Tag Archives: Ryder Cup

The Trouble With Being Monty

Ever since the rest of Europe was brought into the Ryder Cup fold, several of its players have served as lightning rods for American fans. Seve Ballesteros was the original, of course, but other Cup antagonists have included Nick Faldo, Sergio Garcia, Jesper Parnavik, Ian Poulter, and, now, apparently, Rory McIlroy. It’s curious to note that when playing on their own on the American PGA tour , most of these guys are (or were) at worst respected, and in many cases very well-liked. Sergio’s win at this year’s Byron Nelson Classic was quite popular, and McIlroy, when he is not puffing his chest in response to slights perceived or otherwise, is generally well received by US spectators.

There was one man, however, who brought out disdain from us Yanks regardless of circumstance. I’m speaking, of course, of one Colin Montgomerie.

Monty never won an event on US soil until he got to the Champions Tour, although he came agonizingly close in a couple of US Opens (both times bested by Ernie Els) as well as in the 1995 PGA, when Steve Elkington beat him in a playoff. But he was a beast in Europe, having won the Order of Merit a record 8 times, and was absolute kryptonite in the Ryder Cup, posting a 20-win, -9-loss, -7-tie record, and was never beaten in a singles match. He also captained the European team to a win in the 2010 cup at Celtic Manor in Wales.

But what was it about Monty that brought out the wrath of American golf followers? Some pointed to his doughy physique. Others mentioned his facial expression, which seemed to be in a permanent cross state of despair and disgust. He earned the moniker Mrs. Doubtfire as a result of this.

But primarily – Monty suffered from what we call “rabbit ears.”  It’s only a slight exaggeration to state that he could stand on the 16th tee at Firestone and hear a mosquito land on the green some 625 yards away.

I witnessed this phenomena at the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot, where Monty was in a group with Greg Norman and Tom Lehman. By the second hole, Monty had already berated the fairway marshal for “partisan behavior” – the poor guy applauded after Lehman hit a nice approach shot – and was bemoaning the lie he had in the rough, circling his ball while clomping his feet like a Budweiser Clydesdale. He finally was ready to address the shot when suddenly he glared skyward. A jet plane was flying overhead. Apparently, someone forgot to explain to Monty that there are 3 major airports in the New York city metropolitan area.

In any event, once Monty’s Achilles heel became evident, American fans were merciless. He was heckled so badly in his singles match against Payne Stewart at the 1999 Ryder Cup that Stewart conceded the point to Colin.

In advance of the 2002 US Open at Bethpage, Golf Digest mounted a “Be Nice to Monty” campaign, passing out some 25,000 buttons to a raucous New York crowd. Most of them found their way into trash bins.

My first visit to Scotland was in 2001, which happened to be the year that David Duval won the Open. While staying at a b&b in Dornoch, my host commented that he was quite taken by Duval’s acceptance speech, as it didn’t fit his perception of the champion. Now, in the proper setting,  Monty can be surprisingly charming as an interviewee. I tried to point this out to my host; however, he was having none of it. “Ah, he’s a spoiled brat, that Monty!” he replied. “He can piss off!”

Poor Monty – even in his own country, he gets crapped upon.

On Twitter, there’s a poster whose handle is Darth Monty, who assumes a comic Monty persona. Sample tweets

“Just 15 minutes until the greatest show on earth. The #RyderCup accompanied by my commentary. All credit to me.”

“Congratulations USA on your #RyderCup win, a great feeling. I should know –  I’ve won a shit load of them. All credit to you.”

By the way, Darth Monty has over 16 thousand followers.

Montgomerie has been enjoying a successful campaign on the Champions Tour, and for the most part, the spectators who attend those events have treated him kindly. Maybe both he and we have mellowed.

Or maybe it’s just a loss of hearing.

Post Cup Check

 

Some quick thoughts on the Ryder Cup . . .

 

How is it that at any other tournament held in the US, spectators will cheer Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, or Justin Rose, but behave like an audience at the Roman Coliseum when the same guy show up to play for Samuel Ryder’s trophy? Sadly, Danny Willet’s brother was proven correct. While Euro Ryder Cup audiences are loud and boisterous, there’s not the vulgarity or outright breaches of etiquette that was on display at Hazeltine.

