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Getting to know Team USAPosted Tuesday, September 28, 2010, at 9:14 PM
It is truly special to be with and around Team USA at the 38th Ryder Cup at Celtic Manner. Obviously, being part of the official PGA party has been a phenomenal experience, particularly being around and getting to know the best players that the United States has.
Last night everybody chilled out in the team room. After a full day of travel, it felt good to unpack, relax and just settle in. Everybody met for dinner 6:30 p.m. in the hotel for dinner, The TEAM USA and officials are on the 8th floor and the Europeans are on the 9th floor. Both floors are blocked with security. The teams' dining rooms and game rooms are on the 2nd floor and heavily guarded by security.
The US Team area consists of several large rooms. There is a dining area and next to that is a large room set aside as a game room. This area has ping pong tables, a pool table, fuse ball and video games. When I got to the team room, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were battling it out on the ping pong table. There is a lot made of the rivalry between Tiger and Phil, but I have seen no signs of any animosity at all. They were laughing and competing as you would expect. Mickelson has played in eight Ryder Cups- more than any member of Team USA- and he showed up with his own personal ping pong paddles. He had a selection of several paddles and I am not sure based on what criteria!
Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan were into the video games. Watson started out on the ping pong table, but lost his spot when he got beat by his wife!
Before dinner, all of the players received Rolex watches and other gifts. It was a special night, which concluded with a team meeting. You can appreciate the confidentiality of these team meetings. Obviously, there are issues that can't be discussed outside of the team walls. But, Corey Pavin has been stressing unity all week. The captain did talk about the likelihood of bad weather. He challenged Team USA to show no consternation when the weather gets bad and basically said, "Our challenge and goal should to beat the Euros at their own game in the conditions they think make them favorites."
Pavin's biggest attribute might be his ability to instill on our team how to feed off of the underdog role. I do think that puts the younger guys in a "nothing to lose, everything to gain" perspective.
Today, I walked a practice round with Woods, Mahan, Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson. The roughs here are pretty stout. They will get worse as the week goes on. The turf conditions at Celtic Manor are perfect. The greens are already soft and somewhat slow for Tour standards. The players seem to like the course, which has an American look to it.
"This reminds me of playing in Pennsylvania," said Stricker. "With the hills and trees, it kind of has that look."
I walked a couple of holes with Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks, from NBC. "The greens are surprisingly soft," said Miller. "There is a lot of grass on them. It doesn't look like they have been verticut for a long time. The ball gets a little wiggle when it loses speed. This is what Monte wants- greens that are slower than what the Americans like."
I was really impressed with how Tiger hit it today. He only hit two bad shots all day and they both came on the 14th tee. Woods blocked both shots right into a water hazard. Before he hit a third ball, he asked his caddy for a glove which he placed underneath his right arm. This is an old teaching aid to help from keeping the right elbow from flying away from the body. He laced the third tee shot about 50 yards past the entire group. To which Stricker quipped, "Do you suppose if I used that glove, I would hit it that far!"
That brought a smile to Tiger who will likely be Stricker's partner in foursome play.
A late day lunch was followed by a Rules Meeting with the players and caddies. Various nuances of match play were discussed. John Paramore from the Eurpean Tour conducted the meeting. Some lengthy discussion was given on the "advice rule" which is about players, captains and caddies offering assistance during competition. At one point, Paramore gave an example, "If Bubba hits an 8 iron and Tiger hits a 7 iron.....".
To which Woods interjected and said, "Whoa, wait a minute, John. You got that backwards. Bubba hit the 7 iron and I hit the 8 iron." The laughter woke up the snoozers in the room, including Fluff Cowan, the caddy of Jim Furyk.
Tonight we are supposed to have a good steak dinner in the team room. Unless they import beef from America, I don't know how that is possible!
Tomorrow is my one day of competition. The PGA of America Board plays the Euros. My partner will be Ulysses "Junior" Bridgeman who is an Independent Director for the PGA. Junior and I were partners in Louisville at the last Ryder Cup. He starred at East Chicago Washington H.S. (Indiana) and led his team to a state basketball championship in 1971. Bridgeman played basketball at Louisville and enjoyed a lengthy career in the NBA, primarily with the Milwaukee Bucks where he was also the NBA's player rep for many years.
One of our opponents will be Peter Baker from Great Britain, who is a former Ryder Cup team member and Vice Captain of the 2006 Euro Ryder Cup team. Baker actually beat Pavin in the singles matches in 1993! Junior and I plan on getting revenge for our Captain!
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