A look back at the 37th Ryder Cup

From top: Anthony Kim arrived, Boo Weekley became a fan (and captain's) favorite, and Hunter Mahan showed he could really play.
Bob Martin/SI (Kim), Robert Beck/SI (Weekley and Azinger), Fred Vuich/SI (Mahan)

The writers and editors from the SI Golf Group — Golf Magazine, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus and Golf.com — offer their final impressions of the 2008 Ryder Cup, and the memories that will stick with them for a long time to come.

Rowdy mob for the singles start

One of my favorite places in golf is the first tee on Ryder Cup Sunday. As the singles matches go off rat-a-tat, the electric atmosphere is as close to an SEC football game as golf will ever get. Valhalla was as fun as ever, with two huge bleachers packed with lunatics. There were painted faces, funny hats, homemade banners, and flags galore. Most of the fans were dressed in red and cheering for the Americans, of course, but a hearty band of Euro supporters made a lively show of it, providing an ever-changing soundtrack of football fight songs and the ever-present, impossible-not-to-love “Ole’, ole’, ole’, ole’,” which I ‘ve been humming to myself for days now.

The familiar “U-S-A!” chant was a weak rejoinder, but one inspired fan finally came up with an alternative, just as England’s Justin Rose arrived at the tee: “London Bridge is falling down, falling down …” I was chatting with Paul Azinger when this chant went up, and he leaned back and loosed a huge belly laugh. “They finally came up with a good one,” Zinger said, giving a thumbs-up to the grandstand. I’m already looking forward to what the sodden Welsh fans will have to offer in 2010.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer for Sports Illustrated

Forgetting, briefly, about the Great One
Golf observers often question whether Tiger Woods is bigger than the game, and so often it appears he is. Remember Torrey Pines? It was a mythical performance and, when Woods checked out for the rest of ’08 to mend his ailing knee, an agonizing reminder of the massive void he’d left behind. Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh and even Greg Norman tried to fill the hole, but ultimately Tiger’s absence remained the story. Then came the Ryder Cup, and for three glorious days the unthinkable: we forgot about Tiger Woods.

There was too much else to remember: Hunter Mahan, batting back a controversy and collecting three and a half points. Anthony Kim unloading on Sergio Garcia. Ian Poulter’s popping eyes and bulging neck veins. Miguel Angel Jimenez’s walking stick. Kenny Perry embracing his old man when it was all over. His old man’s overalls. Oh, and a U.S. win — that helped, too. It was magical: among the bellows of “BOO-S-A! BOO-S-A!” the imposing shadow of Tiger Woods faded into the Kentucky countryside. That’s what I’ll remember.
Alan Bastable, senior editor for GOLF Magazine

Continental drift
I arrived at Valhalla before sunrise Friday morning, and there on the practice green was Robert Karlsson, putting in semi-darkness, then applying sunscreen to his face and the back of his neck for the long day ahead. It was still chilly, sweater weather. Anthony Kim and Phil Mickelson finished having breakfast together and came down, and other players began to trickle onto the practice area. Soon Karlsson’s solitude was interrupted by his teammates and their American counterparts.

At the end of the week, Karlsson was joined by a much smaller group — Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose — in the team standings. They were the only Euros who really showed up. As different as Azinger’s U.S. team was, I’ll remember this Cup for the defanged Euros. The absence of Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie was impossible to ignore, especially with a cardboard, life-size Monty, brought by a fan, getting so much air time. Sergio Garcia sat out a session and failed to win a match. Padraig Harrington, the Celtic Tiger, lost to Chad Campbell.

Nick Faldo expected to pull all the right strings with just one assistant captain and his kid helping him. Yes, the Yanks played inspired golf, but the Euros were out of sorts. Maybe it was the boisterous crowd, the course setup, the perfect weather or Boo Weekley. Maybe they couldn’t overcome their weird roster, or Muhammad Ali put a hex on them, or all of the above. This was a far cry from the Europe we saw in 2004 and 2006.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer for GOLF Magazine