Speaking of Danny, his post-Cup presser was quite succinct. When asked how to describe his initial Ryder Cup experience, Willet, who finished 0-3-0 and suffered insults from the crowd, responded, “Shit.” When asked to elaborate, he replied, “Really shit.”

Patrick Reed was the uncontested star of the US team. Phil Mickelson was likely the most relieved. And Brent Sneddeker was the most underrated. Every time the latter showed up on a TV screen, he was draining a crucial putt.

If I ever somehow get in a match with Lee Westwood, I’m making him put everything out. After stuffing his approach shot on 18 in Saturday’s contest vs JB Holmes and Ryan Moore, his jabbed attempt barely touched the lip of the hole. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it cost Europe the Cup, but it was a critical point lost.

Reed/McIlroy was a corker for sure, but Phil/Sergio was pretty damned compelling as well. Their halved match was a worthy outcome. Meanwhile, Lefty’s vertical leap after sinking his birdie putt on the final hole seemed to rival that of his 2004 Masters victory. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment.

Interestingly, the Euros did not comment about crowd behavior nearly as much as they did about the course set up. Justin Rose complained about the “lack of proper rough” and that Sunday’s pin positions were “way too accessible” – the implication being that this favored the longer-hitting American team. It’s probably a valid critique, but it’s all part of the home-team edge. When the Euros host, they are afforded the same luxury. And Rose and his teammates can only blame themselves for not taking advantage of the conditions.

As it turns out, Johnny Miller’s assessment of this year’s European time was accurate. With six rookies on this team, Euro captain Darren Clarke was left with precious few options as how to deploy them. Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera-Belo performed admirably – the former played all 5 matches and accumulated 4 points, while Rafa and Sergio will likely become the next version of the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately, Willet, Andy (the so-called “Smiling Assassin”) Sullivan, Mathew Fitzpatrick, and Chris Wood went a combined 1-8-1. One can question Clarke’s choice of Lee Westwood, but given the inexperience of the team, it’s understandable that he went that way; Westwood came into this year’s matches with a 16-11 record.

Apparently, Patrick Reed did not patent the “shush,” a move that he pulled out at the 2014 Ryder Cup in Gleneagles after birdying to win a hole. Pieters made the same gesture when he birdied to halve the first hole of his Saturday morning match with Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. Phil actually laughed when he saw what Pieters was up to.

Reed was interviewed by Dan Patrick this morning. When asked what was the coolest part of the post-Cup festivities, Reed mentioned the two teams and their captains getting together afterwards. The cup was passed around to each player; each of them used it as a microphone to talk about their experience (one would guess that Danny Willet was much more expansive in this setting). Reed claimed he didn’t have anything to drink, but having screamed himself hoarse during the previous three days (as well as not getting to bed until 4:30 AM), he could have fooled a lot of people.

What most fans don’t realize is that the post-Cup get-together between the two teams is a tradition, one that I hope never dies. Being able to celebrate and commiserate after three days of intense competition is one of the most admirable aspects of the Ryder Cup. I wish more golf fans understood that.

And finally . . .  Ricky, work on it.

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Magnificent Distractions – Two Ryder Cup Snafus

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There are three certainties in life. Death, taxes, and Phil Mickelson verbally lighting someone up at the Ryder Cup.

Let’s go back to 2014, when in the pre-competition presser, the lefthander, when asked how the team was getting along, answered, “Not only are we getting along together, but we also have avoided filing lawsuits against each other,” this pointed at Rory McIlroy and Gram McDowell, who were on opposite sides of litigation against the former’s former management company.

And after another colossal US failure, Lefty left so many tread marks on captain Tom Watson that the latter got endorsement offers from both Michelin and Greyhound.

So it should come as no huge surprise that at this year’s opening presser, Phil, as only he can, gave Watson some company under the bus in the person of 2004 captain Hal Sutton. While extolling the virtues of current skip Davis Love III and the newly formed Ryder Cup task force (an idea Mickelson championed), he brought up the ill-conceived partnership of himself and Tiger Woods. Among other things, Mickelson cited that Sutton had informed the pair that they would be playing together two days before the start of the matches. Woods prefers a high spin ball, Lefty a low spin ball; ergo, Phil claimed that rather than getting familiar with the course, he had to spend an inordinate amount of time on the range get familiar with the unfamiliar balls characteristics, which hurt his preparation.

