From behind closed doors, a PGA pro offers glimpses of a special U.S. team

January 14, 2010

When the amazing Ryder Cup was over, the Celtic blowout that turned into a nail-biter, the 12 men on the losing side all had the same thought: We’d go at them again tomorrow if we could.

You might not have picked up on that, watching the European one-point victory on TV. You might not have picked up on that, watching the post-game interviews or reading the various write-ups. But a PGA pro named Ted Bishop, from Franklin, Ind., will tell you otherwise. He got to see the team up close last week, a team that spent more than nine days together. He has never seen more unity in his life.

“This team had no cliques,” Bishop said. “The young guys and the veterans were together. Phil and Tiger were doubles partners in Ping-Pong, having a great time, taking on all challengers. According to some of the younger players, Phil was saying that he feels his career is winding down and he wanted them to know how much the Ryder Cup meant, pass it down to them, and that going forward he wanted to help them understand how to grow the game.

“And the assistant captains, they were unbelievable. Jeff Sluman, you could see how comfortable Tiger was with him, and most times you saw Tiger on the course, there was Slu. Tom Lehman had the same connection with Rickie Fowler. And Corey Pavin. You could not have had a more dedicated captain. He was on top of every single detail.”

Bishop is the secretary of the PGA of America, but he wasn’t talking in any official capacity. He was talking as someone who loves golf in general and Ryder Cup golf in particular. He wants others to have a chance to see the events at Celtic Manor in the way that he did.

For instance, on the Sunday night before the event, the team was waiting in a conference room at an Atlanta airport hotel for Jim Furyk to arrive after he won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup. When he did, everyone stood and gave him an ovation.

“Tiger was amazing,” Bishop said. “He knew that Jeff Overton had never met him, and Overton had been telling people that the thing he was most excited about was the chance to finally meet Tiger. Jeff’s sitting in a chair, talking to some people. Tiger gets in a chair right next to him, taps Jeff on the shoulder. Jeff turns around, sees who it is and yells, ‘It’s Tiger Woods!'”

On the overnight charter to Wales, Woods did soduko puzzles. Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson were jumping around like kids on a field trip. “Tiger rips out a couple of pages from his book, and like a parent calming down children, hands them the puzzles and says, ‘Here, why don’t you try to do these?’ And they did them and came back and said, ‘O.K., we can handle something harder now.’ Tiger was laughing.”

Bishop, director of golf at a 45-hole course called The Legends of Indiana Golf Club, is a keen observer of people and scenes. He talked about the official PGA party and the players getting a chance to meet Prince Charles, the prince of Wales. “We were told how to bow,” Bishop said, “from the neck down. He asked me about Medinah in 2012 and golf in Chicago.” Pretty cool.

In an e-mail, Bishop described the speaker Pavin brought in to talk to the players. He wrote, “Major Dan Rooney spoke to the team. Rooney has flown three F-16 tours of duty in Iraq, and he is a PGA professional. He is also the founder of the Patriot Golf Day, which has raised more than $5 million to offer scholarships to family members of service men and women who have been killed or wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“Rooney delivered a riveting message to the team on accountability, dealing with pressure and preparation. There were lots of tears in the room as he recounted many of his stories. When he finished, Phil Mickelson asked for more stories. The players were presented official bomber jackets with the Ryder Cup logo, and as one person put it, ‘It was like watching a bunch of high school kids receive their first letter jackets.’ Rooney was the only person to speak. No one else was needed.”

Bishop could probably write a book about his experience at Celtic Manor last week, but he won’t. He would never give away trade secrets. He just wants golf fans to understand what a remarkable thing Ryder Cup golf is, and what a truly special team represented the United States this year. And by that he means all the players, the wives and girlfriends, the caddies, their wives and girlfriends, and on and on it goes.

In another e-mail Bishop wrote, “My Monday assignment was to drive Tom Lehman in a cart. We worked the final four groups, which included Mickelson, Fowler, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan. As we drove to the range Lehman predicted, ‘If things go right it will come down to us.’

“Early on, the blue stripes dominated the leader board, which ditched the idea that the Americans needed to get off to a fast start. At one point during the first seven groups, the U.S. trailed in five matches. When all 12 groups hit the course, the Americans were behind in eight matches. As every golfer knows, things can turn in match play and gradually a tsunami of strength began to build for the U.S.

“How about Steve Stricker? All we ask him to do is go out and beat Lee Westwood. ‘He is the silent assassin,’ remarked Lehman after the Wisconsin deer hunter dumped his English foe.

“As we reached the 12th tee, Lehman showed his guile. He said, ‘We have got to turn two of these matches around. You take the cart and go with Slu. I am going to walk with Rickie.’ At the time, Fowler was four down with six to play, and I thought it was a strange move by our most experienced assistant captain since Mahan was only two down with seven holes to go. ‘Little did we know,’ as Chuck Thompson said when he called Bill Mazeroski’s famous grand slam in the 1960 World Series. Fowler was about to hit his own version of a Ryder Cup grand slam with those four closing birdies.”

It was one of the most remarkable strings of birdies in golf history. But the thing that made the biggest impression on Bishop was how the team rallied around Mahan when he lost the final match of the day.

And that’s when he realized that the 2010 U.S. Ryder Cup squad was not 12 successful professional golfers coming together for a week. No. It was a team for the ages.