Attention Augusta: Go to school on Valhalla

The golf course helped make the event. Captain Paul Azinger, working with PGA of America officials and Valhalla’s course superintendent, Mark Wilson, had it just right. Fairways wide enough to encourage the players to hit driver. Rough that was penal but playable. Greens that were probably slightly slower than regular Tour speed, which meant the players could get putts to the hole. Just enough water on the greens to make them receptive. They weren’t U.S. Open conditions, and you wouldn’t want U.S. Open conditions in this event. They were ideal match-play conditions. I had never been a big fan of Valhalla — its scale is too huge — but this time I felt differently. I hope Billy Payne and Fred Ridley and the boys at Augusta were watching closely. They could get some tips on course setup from Azinger and Co. I’m not saying make it Mickey Mouse. I’m saying let them play and put on a show. All these things today are TV events anyhow, right?
Michael Bamberger, senior writer for Sports Illustrated

Keep an eye on Mahan

After three solid days of fist pumps, Boo-mania and U.S. redemption, the Ryder Cup has left me asking myself only one question: Why the hell hasn’t Hunter Mahan won more? Okay, he’s only 26 and he already has the ’07 Traveler’s Championship in his back pocket, but the dude is a total stud. He possesses one of the sweetest swings on Tour and a rock-solid putting stroke, and he can clearly deliver in the clutch, as he did repeatedly at Valhalla, not just with his monstrous birdie putt at 17 on Sunday. Sure, he dunked his drive on 18, but that was because he got too pumped after his Justin Leonard impersonation on the previous hole, not because the moment was too big for him. Sometimes adrenaline kills. For the week, though, Mahan led the U.S. in points won (3.5), regularly hit it tight and made a mile of putts. It’s tempting to rush in with predictions — his performance will propel him to a new level of confidence and he’ll start playing like that all the time. Maybe, maybe not. But I know I’ll be watching.
Jim Gorant, senior editor for Sports Illustrated

New Euro order; Boo balm; A turning point

Three things: First, I couldn’t believe my sleep-rimmed eyes when Nick Faldo sat Sergio Garcia on Saturday morning. Subsequently it was explained that El Nino was under the weather, but as I told Connell Barrett, who was live-blogging the action at the time, this would be like Joe Torre sitting Manny Ramirez against a righthander. A Ryder Cup session with no Sergio, no Monty, no Darren Clarke. Hmmm….The world really was turned upside down.

Second, Yay, Boo! Let’s look at the big picture here. I mean, the really big picture. On Friday afternoon, with our stock market operating like the Rolling Thunder roller coaster at Six Flags, we here in the U.S. were wrung out, finishing one of our nation’s shakiest weeks in seven years. And here comes Boo Weekley, raising the roof and sticking out his chest and a-flexin’ and a-struttin’ like Hulk Hogan or Jesse (the Body) Ventura, and all the while getting in Lee Westwood’s head. Were we suddenly Ugly Americans? Were we crossing the line of etiquette even for Ryder Cup competition? Frankly, who cared? Even the least jingoistic among us needed something to feel feisty about, to say nothing of some levity, and Boo supplied both.

Third, many on the U.S. team have already done great things in golf. (Four, for instance, have won majors.) Many will go on to do great things. But even if they never win another tournament, there is one thing they will always be able to say: They were there when the U.S. turned things around. Even Tiger Woods won’t be able to make that special statement.
Dick Friedman, senior editor for Sports Illustrated

The new young guns

For me, this Ryder Cup was all about the emergence of the next generation of American stars: Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes. The PGA Tour reminds me of the NBA 10 years ago, when Michael Jordan retired (the first time). Lots of hand-wringing as all but hard-core fans seemed to lose interest in the game. Stars like Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and even Kobe Bryant came up lacking in the inevitable Jordan comparisons. Sounds a lot like golf when fans compare Tiger to his younger rivals like Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald and the rest.

The NBA changed as the generation of players who grew up idolizing Michael Jordan entered the league, guys like Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. Because they grew up trying to “be like Mike,” these players came into the league with better all-round games and more appealing personalities, and now the once-foundering NBA is entering a golden age. Guys like Anthony Kim and J.B. Holmes are different from Garcia and Scott because they grew up idolizing Tiger, so they expect to win every event. The PGA Tour is about to get a lot more exciting.
Michael Walker Jr., senior editor for Golf Magazine

Witnessing the birth of a star

Ten years from now I will remember this Ryder Cup for Paul Azinger’s Midas touch, Boo Weekley galloping on his driver, J.B. Holmes vaporizing his tee shots, and Ian Poulter showing tremendous guts. But most of all, I’ll remember my three days in Kentucky as Anthony Kim’s coming out party.