(Sutton, reached later in the day, was not amused by this:

“Somebody has to be the fall guy. If it needs to be me, I can be that,” said Sutton. “The world saw what happened. They saw it. I didn’t have to cover it up. I find it amusing that that’s an issue at the 2016 Ryder Cup. I think Phil better get his mind on what he needs to have it on this week instead of something that happened 10 years ago. If I still need to shoulder the blame for Phil’s poor play then I’ll do that.”)

Mickelson has never shied away from speaking his mind. This has been noted by many of his Ryder Cup teammates, and in particular by captain Davis Love III.

In our recent Three Club Wind podcast, my partner Brian Robin spoke of the pressure put on the Ryder Cup captain, particularly on the US side, which has won exactly once in this millennium. One gets the sense that this year, Phil Mickelson is assuming the de facto role of captain. If so, the pressure falls squarely on his shoulders. He better deliver.

 

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Meanwhile, on the Euro side, a controversy was brewing in the person of one Pete Willet, the brother of Masters champion Danny Willet. Pete gained a good bit of notoriety during Danny’s Masters victory with his hilarious in-stream tweets. Based on that, he has become a columnist for something called the National Club Golfer, and wrote this less than complimentary piece about the US team and spectators. Among other things, he had this to say:

Team USA have only won five of the last 16 Ryder Cups. Four of those five victories have come on home soil. For the Americans to stand a chance of winning, they need their baying mob of imbeciles to caress their egos every step of the way. Like one of those brainless bastards from your childhood, the one that pulled down your shorts during the school’s Christmas assembly (f**k you, Paul Jennings), they only have the courage to keg you if they’re backed up by a giggling group of reprobates. Team Europe needs to shut those groupies up.

They need to silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and pissy beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey’ until their jelly faces turn red.

They need to stun the angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm, desperately gripping their concealed-carry compensators and belting out a mini-erection inducing ‘mashed potato,’ hoping to impress their cousin.

They need to smash the obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego man hair, medicated ex-wives, and resentful children. Squeezed into their cargo shorts and boating shoes, they’ll bellow ‘get in the hole’ whilst high-fiving all the other members of the Dentists’ Big Game Hunt Society.”

News of this piece spread like fire at Hazeltine; naturally, it reached Danny, who was forced to make a hasty apology for his brother. But I can already see the “great, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm” making life difficult for the Masters champ this weekend.

Oh, this is going to be fun.

The Ryder Cup Comes to Hazeltine

 

My old college buddy Z-Man is a member at Hazeltine National, a past US Open and PGA Championship site, and the host course for this year’s Ryder Cup. Z invited me to play there a few years ago. We originally planned on three rounds; at the conclusion of the second, I felt like I had gone 15 rounds on consecutive days with Mohammed Ali and Joe Frazier. We spent out what was to be our third round hanging out at Lord Fletcher’s on Lake Minnetonka eating pan-fried walleye, downing Bloody Mary’s, and watching young ladies of Scandinavian descent hop on and off various motorized nautical vehicles. It was one of the few times I did not regret making a planned tee time.

Hazeltine is one of the three most difficult tracks that I’ve played – Carnoustie and Bethpage Black being the other two. There’s nothing unfair about Hazeltine – but as noted course designer Tom Doak has said about Carnoustie, Hazeltine is depressingly efficient in drawing out the deficiencies in one’s game. Miss a fairway, play from 2 ½ inches of bluegrass rough. Get on the wrong side of a pin location, face a slick downhill putt that regularly stimps at 11 ½ for the members.

The course’s first foray into major championship golf was to host the 1970 US Open. To say that it played to less than stellar reviews would be roughly akin to acknowledge that Donald Trump may be prone to hyperbole. Tony Jacklin was the victor, the first British player to win since 1924; however, the most memorable comment came from runner-up Dave Hill who, when asked what the course lacked, replied “Eighty acres of corn and a few cows. They ruined a good farm when they built this course.”

