographer, who quickly ducked outside the ropes until they caught up to him. Later, he was seen cleaning out his locker.
LAST MAN SITTING: European Ryder Cup rookie Oliver Wilson, a surprise wild card selection by Faldo, was the only player on either team to sit out Friday’s matches.
Faldo introduced Wilson during the Opening Ceremonies by saying “maybe you’ve not heard of him, but you will soon.”
Apparently, “soon” won’t come until at least Saturday.
The 28-year-old Wilson has yet to win on the European tour, though he has been remarkably consistent this year, posting four runner-up finishes and seven Top 10s.
GET THIS MAN A CLUB: Michael Jordan is a veteran Ryder Cupper.
The retired NBA great and current managing partner of the Charlotte Bobcats was on hand Friday at Valhalla Golf Club, marking the sixth consecutive time Jordan has attended the matches. He stood on the porch of a corporate skybox behind the 14th tee Friday, a perfect vantage point to watch a U.S. surge that began on the back nine and gave the home side a 3-1 lead after the morning alternate-shot competition.
Just before the Kenny Perry hit his tee shot, Jordan showed that while he no longer plays, he’s still as competitive as ever. Despite a growing lead for the Americans, Jordan said, “There’s no such thing as a lead that’s too big. We’ve got to get them all.”
Then he looked over at the tee and like the fans on every side of him, yelled, ‘C’mon Kenny!” before putting an ever-present stogie back in his mouth.
Jordan wasn’t the only American luminary rooting on the home team. Former president George H.W. Bush stopped by during the afternoon foursomes round, wearing the same shirt as the U.S. team.
MONTY’S HERE, SORT OF: Longtime European Ryder Cup star Colin Montgomerie failed to make the team for the first time since 1989.
Still, Montgomerie’s presence was felt at Valhalla, sort of. A group of European fans toted a life-size cardboard cutout of Montgomerie around the grounds.
The cutout was done up to make the Scotsman proud. The figure was adorned in a red tartan plaid kilt and a blue waistcoat with silver button and a sash. A look also modeled by the men who brought the cutout.
The Europeans could have used Montgomerie and his 20-9-7 Cup record on Friday morning.
There were actual, live, former European Ryder Cuppers in the crowd. Frenchman Thomas Levet, a member of the 2004 team, walked along with Englishmen Ian Poulter and Justin Rose during the morning round, even helping a marshal replace a stake at one point.
BATTLE OF THE STANDS: Before the players ever made it to the first tee Friday, the battle within the gallery had already begun.
Waiting for the first foursome to finish up on the practice range, U.S. fans began a rousing “U.S.A.” chant. Euro fans, several wearing the Euro team’s blue flag with gold stars as a cape, responded with a sing-songy “Eurrrr-up, Eurrrr-up.” They followed it up with the ubiquitous “Ole” chant heard often at European soccer matches.
Undaunted, U.S. fans fired back with a chant of “soccer sucks” as the stands – the Euros included – laughed.