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updated: 8/7/2012 5:21 AM

Ryder Cup buzz at Medinah ramping up

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  • The historic clubhouse at the Medinah Country Club will be the focal point for the 2012 Ryder Cup in late September.

      The historic clubhouse at the Medinah Country Club will be the focal point for the 2012 Ryder Cup in late September.
    Photo by Evan Schiller

  • Don Larson

      Don Larson

 
 

Standing on a wooden platform that 48 days from now will be transformed into a hospitality tent overlooking Medinah's 15th green, the heart rate elevates.

It is difficult to look back toward the tee on the suddenly drivable par-4 -- redesigned with a threatening lake -- without pondering the risk-reward, knowing full well that decisions made right here during Sunday singles may very well decide the 2012 Ryder Cup.

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Talk about restoring the roar.

Teams are still to be determined and captain's picks debated, but there's no question that Medinah will be loud and partisan and decorated with red, white and blue the final week of September.

It is the Super Bowl of golf, it is played only every other year, and it is right here in our own backyard, on Medinah's Course No. 3 that has hosted three U.S. Opens (1949, '75, and '90), three Western Opens ('46, '62, and '66) and two PGA Championships ('99, '06), both captured by Tiger Woods.

"We had the PGA in '06 and that's a big deal. That's a major championship," said Ryder Cup Chairman Don Larson. "This is the PGA times three."

As you drive in Medinah's front gate, you immediately notice twice as many hospitality tents lining the 18th fairway as would be in place for a major championship, and the flurry of activity and omnipresent construction suggests something extraordinary is about to happen.

That feeling is palpable as you stand on the front steps of the majestic Medinah clubhouse.

"You're talking about 40,000-plus here every day and hundreds of millions watching worldwide. NBC says only the Olympics and World Cup draw more viewers," Larson said as his eyes surveyed the practice green only steps from the first tee box and 18th green. "Until you've been to one, you can't understand how big it is. The magnitude is overwhelming."

No one is sensing the breadth more than Medinah superintendent Curtis Tyrrell, who has fought a valiant battle to keep from losing the course during the drought, and he seems to have won the match as better weather conditions approach.

"I feel really good about where we are considering what we've been through," Tyrrell said. "We just throw the pitches we know how to throw."

Driving around the course with Larson, you see that Tyrrell has thrown mostly strikes, with fairways and greens immaculate and even the rough holding its own.

"I won't pretend that the course hasn't been stressed," Larson said. "But we've made it and now all we need is some cool evenings and some rain and we'll be good because September is our prime of the grass-growing season."

A trip about the course forces one to consider Sunday pin placements on the par-3 second -- which is fronted by Lake Kadijah -- and the par-4 12th -- which is protected from approach by a tree on the left, but is dangerously sloped to run off and into the water if missed to the right.

There is the new 15th -- which was created for the Ryder Cup and can be set up as short as 280 yards -- the dangerous par-3 17th -- also firing over water, set back at 193 -- and, of course, 18.

Sergio Garcia's tree is gone, a victim of age, but golf fans will recognize much about Medinah from the last time they walked it.

That's if they can get a ticket.

"Everyone asks and the answer is we haven't had any for a long time," Larson said as we walked into the clubhouse. "There are a few premiere hospitality tickets left at rydercup.com, and that's about it.

"People travel from all over the world to see this and once you've seen one, you tend to want to see the next one. That's why hotels rooms are hard to find. It's why the economic impact to the area is so great."

In the clubhouse lobby you quickly note the framed silver putter, first presented two years ago by Ryder Cup Europe to the PGA during the closing ceremonies at Celtic Manor, and which will travel to all subsequent Ryder Cups.

Most startling in the pre-function lounge -- steps from the clubhouse entrance -- is a LeRoy Neiman portrait of the Medinah clubhouse, painted at the request of Larson when he met the expressionist at Valhalla in 2008.

It was the last piece finished by Neiman, who died at the age of 91 two months ago. If you look closely you can see the tiny figures of Neiman and Larson in the painting, just aside the practice green.

"It took him a year and a half," Larson said. "I'm so proud we were fortunate enough to have him do this."

It fits right in with the magnificence of Medinah, which has become a small city in preparation for the Ryder Cup. PGA staffers have been on hand full time for two years, and after myriad construction crews depart, more than 4,500 volunteers will descend to ensure the tournament is ready for the enormous crowds.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here in Chicago," Larson said. "We'll never see it here again in our lifetime, and it's hard to imagine anyone passing on the chance if they can be here."

And it will be here soon enough, less than seven weeks from now, featuring the likes of Woods and Bubba Watson facing off against Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

Soon, players from Europe and the U.S. will begin sneaking into town under the cover of early-morning darkness, and squeezing in a practice round even in weeks in which they'll play another tournament.

For those honored few who make the Ryder Cup, no one need explain the magnitude.

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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