Faldo says Europe is tighter than ever

"Today was Day One," Faldo said. "Just get out there and play, get themselves acclimatized."
Fred Vuich/SI

LOUISVILLE, Ky.(AP) Nick Faldo gathered his European troops on the first tee Tuesday morning at Valhalla for a brief chat that turned into much more, giving the captain a sense of what to expect at the Ryder Cup.

The team is “really tight together,” Faldo said. “It’s great.”

As his team stood in a full circle, he wanted them to sense the nerves that typically accompany the opening tee shot, and to picture the shape of the shot they wanted to hit, a precursor to the opening of the matches on Friday.

Sergio Garcia chimed in. So did Lee Westwood. Then Padraig Harrington, the double major champion for Europe.

“Everybody shared a few little thoughts,” Faldo said. “It went a lot further than I expected. I’m delighted the guys took it more than two steps further. We really had a good little chat for five, 10 minutes, and that was really productive.”

But they didn’t break huddle and reach for their drivers. First up was the team photo, with Europe dressed in baby blue sweaters and smiling like a team that has won the last three times in the Ryder Cup, the previous two by record margins of 18 1/2-9 1/2.

Less revealing was how Faldo sent them out to Valhalla in the first official day of practice.

Instead of foursomes, typical for these practice sessions, Faldo sent them out in threesomes.

Westwood and Garcia were joined by Soren Hansen of Denmark, one of four rookies on the European side. Harrington played with Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson. Miguel Angel Jimenez, playing in his third Ryder Cup, went out with rookies Justin Rose and Oliver Wilson. Captain’s picks Paul Casey and Ian Poulter were joined by Robert Karlsson.

Westwood and Garcia are 4-1-1 as a team in previous matches. Casey and Karlsson played together twice at The K Club two years ago and halved both their matches.

Faldo has kept his ideas for pairings guarded this week, and he said nothing should be read into who played together Tuesday.

“Today was Day One,” he said. “Just get out there and play, get themselves acclimatized. And I’ve always personally found four – when you’re doing a lot of chipping or putting around the green – four is a crowd. There’s always balls going everywhere. The guys are happy with that. We decided collectively that, “Let’s go and have a look at the golf course, get the feel of things.”’

Faldo set a record by playing 11 times in the Ryder Cup, and he seems to be enjoying it equally as a captain.

“I love being big Mother Hen to his lot,” he said. “They’re a special bunch. Even the wives are joining in. As Europe has always proved, the team spirit is instantly there.”

There has been some curiosity how Faldo would fit in as captain.

He is arguably England’s greatest player with six major championships and massive contributions in the Ryder Cup. Even so, Faldo has always been viewed as an individualist, turning off some of his colleagues on his way to the top.

Faldo was asked if he was confident he could leave his ego behind during his week as captain.

“I am very confident I won’t damage the team,” he said. “The way the team is formulating with these guys, I’ve got a dozen characters in there. I’m the quiet one in the team room right now.”