American long hitters meet long rough at Ryder Cup
NEWPORT, Wales – This might be the longest-hitting American team ever in the Ryder Cup. If they don’t hit it straight off the tee at Celtic Manor, it might not matter.
While the fairways are plenty wide, the rough is every bit as thick as it was in 2004 at Oakland Hills.
Dustin Johnson, as long as anyone at the Ryder Cup, only hit driver off the tee on the par 5s during his practice round Tuesday. As for the rough, he described it as so deep that anything more than a 6-iron away, he would not be able to get it on the green.
“You have to be pretty conservative off the tee,” Johnson said.
It doesn’t help that rain moved over the Twenty Ten course Tuesday afternoon, and heavy showers were expected Wednesday. The grass could get even thicker when the matches get under way on Friday.
“The rough is so thick out there, and they are worried about our captains driving carts in the rough so that they didn’t knock it down,” Jim Furyk said. “I joked in our meeting that maybe they are afraid of losing a couple carts in it because it’s about as thick and as long and difficult as we’ve ever seen in my career.
“So length is great, but if you can’t put it in play, it’s not so good.”
European captain Colin Montgomerie said he did not ask that the characteristics of Celtic Manor be changed to cater to his team. He wanted it set up so that the best team wins.
Even so, this is a European Tour course – Graeme McDowell won the Wales Open a few weeks before winning the U.S. Open – and it should favor the home team.
McDowell, however, recalled the rough being patchy without a summer of growth. He found Celtic Manor quite different now.
“It’s not patchy anymore,” McDowell said. “It’s just thick. You miss fairways, you’re going to be punished. The course has some length to it and the driving is a premium this week. You have to drive the ball in the fairway, preferably long. I know that works everywhere, but it certainly works this week, for sure.”
PRACTICE WELL SPENT: The wallets belonging to Englishmen Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher were considerably lighter after Tuesday’s practice round with teammates Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald.
“I’ve got nothing left,” Poulter said. “They cleaned Ross and myself out. Paddy had two eagles, which was quite interesting.”
However, just moments earlier, European captain Colin Montgomerie said in the interview room that wild-card selection Harrington had made three eagles.
“No,” said Poulter, noting that what would have been Harrington’s third actually “horse-shoed out from 40 feet.”
Not that it made much difference.
“They made an awful lot of eagles out there,” Poulter added, with a rueful smile. “Good for them.”
As he headed for the door, someone asked Poulter what the wagers were. He simply rolled his eyes.
“Too much,” he said. “I need to go to the cashpoint (ATM machine) right now.”
Phil Mickelson rarely plays golf anywhere without some cash on the line, and Tuesday was no different. On the eighth hole, Rickie Fowler stuffed a wedge to 4 feet, while Mickelson came up 25 feet short. Mickelson conceded the putt, then knocked his birdie putt into the back of the cup to match his birdie. “Nice push there, Rickie,” Lefty said with a grin.
While the sum wasn’t disclosed, Mickelson’s partner – Dustin Johnson – was relatively glum in saying the match against Fowler and Bubba Watson ended in a draw.
NO PODS: Paul Azinger rode his pod concept to a Ryder Cup win and a book to motivate businessmen. That doesn’t mean Corey Pavin will be copying his plan.
Pavin has remained largely mum about how he plans to lead his team to a second straight win. But team member Stewart Cink said Tuesday that, if there is a pod plan, the players don’t know about it.
“There has not been the kind of communication about it,” Cink said. “They may be doing that more in assistant captains and captains’ meetings, but there has not been quite as much black and white expressed to us.”
Azinger gave much of the credit for the 2008 U.S. win to a system used by the Navy to train SEALs in which they are paired in small groups and do everything together. He grouped players based on their personalities and they practiced, ate and played together the entire week.
“Last time, it worked really well because it was something that was unique and new and we were all sort of desperate for something to hang onto because we had lost all those Ryder Cups in a row and we just latched on it and went with it all the way,” Cink said.
That doesn’t mean Cink thinks it’s such a good idea for this year’s team.
“I think it would be a little risky for a captain to just copy that system exactly, just because, you know, that was Paul Azinger’s plan,” Cink said. “That wasn’t like the U.S. Ryder Cup team official agenda. That was Zinger’s deal, and he did that really well and the players really took hold of it well. To copy that system, I don’t know would be the right thing to do.”
PUTTING TIP: Steve Stricker, one of the best putters in golf, isn’t one to takes a lot of advice on the greens.
Except when it comes from Tiger Woods.
“Tiger looked at me today,” Stricker said. “We’ve talked about our strokes over the years and he gave me a good little pointer, and it’s something that my caddie and I mentioned last week, something in my setup that didn’t look quite right.”
Woods noticed that Stricker’s hands were too low before he takes the putter back. The heel of his putter usually is well off the ground, and Stricker said his caddie noticed that it was lower last week at East Lake. He just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the setup.
“It felt like my old self again today,” Stricker said.
DIVOTS: Lee Westwood is playing in his seventh Ryder Cup, although he is assured of something new this week – a partner. None of Westwood’s previous partners in fourballs and foursomes made this year’s team – Nick Faldo, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and Soren Hansen. … The Americans are trying to make fans in Wales. Assistant captain Jeff Sluman was handing out lapel pins of the American flag to the fans, as were some of the players. … Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods made their Ryder Cup debut in 1997. Woods has played on only one winning team, in 1999. Furyk has played on two winning teams because Woods missed 2008 recovering from knee surgery. “Finally won something more than Tiger Woods,” Furyk said.