After fending off bankruptcy, Hazeltine underwent significant renovation and was tapped to host the 1991 US Open, which produced a far more exciting tournament. The late Payne Stewart and Scott Simpson were tied after 72 holes; Stewart prevailed in the playoff to claim the second of his three major trophies.

The PGA Championship has been held there twice and produced two rather unlikely winners, with one Tiger Woods being the equally unlikely victim in both instances. In 2002, Rich Beem, who not long before this was selling mobile phones and the subject of Alan Shipnuck’s raucous “Bud, Sweat, and Tees: Rich Beem’s Walk on the Wild Side of the PGA Tour”, played the golf of his life and performed a victory snake dance on the final hole (Woods, for his part, was pulling off ridiculous shots like this).

The 2009 PGA was even more bizarre, as Woods had the lead into the final round, a position which, as we had been reminded countless times during his career, he had never surrendered in a major championship. But Woods uncharacteristically faltered, limping to a 3 over par 75 while the golfing world witnessed the spectacle of South Korea’s Y.E. Yang becoming the first Asian-born winner of a major championship. And a few months later, Tiger would have an entirely different set of issues to face.

The hole at Hazeltine that stands out the most to my recollection is the par-4 16th , which Johnny Miller has described as the “hardest I’ve ever played in my life”(as an FYI, it should be noted that the 16th is rated as the 9th handicap hole, but Miller is not far off in his assessment).  One must drive over Lake Hazeltine while making sure he doesn’t run through the fairway, lest his ball finds a bordering creek. There is seemingly about a 5 square yard area in the fairway that gives one a good peek at the green, which sits on a peninsula in the aforementioned lake. When I played it the first time, it took the Z-Man a good minute or so to convince me where to aim my tee shot, such was the incongruity of the landing area.

For the Ryder Cup, Hazeltine may not play as difficultly as I’m describing, as the host captain generally has the final say in regards to course setup. From what Z-Man tells me, it looks like US skipper Davis Love III, in an effort to help out the bombers on the American team, has requested that the normally fierce rough be cut shorter to lessen its punishing effect on any wayward drives. This bit of pseudo-chicanery is quite common in this series by both sides – for its part, when the Euros host the Cup, the greens are typically slower and the rough is higher.

This will be DL3’s second crack as the American captain – he was at the helm in 2012 at Medinah when, after taking a seemingly commanding 10-6 lead into the Sunday singles matches, the US team collapsed spectacularly, allowing the Euros to duplicate the US’s improbable 1999 comeback.  But apparently, the players prefer Love’s laid-back personality (as opposed to that of Tom Watson, who Phil Mickelson openly called out in the presser after the last US debacle at Gleneagles in 2014) and to be fair, it was a somewhat improbable comeback by the Europeans.

His counterpart, Darren Clarke, has already set his team (Love still has four picks to make) which will feature 6 Ryder Cup rookies. Past US nemesis Ian Poulter is sidelined by injury, and some eyebrows were raised by Clarkie’s selection of Thomas Pieters over Russell Knox. Luke Donald was also passed over; however, Clarke can still call on Ryder Cup veterans like Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy (although his performance with the putter lately has been abysmal), and the forever irrepressible (or, depending on which side one supports, annoying) Sergio Garcia to make life miserable for the home side.

Meanwhile, Love will have some interesting decisions to make with his remaining slots – he had hoped that Ricky Fowler would automatically qualify at the Barclays at Bethpage (Patrick Reed, who became something of an instant hero/villain at the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, did so with his victory there), but ol’ High Tops (who is now sporting a moustache that would embarrass a porn star) faded on Sunday, and is now part of a mix that includes Jim Furyk (making a decent run coming off a wrist injury), Matt (Mr Bronze) Kuchar, Bubba Watson, and J.B. Holmes, all of whom have Cup experience – albeit in a decidedly mixed fashion. Poor Furyk has experienced more frustration in the Ryder Cup than just about anyone, Kuchar has been decent, and who knows what to expect from Bubba, who has more mood swings than the Trump campaign. The wild card may be Holmes, whose only appearance in the Ryder Cup was a brilliant one in 2008, which, coincidentally, was the last year that the US came away with a victory.

