By Ann Liguori
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Golf fans are chomping at the bit, ready for the games to begin.
The 39th Ryder Cup, taking place at Medinah Country Club, outside Chicago, gets started on Friday.
Last we left you in Ryder Cup land, I was in soggy Wales at Celtic Manor, which was pushed to a Monday finish for the first time in the event’s history. Graeme McDowell emerged as the hero when he rolled in a twenty-footer to beat Hunter Mahan 3&1 to lift the European Team to a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 victory over the U.S.
The last time the Ryder Cup was contested on American soil, in 2008 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, I witnessed Team USA win 16 1/2 to 11 1/2 to end Europe’s streak of three straight victories.
In fact, Europe has won four of five Ryder Cups staged since 2002, with the U.S. winning five of eight Ryder Cups played on American soil since 1979. Dating back to 1995, Europe has won six of the past eight Ryder Cups. Over those eight competitions, the outcome has been decided by one point (14 1/2 to 13 1/2) four times, including Europe’s victory in 2010.
So which team will emerge victorious on Sunday? Let me first remind you of the format to help you draw your own conclusions.
The three-day biennial competition features two teams of 12 professionals, the U.S. team against the European team, playing 28 matches. The format is ‘match play,’ which consists of foursomes, two-member teams playing alternate shot; four-ball, which are two member teams in better ball; and singles, which consists of 18 holes at match play.
The order of play during the first two days of competition – foursomes or four-balls – is determined via mutual agreement of both team’s captains. The team captains have decided to start with the foursomes competition. Ironically, it’s the least-played format by golfers in the U.S. and of any Ryder Cup format. (In 2008, the last time the Ryder Cup was played in the U.S., Captain Paul Azinger decided to go with foursomes on Friday morning and the U.S grabbed a 3-1 lead on their way to the Americans’ only Ryder Cup victory this century).
The foursomes or alternate ball competition requires the first player to hit the tee shot, his partner hits the second shot and they continue to alternate. One player tees off on the odd-numbered holes and the other on the even-numbered holes. So who plays off of which tee becomes part of the strategy. And the players have to determine which brand of ball to use. Each win is worth one point and a tie is worth a half point. The U.S has to win 14 ½ points to take the Ryder Cup from the Europeans, since Europe currently holds the Cup.
The course is in great shape. The rough is short as per U.S. Captain Davis Love’s choice. Rees Jones made changes which in addition to adding new tee boxes on several holes (6, 7, 16), he rebuilt the 15th hole, adding a lake to the right of the green and adding forward tees that make the par-four hole drivable! Jones also added dramatic contours to the greens.
The atmosphere during the practice rounds has been buzzing. Golf fans here, so far, are loud but polite. The Americans seem very relaxed and Captain Davis Love III’s calming demeanor is a contributing factor. Pre-Ryder Cup emphasis for the Americans, off the course, has been centered around building team chemistry and camaraderie.
There has been a lot of talk about ping-pong matches and how Matt Kuchar rules in table tennis, taking a five to nothing lead against Phil Mickelson before Lefty quit. Camaraderie amongst the Americans seems at an all-time high.
The Americans come into this competition hotter than ever. But momentum leading into the Ryder Cup does not play as big of a role as which individuals and team can withstand the intense pressure that accompanies representing your country and not letting down your teammates and play best under this kind of pressure. The Ryder Cup is the Super bowl of golf. Being on home soil, there is immense pressure on the Americans to win. To take the Cup away from the Europeans, the Americans will have to win 14 1/2 points.
Who can withstand the pressure? The Europeans have the better track record but I feel the Americans, if they get off to a better start on Friday, will take back the Cup with the home soil advantage. Tiger has won at Medinah several times in the past. Phil Mickelson, the elder statesman, is playing in his ninth straight Ryder Cup, the most appearances by an American. Jim Furyk has played in eight straight.
Even though none of the eight players on the U.S. team with Ryder Cup experience has a winning record (as opposed to eight of the Europeans with winning Ryder Cup records), the Americans understand what’s at stake on home soil and can reverse their fortunes if they focus on one match at a time and not worry about their individual win-loss records.
Yes, there are four Ryder Cup rookies on the 2012 U.S. Team – Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker, but look how great they’ve played this season!
Let the games begin. And let the Americans play up to their abilities, despite the intense pressure, focus on one match at a time and win back the Cup!
Will the Americans take the Cup? Make your prediction in the comments below!