MEDINAH, Ill. — There are, apparently, spies lurking on the golf course, which is why the Americans have been so careful in practice this week to avoid putting toward anything that looks as if it might be a possible hole location in the Ryder Cup.
It seems a bit silly, but for the people involved in this biennial golf match between a country and a continent, this is serious stuff.
That double breaker the Europeans might not see could cost one of them a hole. Cutting the rough down could determine another match.
That could be the difference between Europe retaining the Ryder Cup, or the U.S. winning the little trophy that no one ever cared much about before the Euros started taking it away.
And that might be the difference between a golf world dominated by people whose ancestors invented the game or those who helped perfect it.
Should I go on? You want your next sleeve of Titleists stamped “Made in Europe?"
Never mind that the 12 Europeans are fairly sophisticated players who should be able to read a putt if it was in a canyon on Mars. For the most part they’ve all shown they can play under pressure, even if Michael Jordan is following them in his golf cart with a menacing look on his face.
But figuring out a way to win a team match in an individual game has perplexed team captains for years. There’s no logic to it, as evidenced by Tiger Woods being on only one winning team in his career.
When the U.S. did pull out a win at Valhalla four years ago, captain Paul Azinger wrote a book about it. Something about pods and personalities and how that gets the ball in the hole in less strokes than your opponent. It has yet to be made into a movie.
Davis Love III might not have a book in him, even if the U.S. captain manages to lead his charges to a win in this one. That’s a good thing, because there’s been so much analysis in the golf community — including 50 hours of Golf Channel alone this week — about what the two teams have to do to win that watching Justin Timberlake recite a golf poem set to music at the opening ceremony Thursday was as much a relief as it was a giggle.
“It’s my first Ryder Cup, you guys!" Timberlake exclaimed.
Still, some questions remain to be answered before play finally begins this morning. Among them are:
• Is it better to have the old Woods — who would barely acknowledge his opponent’s existence — or the new one who is BFF with Rory McIlroy? Woods is a mediocre 13-14-2 in the Ryder Cup, so his new cheerful attitude with his playing partners — the intimidator McIlroy in particular — can’t hurt.
• Will Medinah Country Club with no rough favor the U.S. as Love hopes? Or should he also have ordered all the ponds drained just in case an errant shot by one of the Americans went toward the water? Europeans, as we have found out in recent Ryder Cups, have special balls that are magnetically repelled from both rough and water during crucial matches.
• Will Europeans understand what a red-out is? The PGA of America is taking a page from collegiate arenas by asking fans to wear red on Sunday to support the home team. Might work, though comically enough the PGA also is asking fans at home to wear red, too.
• Will the U.S. have another equipment malfunction? It rained at the Ryder Cup in Wales two years ago on the opening day, and U.S. players were soaked in their leaky rain gear. They never seemed to recover, and Europe ended up regaining the cup.
It’s all been analyzed more than Jim Furyk’s swing, picked apart more than Tiger’s brain. If recent Ryder Cup history is any example, though, it’s not all that difficult to figure out.
The team that makes the most putts will win.