In any event, Hazeltine’s history suggests that we should expect the unexpected, which, given the dearth of US wins in recent history, might indicate a victory for the red, white and blue. My prediction will come once the US team is finalized, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to convince me. Maybe Dave Hill needs to convince the powers that be to plant some corn.

All I know is that Z-Man will be there, no doubt knocking back a Grain Belt beer or two and moaning about the lack of rough on the course.

Real World Ramblings

 

So potential Olympic golf participants are dropping like flies – ok, maybe that’s an unfortunate simile given the Zika virus threat in Rio de Janeiro. But so far, 11 top ranked players have pulled out, many of whom have cited Zika as a compelling factor (Jason Day is the latest to announce).  To be fair, athletes in other sports have similar qualms, but in the case of golf, I think Adam Scott was maybe a bit more forthright in his reasoning; that being that it doesn’t fit his schedule. Scott took a beating from former Olympian Dawn Fraser and Jack Nicklaus (“a sad, sad day for golf”) for bypassing the Olympics, but truthfully, professional golf has no place there. The game has its own major championships and international competitions. In order to accommodate the Olympics, the golf tours had to compress their schedules so that there is now a two week gap between the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, with the Olympics following two weeks later. It’s a lot of travel with no tangible return for the golfer, other than a piece of gold, silver, or bronze.

The Olympics are a showcase for folks like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and the like – names to which the greater population pay attention every four years and then recede in the collective unconsciousness. While professional basketball and ice hockey have somewhat embraced the Olympics, they are team sports with recognizable names that glitz up the competition. The qualifying rules for Olympic golf pretty much guarantee a weak field, and the format (72 hole individual medal play) is not particularly compelling.

If golf is to remain in the Olympics, make it strictly for amateur players and design the competition to include some team aspect.

Although the thought of Miguel Angel Jimenez strolling through the Olympic Village with a cigar in one hand and a fine port in the other is intriguing.


The recent “Brexit” vote (and is it just me, or are these compacted references – “Bradjolina”! – just a bit too precious?) had USA golf fans wondering (or perhaps it was wishful thinking?) about UK golfers’ continued participation in the Ryder Cup on the European side. European Tour officials were very quick to respond that Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy et al  are still in the mix. Davis Love III and the US team will still have their work cut out for them at Hazeltine this September.


Given the horrendous devastation and human cost from the flooding in West Virginia, the PGA’s decision to cancel the Greenbrier Classic was essentially a no-brainer. The event will certainly be missed, as it’s become a Tour favorite ever since Jim Justice took over the historic resort in 2009. The Greenbrier has hosted over 20 Presidents, and its Old White course, a C.B. MacDonald/Seth Raynor favorite, is as fine an example of classic architecture that can be found in the United States.

Many years ago, four of piled into a rented Ford Pinto (complete with automatic transmission) and made a mid-semester break trip from Milwaukee to Charlottesville, VA. At that time, Interstate 64 ended in Charleston, WV, which meant that we had to take US 60, a meandering route cut through the Allegheny Mountains where we alternatively encountered breathtaking views, strip mines, and small towns that looked to have been abandoned.  We would get stuck behind 18-wheelers climbing mountains. The driver would stick out his arm to wave us past him; I’d pull into the left lane, floor the accelerator, and nothing would happen for what seemed to be an eternity until the transmission kicked in.

This all went on for almost three nerve-wracking hours when from out of nowhere, a verdant green valley appeared and a sign read, “Welcome to Greenbrier County.” We all collectively exhaled as we drove past the majestic resort. I had never seen such beautiful country – nor seen so many businesses that posted photos of Sam Snead, who was the resident pro at the Greenbrier for years. Restaurants, car dealerships, real estate offices – the Slammer was ever-present, including the place where we stopped to eat. A kindly older waitress took a look at us as we walked in– we all sported a ‘70’s post-hippie look – and sweetly noted, “Y’all aren’t from here, are you?”

I ache for the folks of West Virginia, and hope there is a road to recovery for those most impacted. And that folks can tee it up at Old White again in the not-too-distant future.