Friday, September 28, 2012
Rookies ready to step into Ryder Cup pressure cooker
By Steve Keating
MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - If experience counts at the Ryder Cup, the U.S. will be at a distinct disadvantage when play begins on Friday, sending out four rookies to face a European lineup that will include just one first-timer.
It could be considered wildly misleading to classify Brandt Snedeker, who on Sunday stared down golf's best to pocket a $10 million bonus as FedExCup champion, and major winners Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley as rookies.
But so unique is the Ryder Cup pressure that all three, along with Jason Dufner, are about to step into that the rookie tag has taken on more than token significance.
"The Ryder Cup to me is the last nine holes of a major when you've got a chance to win, except it starts Friday morning on the first tee, and it never lets up," said U.S. captain Davis Love III, summing up the pressure awaiting both teams.
"I honestly don't think you get any more nervous on Sunday trying to win your singles match than you are Friday morning hitting the first shot."
All 12 members of each side at Medinah Country Club have won tournaments around the world but nothing compares to the sheer thrill and heartbreak of the Ryder Cup.
Self-employed contractors, the Ryder Cup's team concept is a foreign one to golfers, who suddenly find themselves saddled with the weighty expectations that come with playing for team mates and country.
One third of the American squad will have never before experienced the type of paralyzing pressure that comes with playing in golf's biggest team event while big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts is also bracing for his Ryder Cup baptism.
"Since the first hour, when you put your suit on, you get into the plane, you realise how big of a deal it is," said Colsaerts.
"We have a lot of very experienced players in the team, so when you get to hear discussions between Sergio (Garcia), Luke (Donald), (Lee) Westwood, (Ian) Poulter, (Jose Maria) Olazabal, it's certainly discussions that you don't really get a chance to be involved in as a regular human being.
"In that way, I feel the intensity building up very quickly. You realise how much it really means to those guys and how much they are very hungry after it. You know you're playing for the flag and you know you're playing for the team."
Love has gone to great lengths to try and defuse some of the pressure that has been building in the U.S. locker room.
The U.S. captain has pounded into his players the need to have fun and so table tennis has become a favourite way to relieve tension this week.
But mostly Love will be counting on Ryder Cup veterans like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk to steer the newcomers in the right direction and keep them from being crushed under the immense expectations.
"Those guys bring a lot to the team room," said Snedeker. "Those guys lead in two completely different ways. "Tiger has got a quiet confidence about himself and will give you tidbits here and there.
"Phil is more of a cheerleader, pumping you up kind of guy, and Steve (Stricker) and Jim have been great, too.
"We've had a bunch of great veterans in there that have played on a ton of Ryder Cup teams and have a ton of experience and do a great job of trying to get us prepared for what we're going to have to deal with on Friday, Saturday and Sunday."
Mickelson, who has more Ryder Cup experience than any other member of the American squad playing in his ninth event, sees a huge upside to adding some new blood to the mix.
"We need that excitement, that energy that the rookies provide as much as they need a little bit of guidance as to what to expect for all of us to play our best golf," said Mickelson.
"I'm going to be playing a lot with Keegan Bradley, it's no secret here. It is fun playing with Keegan because this is his first event, first team event.
"He is so excited, and that exuberance and energy that he brings, you feed off of it."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)