Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, it says here that your lives are about to change. Winning the PGA Championship, great feat that it is, isn’t necessarily a life-changer. Do you think the daily routines of Mark Brooks or Wayne Grady or Shaun Micheel were turned on their heads after their names were engraved on the Wanamaker Trophy? No, the game-changer is playing in the Ryder Cup. Ask Davis Love III (a PGA winner) or Boo Weekley (a Cup player in 2008) or John Feinstein (the author of A Good Walk Spoiled, which gives an insider account of the 1993 Ryder Cup matches). The consolation prize for your excellent adventures last week at Whistling Straits is an all-expenses-paid Ryder Cup-themed trip in seven weeks to Wales, where you will learn, in ways you never before knew, what it means to represent your country, to be on a team and how best to resist the urge to vomit while standing on a 1st tee. That’s how it’s always described on TV, at least since Feinstein’s book came out back in ’95. Enjoy!
Nothing in golf seems to create media mania like the Ryder Cup. Bubba already seems to understand what he’s getting into. Shortly after he had lost the PGA title to Martin Kaymer in a three-hole playoff, Watson said, “You’re playing for the U.S.A. That’s my Olympics. I’ve wanted to play the Ryder Cup my whole life. I’ve made many a putt when I was 10 years old to win the Ryder Cup.”
On all your better golf websites, there’s trenchant analysis of the eight players who have now officially made the U.S. team on points: Bubba and DJ, plus Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Jeff Overton and Matt Kuchar. Corey Pavin will announce his four captain’s picks on Sept. 7. The omission in that eightsome is almost shocking. Tiger Woods, still the No. 1 player in the world according to the rankings, did not qualify for the U.S. team on points. He needed a top five finish at the PGA to make it and instead shot a Sunday 73 to come in 28th. On his way out of Wisconsin, Woods told reporters, “Hopefully, Corey will pick me for the team.” That has to be one of the most endearing public comments Woods has ever made.
So Pavin has three weeks and three tournaments to make the biggest pre-Cup decision of his captaincy, maybe the biggest decision any captain has ever faced. Everyone has advice for him. Paul Azinger, the winning captain two years ago, told a Chicago radio station that Pavin can’t pick Tiger, not the way Woods is playing. Colin Montgomerie, captain of the European team, has the opposite view. Asked if he would pick Woods, Monty said at a press conference last week, “Oh, that’s a very difficult, dangerous and undiplomatic question. But of course I’d pick him, yes.” Reporters laughed.
That was in the interview room at Whistling Straits on Wednesday, in front of maybe 100 reporters and PGA officials gathered for the captains’ joint press conference. It was not a great Wednesday for golf.
The previous day Jim Gray had reported on Golf Channel that Pavin told him that he was going to select Woods for the team no matter what. Wednesday was denial day for Pavin. During a practice round Pavin sent out his first rebuttal — via Twitter. Pavin wrote, “Jim Gray has misquoted me re: picking Tiger. I never said such a thing and will not say a thing until 09/07.” Later that day at the press conference, Pavin said Gray’s report was “incorrect.”
By tradition the Ryder Cup captains’ press conference is a feel-good session meant to generate Ryder Cup interest. It did that last week, though maybe not the way the PGA of America, which oversees U.S. involvement in the Ryder Cup, intended.
At the end of the press conference Pavin left the elevated platform and Gray sought him out. The two exchanged inflammatory words and each was in the other’s face. Lisa Pavin, the captain’s wife, pressed in, holding a cellphone above her and saying that she was recording the argument.
Later, Corey Pavin told reporters that Gray had called him “a liar.” Pavin also said that Gray had said to him, “You’re going down!”
In Thursday’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal the Quote of the Day was Jim Gray of Golf Channel telling the Ryder Cup captain, “You’re going down!” So much for the feel-good press conference.
Last Saturday, in an interview with SI, Pavin said, “It was a very strange deal. I don’t understand what he meant by [’you’re going down’] at all. I’m baffled.”
Gray said in a statement, “I never threatened or said those words to Corey Pavin.” You might as well blame this one on the Tiger scandal too. If only he had played better golf this year, all this could have been avoided. Through a PGA official, SI asked to hear Lisa Pavin’s recording of the argument. The Pavins did not respond to the request. The whole thing makes you wonder if golf is ready for the modern media age, in which everything is parsed to death and sentences such as “Pavin said that Gray said” get turned into “Gray said.”
Well, at least Tiger’s sexcapades seem to be old news for now. If you really want a glimpse into a golfer’s sex life, Monty’s your man of the hour. Google Colin Montgomerie and Daily Mirror, the noted British scandal sheet, and you may glean what you like about Monty’s alleged affair with a former girlfriend-neighbor, Joanne Baldwin, while married to his current wife, Gaynor Knowles, widow of a furniture mogul.
That’s probably necessary background to understand what Montgomerie was referring to when he said at the Wednesday press conference, “I know a lot of you are having a lot of fun right now at my expense. I apologize for this, that you have to bring this up, but at the same time I have no further comments on that matter. I’m here to talk about the Ryder Cup. So please, no further questions on anything regarding my private life.”
Meanwhile, at the CBS compound, Jim Nantz and Gary McCord and other CBSers were glued to the Pavin-Monty proceedings on TV and gleefully needled their colleague, David Feherty, for precipitating the line of questioning of Montgomerie. (The day before, Feherty had gone on the Dan Patrick Show and discussed some of the fine points of a British court injunction that prevents Paula Tagg, a former girlfriend, from talking publicly about her affair with Monty.) The media echo chamber in golf has never been so loud.
Last week at Whistling Straits, Thomas Levet, the former European tour player, was working as an interviewer for European TV and trying to figure out what Montgomerie, his former Ryder Cup teammate, would do with his own three captain’s picks. (Qualifying for the nine automatic spots on the European side ends on Aug. 29.) If Monty takes one of the Molinari brothers, he should take both so that they might play as a team, Levet said. Padraig Harrington and Justin Rose and Paul Casey would all seem likely choices, he said, but what about Luke Donald and Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bernhard Langer? Levet has known for a while that Sergio Garcia is not in the mix. “We’ve known since Augusta that Sergio’s heart is not in it right now, that he needs a break from the game,” Levet said. Levet knew, and he didn’t tweet it, blog it, broadcast it or text it. He simply sat on the news and watched the season unfold. Obviously, Levet did not get the e-memo.
In any event, come the first three days of October, live from Celtic Manor in Wales, you can get a break from all manner of hysteria. You can turn off your cellphone, power down your desktop and your laptop and your iPad. You can even hit the mute button on Johnny Miller and for three days simply watch some of the purest golf there is, when the best tour pros in the world play match play for nothing but individual, team and national pride. You can watch the shots and try to figure out for yourself what’s going on. It’s not very complicated. If you decide you need some professional insight into the proceedings, help is all around. Just turn something back on.