LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Nick Faldo might want to keep his ideas close to his vest.
The European captain was in a cart in front of the 11th green Wednesday at the Ryder Cup when he called Henrik Stenson over for a chat and pulled out a small notepad. Little did Faldo know, a British photographer was perched on a hill by the 12th tee. With a zoom lens, he was able to capture the notes on the paper, which appeared to be pairings.
They were only initials, but it wasn’t hard to figure them out.
“SG” was next to “LW” – Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, who have gone 4-1-1 in two previous Ryder Cups; “JR” and “IP” would be Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, who are the best of friends with similar games. “RK” and “PH” would indicate Faldo was considering matching Robert Karlsson and three-time major champion Padraig Harrington.
Stenson’s initials were next to the initials of Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey.
That’s assuming those were pairings he had in mind for the start of the Ryder Cup on Friday.
“We pretty much have a very clear idea of what we’re going to do,” Faldo said at his press conference.
But he squirmed in his seat a few minutes later when someone pointed out that a photographer caught on camera a piece of paper with what appeared to be pairings.
“It just had the lunch list,” Faldo said. “It had sandwich requests for the guys, just making sure who wants tuna, who wants the beef, who wants the ham. That’s all it was.”
The microphone went dead when the reporter tried to follow up, letting him off the hook. But only for a short time. Another reporter pointed out that only 11 initials were on the paper (Miguel Angel Jimenez was left out).
“Put my name down, then,” Faldo said.
He later said he did not mention the order those teams might play, “so some are safe.” And Faldo pointed out that he could always change his mind. Whether he was referring to ham-on-rye or Poulter and Rose remains to be seen.
ALMA MATER: A dispute in 1999 over money the PGA of America makes off the Ryder Cup resulted in a plan that allows American players to direct $200,000 to charities of their choice, with $90,000 this year going to a golf education program at their alma maters.
To celebrate the donations, players posed with a shirt and football helmet from the school that received the money.
Phil Mickelson cradled a yellow helmet with a red Sun Devil from Arizona State. Anthony Kim (Oklahoma), Hunter Mahan (Oklahoma State) and Justin Leonard (Texas) represented the Big 12.
Some players donated to two colleges – Chad Campbell has roots in west Texas (Texas Tech) and played at UNLV.
And then there’s Boo Weekley.
“He picked three colleges, and only one of them has a football team,” Kent State alum Ben Curtis joked.
Weekley split the $90,000 among Alabama, West Florida (near his Panhandle home) and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga., the only place he actually attended.
He had to settle for a straw hat with ABAC across the front, holding a pennant from the two-year school.
IMPOSTOR CELEBRATION: Everyone remembers the putt, and the celebration that followed on the 17th green at Brookline when Justin Leonard knocked in a 45-footer for the only U.S. victory in the Ryder Cup the last six matches.
But take a closer look at video highlights, and you’ll see a large man in a bright red shirt.
He was the first one to give Leonard a high-five, and Leonard didn’t even know who it was at the time.
“He was way inside the ropes, practically on the green,” Leonard said. “I didn’t give it a second thought.”
A few years later when he was playing in a corporate outing in the Boston area, someone asked Leonard if he remembered running into a fan wearing a red shirt, and if he recalled the credential he was wearing.
“It said ‘clergy.’ But this guy was no priest,” Leonard said. “Apparently, he has forged his way into every sporting event known to man. He’s got pictures of him sitting next to Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) at All-Star games and NBA finals.”
That wasn’t the last Leonard saw of the impostor that day.
“Walking off the 18th green, somebody reached over and snaked my hat,” Leonard said. “I didn’t care. We were celebrating. But I turned around it was the same guy. He’s got my had. I’m sure he’s got a lot of stuff.”
MEET MR. WILSON: A decade ago, Europe always seemed to have a player that nobody knew until he came up with great shots and big points in the Ryder Cup – Peter Baker in 1993 and Philip Walton in 1995 come to mind.
Such surprises are rare these days because more Europeans are playing on the PGA Tour, and even if they don’t, all three World Golf Championships and three majors are held in the United States.
The exception might be Oliver Wilson.
If hardly anyone knows him, there’s a reason. The 28-year-old from England is the only player at Valhalla who has not won on any tour since turning pro. He earned the 10th and final spot on the team on the strength of four runner-up finishes.
“I’m well aware that not a lot of guys know my name,” Wilson said. “But I’m comfortable enough, and I think I’ve been around long enough, to feel I know what I need to do. I’ve seen guys hole the winning putts. I’ve seen the celebrations. I want to be there Sunday night, and I think that would be the most incredible feeling to go through that.
“That’s the holy grail, you know? To have something like that in your career to look back on would be amazing.”
EARLY START: The Europeans’ practice round on Tuesday took more than six hours as they studied Valhalla, and spent a good part of the time signing autographs to endear them to the majority of Americans in the gallery.
It took so long, that three players missed their obligatory interviews – Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Graeme McDowell. Instead of walking off the course at the appointed time, captain Nick Faldo said it was more important to stay on the course. The interviews were rescheduled – to 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Stenson was the first to yawn.
He was asked if he would have been up so early in a normal tournament.
“Sometimes you want to get an early practice round,” he said. “It all depends if you’re playing early or late on Thursday. But I don’t think I would have seen you at 5:30 in the morning. Any of you.”
It was worse for Casey, who only arrived on Monday from his home outside Phoenix.
“I’m on West Coast time right now, so it’s 4 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “Please excuse me if I yawn once or twice. It’s not your questions. I’m just tired.”