2004: Europe’s rookies ready to pounce

Hertfordshire, England

Sam Torrance uttered a memorable line after his European team beat the Americans in the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry: “Out of the shadows come heroes.”

Torrance was referring to Phillip Price and Paul McGinley. Price defeated Phil Mickelson in the Sunday singles, and McGinley holed a 9-foot putt on No. 18 for a half with Jim Furyk to seal the European victory. They are just the latest in a long line of European underdogs who have taken down a heavy favorite dressed in red, white and blue (see accompanying box).

European captain Bernhard Langer would be smart to revisit Torrance’s words at Oakland Hills this time around, for there are plenty of shadow-emerging candidates on his team.

Five players – Paul Casey, Luke Donald, David Howell, Thomas Levet and Ian Poulter – make their Ryder Cup debuts. If history is a guide, any of these players could find his name in large, bold type by the end of the match.

Casey and Donald aren’t exactly anonymous to U.S. Ryder Cup players or U.S. fans. Both were college standouts in the United States – Casey at Arizona State and Donald at Northwestern. But if U.S. team members aren’t careful, they might be shocked by the three Europeans who really are “unknowns.”

Levet is an effervescent Frenchman who has contended at two of the last three British Opens, including a playoff loss to Ernie Els at Muirfield in 2002. He cemented his place on the European team by winning the Barclays Scottish Open, his third European Tour victory, and finishing fifth at the British.

Levet’s stroke-play record is solid, and he also has been sound in match play. His only professional experience came in 2002, when he won 21/2 of a possible four points at the Seve Trophy, but he is no stranger to head-to-head golf.

“I love match play because I like to share my thoughts on the course,” said Levet, a veteran of match play at the French Amateur. “And you can’t do that in stroke play.”

Barry Lane, a 1993 Ryder Cup player, says Levet will be up to the task.

“I think people are going to be surprised at how well Thomas does,” Lane said. “He’ll be in his element because it’s been his dream to play in the Ryder Cup. He thrives on playing well on the big stage. The other area where he’s going to be a big factor is in the team room. Thomas is a joy to be around because he’s such an upbeat person.”

Levet would be a good bet to pair with Miguel Angel Jimenez at least once, because the two are colorful players who get along well. That was obvious when Levet helped Jimenez celebrate his BMW International victory in Munich two weeks ago, even though Levet had just finished second.

Howell and Poulter are the unknown quantities as far as American fans are concerned. They are the Price/McGinley equivalents of this European team.

Poulter, 28, has become known for his sartorial style. He’s the one who turned up at the British Open dressed in a pair of Union Jack plus fours. He also fancies red highlights in his hair. As you might have guessed, he loves being the center of attention. But he offers substance to go with his style. Poulter has five European Tour victories, including two last year. He earned 31/2 points in the Seve Trophy, including a pairs victory with Lee Westwood.

Poulter’s history with Westwood might lead Langer to reunite the pair, and Poulter also might see some action with good friend Darren Clarke.

Poulter knows how to perform under pressure. For example, it looked as if he had blown his Ryder Cup chances when he made a quadruple bogey on the 10th hole in the final round of the BMW. He then played the last eight holes in 6 under par to ensure a spot on the team.

“I just love his attitude,” McGinley said. “I love the color he brings to the game. I think it’s wonderful for the European Tour that he showed such desire to make the team. He’s a great addition to that team. He won’t be afraid of anybody.”

Howell is much more understated than Poulter, but just as effective. Through the BMW, Howell had the seventh-best stroke average on tour this year with an average of 70.49. He won three points at the Seve Trophy, and in 1995 earned the winning point in Great Britain and Ireland’s Walker Cup victory at Royal Porthcawl in Wales.

“I think if ‘Howler’ hadn’t made the top 10 he would have made a good (captain’s) pick,” said Andrew Coltart, a 1999 Ryder Cup player. “He’s almost guaranteed to shoot 69 every time he goes out, which under the pressures of the Ryder Cup, would be good enough to win every match.

“He’s an unknown quantity to the Americans, but not over here. I think he’s going to give them something of a shock because he can play.”

It is likely that Howell will be paired with Clarke, Westwood or McGinley because he is from the same management stable as those three and plays a lot of golf with them on the European Tour.

So take your pick of Howell, Poulter or Levet to emerge from the shadows this time around. Europeans tend to rise to the occasion when Sam Ryder’s trophy is on the line – especially those you may not know.

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