After winning 1 1/2 points with Phil Mickelson on Friday and Saturday, Kim’s demolition of Sergio Garcia on Sunday was Tiger Woodsian. While Kim’s play was reminiscent of Woods, his style was nothing like what we’ve come to expect from the world’s best player. Woods plays behind an emotional wall that keeps everything (and everyone) at length, but Kim tried hard to draw us in.

A few examples. After walking out of a portable toilet Sunday, Kim went out of his way to high-five a fan on the way to the second tee box. He urged the crowd to make more noise as he walked toward each green. After he won his match against Garcia, he walked to the ropes and hugged fans. He even signed golf balls for his three police escorts. Can you imagine Tiger doing any of those things?

In 10 years, when a veteran Kim tees it up at the 2018 Ryder Cup, I’ll remember Valhalla as the place where he became a superstar.
David Dusek, deputy editor for GOLF.com

Gone but not forgotten … yet
The 37th Ryder Cup was perilously close to being another victory for Europe, a fact that will surely be lost to history.

The forgotten key shot? J.B. Holmes’s drive on the 16th hole during his singles match with Soren Hansen. Holmes pulled it way left. It landed behind the fans and bounced several times before gravity tugged it back to the right. It settled in the first cut of rough, almost back in the fairway. That tee shot could have struck a fan, hit a tree, kicked left. Holmes faced a dozen possibilities worse than a relatively easy shot into one of the toughest greens on the course. He wedged it close, made birdie and grabbed a decisive 1-up lead. He closed it out on 17.

If Holmes had bogeyed and eventually lost the match, the Ryder Cup would truly have been up for grabs. At that moment, Jim Furyk was solidly ahead of Miguel Angel Jimenez, but the Americans had only one other lead on the board: Chad Campbell two up against Padraig Harrington through nine holes in the last match of the day. The Ryder Cup could have come down to that final match, where the Euros had placed their ace, Harrington. Granted, he eventually lost the match, but he said afterward that his focus lapsed once he learned that the Americans had clinched the Cup. Faldo was criticized for back-loading his Sunday lineup, but he was one bad bounce away from looking like a genius.
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer for Sports Illustrated

Stoney lonesome
Nick Faldo was never going to be cuddly like Ian Woosnam, fiery like Seve Ballesteros or quiet and regal like Bernhard Langer. It was always a leap of faith to make this ruthless soloist a leader of men. Even from afar, something about Faldo’s look made me uncomfortable. He appeared stiff, tight even. And those sunglasses? He seemed more detached than he did turning Greg Norman into goo back in April of 1996.

Who knows, maybe Seve would have lost this cup, too. Maybe Paul Azinger, Boo and the rest of the boys weren’t losing this time no matter what. But Faldo didn’t look right in this role from the word go. It’s possible that Europe lost this Ryder Cup when Faldo chose to leave Monty and Darren Clarke at home, the stellar play of his captain’s pick, Ian Poulter, notwithstanding. The Europeans might have lost when Faldo benched Sergio Garcia. Or maybe they lost it the moment Faldo agreed to the job, the icy competitor with neither his own clubs to save him nor the magic touch to inspire his talented charges.
Damon Hack, senior writer for Sports Illustrated

Aiding the enemy

If the Kentucky fans were Paul Azinger’s 13th man, Nick Faldo was Team USA’s 14th. Faldo’s social awkwardness was on display from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony, where his final remark on Sunday night was: “See you all in Wales in 2010. Bring your waterproofs!” Delegates from the Welsh tourism bureau, who had been in Louisville all week, were furious. In between the ceremonies, he dropped his star players on Saturday morning and flunked his singles line-up, again leaving his stars stranded at the bottom of the order.

Faldo repeatedly got the better of Azinger throughout their playing careers, but Azinger got the last laugh this week. He looked confident and comfortable and inspired his team to bond like no other recent American side. Faldo mumbled, bumbled, bungled and alienated players on his team. Advantage Azinger.
Paul Mahoney, contributor to GOLF.com and Golf Magazine

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