MEDINAH, Ill. – It used to be a Ryder Cup tradition like no other – foursomes to get things going on a cool Friday morning.
But in 1997, European captain Seve Ballesteros pulled a slick move over on Tom Kite, electing to open with four-balls so as to get a better feel for which of his players were in good rhythm.
Ever since, the opening session has been up to the home captain.
Davis Love has opted for foursomes and if you believe in omens, that’s a positive one for the red, white, and blue. Since 1997, the only Ryder Cups won by the Americans began with foursomes (1999, 2008).
Europe won in 2002, ‘04, ‘06, and ‘10 – each beginning with four-ball.
Still, overall, foursomes has been kinder to the Europeans. In the last eight Ryder Cups (1995-2010), the Europeans are 6-2, and they have a 10-2-3 advantage in the 15 sessions of foursomes, outscoring the Americans, 37-27 in that style of play.
Sergio Garcia has been the leading man, 8-0-1 in that format since his debut in 1997.
• • •
MINOR GLITCH: As slip-ups go, U.S. captain Davis Love introducing Jim Furyk from Sea Island, Ga., then correcting it to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., hardly gets medal consideration when compared to recent gaffes.
We’ll give bronze to Corey Pavin, who in 2010 forgot to mention one of his players, Stewart Cink.
Silver? That goes to Hal Sutton, who in 2004 thanked his wife for giving him “three children.” Only problem is, wife Ashley held up her fingers to indicate they had four.
And the gold? That remains in Nick Faldo’s possession, because his 2008 speech was laced with beauties. First, he introduced one of his players as Soren Stenson (of course, it was Soren Hansen and not Henrik Stenson). Then he suggested that Padraig Harrington had hit more practice balls than there are potatoes in Ireland. Finally, he opined that it didn’t matter if Graeme McDowell were from Northern Ireland or Ireland.
• • •
NUMBERS OF THE NEGATIVE FLAVOR: Some real minutia, we know, but hey, what do you expect from an event where there are more practice days (four) than competitive days (three):
Jim Furyk hasn’t been involved in a victory against any current member of Team Europe since defeating Sergio Garcia in singles in 1999.
That’s right, in his last five Ryder Cups, Furyk not managed to be in a winning match against anyone who is presently wearing Europea’s uniform. His victories since 2002 have come against Padraig Harrington (four times) Paul McGinley (twice), David Howell, Colin Montgomerie, Robert Karlsson, and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
None of them, however, are on members of this year’s European team.
Instead, Furyk is 0-4-2 in matches vs. Lee Westwood, 1-5-1 against Garcia, and 0-3 when up against Donald. He’s 0-1 vs. Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, and Ian Poulter. Put it all together and Furyk is 1-15-3 vs. present Europeans.
• • •
HOPEFULLY, HE’S PREPARED: Jason Dufner was asked the last time he’d played foursomes.
“Never,” he said.
Then he thought and asked for a mulligan because he played it in the Franklin Tepleton Shootout last December, alongside his partner, Sean O’Hair. Then Dufner had to think again, because that was a modified foursomes, where each player drove and they selected the ball they wanted to play and alternated from there.
Dufner and O’Hair shot a 6-under 66 en route to a share of 10th in the 13-team field.
Presumably by now, Dufner realizes the Ryder Cup foursomes is a tougher call.
• • •
SO, WHAT DOES IT MEAN? With the need to rest at least four players for each of the four sessions in a jam-packed two days, the challenge is often on the captains and their assistants to make the critical choices.
Thus, expect to hear this word a lot: form.
As in, trying to gauge who is or isn’t quite on his game, for whatever reason.
So, what does being in form mean?
“Having good control of your game, feeling like you’re knowing where the golf ball is going,” Jason Dufner said. “Feeling you can handle different shots around the green, getting putts to go on the line you’re looking at.”
To Luke Donald, it’s “just the way about your feel about control, whether you’re seeing putts go in. that sort of stuff.”
The thing is, players at this level are arguably never too far away from positive form, so it’s not like they’ll hit the panic button that quickly.
“Golf’s a funny game,” Dufner said. “Sometimes you play well, but don’t score well. Guys know when they’re playing good or not playing good. Scores, unfortunately, rule this game.”
And from Donald: “I’ve certainly gone to a Ryder Cup before not feeling very good about my game. and just the atmosphere and the occasion can bring a lot to you. You get inspired by the crowd, you get inspired by your teammates. That’s the nice thing about a team event; you’re not just on your own, you and your caddie, you’ve got other guys cheering you on.”
• • •
GIFTS WITH COLOR: His first Ryder Cup came as a fan, 1959 at Eldorado CC in Palm Desert, Calif.
The Americans, with Sam Snead acting as a playing captain, overwhelmed the lads from Great Britain & Ireland, 8 1/2 – 3 1/2.
His Ryder Cups since then have been many, as both an instructor and commentator for Sky TV. Things, however, haven’t gone well since he joined Sky TV, as the Americans have won only in 1999 and 2008. So, hoping to change things up a bit and put a little luck on the American sign, Harmon presented gifts to the 12 players and 12 caddies – red, white, and blue leather covers for the yardage books.
• • •
ADVANTAGE, USA: At least in the number of former captains, that is, because the Americans had nine, the Europeans just three during the opening ceremonies.
Bernard Gallacher, Bernhard Langer, and Sam Torrance were the Europeans on hand, outnumbered by the former American captains – Paul Azinger, Billy Casper, Ben Crenshaw, Dow Finsterwald, Corey Pavin, Dave Stockton, Hal Sutton, Lee Trevino, and Lanny Wadkins.