Quick start crucial to winning Ryder Cup
The Super Bowl of golf is nearly here, the first practice only hours away and Team USA is looking at a significant home-course advantage.
With Chicago sports fans as passionate as any in the world, Team Europe can expect a loud and intimidating atmosphere.
"Chicago is an incredible sports town,'' said Team USA captain Davis Love on Monday afternoon, after the official welcome in front of Medinah's majestic clubhouse. "They are going to be fired up.''
So how much of a factor will it be?
The U.S. is favored to win even though Europe has taken nine of the last 13 Ryder Cups after winning in Wales by a point in 2010.
So does Medinah offer the U.S. a 1-point advantage? Definitely. But will it be enough to overcome Team USA's competitive issues? Maybe.
If the U.S. wins, it can thank the much-maligned FedEx Cup, which has kept American players golfing deeper into the season and playing better going into team competition.
Since the start of the FedEx Cup in 2007, the U.S. is 4-1 in team events, including 3-0 in the Presidents Cup. Team USA won the Ryder Cup at Valhalla in 2008.
In true American style, the U.S. won the singles 7-5 at Celtic Manor in 2010, but was crushed in four-ball and foursomes, 9½ to 6½. Europe essentially won the Cup in Session 3 four-ball play, taking 5½ out of 6 points.
"You can see why (Europe) would play better in alternate shot (foursomes) because it's a format that many of them grew up with as amateurs," analyst David Feherty said on a recent NBC conference call. "But I don't understand why the Americans don't play better in the four-ball because it's the classic American match."
In four-ball, a pair of players from each team goes off in a group and each golfer plays his own ball. The player with the best score on that hole wins a point for his team.
"In general, the captains for the U.S. side make mistakes," said Golf Channel commentator Brandel Chamblee. "They consistently switch up the pairings and the players, whereas the (European) Ryder Cup captains tend to find teams, and whether they have success early or failures early, they pretty much stick with those teams throughout and it's worked for them.
"Paul Azinger gave the captaincy its proper due by studying the techniques of the Ryder Cup captains from Europe."
Azinger was the U.S. captain in 2008 at Valhalla when the Americans won 16½ to 11½.
"It's not just four-ball that we (Americans) are getting trapped in,'' Chamblee said. "We also get trapped in the foursomes, but we get trapped worse in the four-ball."
For what it's worth, Team USA has won three of the last five at home, where the captain gets to set up the golf course and choose which matches to play first.
"I thought it was interesting that Paul Azinger made the decision to not open up with four-balls for the first time since the '80s on U.S. soil," Chamblee said. "So Davis Love has followed suit. He's opening up with foursomes."
Love said Monday that Azinger has not been shy about sharing information the last two years.
"Paul has given all of us, the captains, the players, the caddies, a lot of great advice," Love said. "All of the past captains have been incredible in giving us ideas and supporting us."
While the pairings the first two days have hurt the Americans, there's also the lingering feeling that it means more to the Europeans than it does to the Americans.
"There is definitely a difference in the way the Ryder Cup is regarded in Europe," Feherty said. "One of the ways we judge a player's career is we (Europeans) only have one major, and that's the Open Championship. The other three majors are on this side of the Atlantic. So we tend to look at a player's record in major championships and his Ryder Cup record."
At the same time, the best American players don't always tear it apart in the Ryder Cup.
"In the early days, it was like Tiger going to the dentist. He wanted a good outcome but nothing he looked forward to very much," said NBC's Johnny Miller. "The second part was he was so intimidating, he would intimidate his own partner because his aura was so amazing.
"It's changed. I think he's softened with (Steve) Stricker and a little bit of (Jim) Furyk, and I think now he's going to be a lot better team player than he was in the early days."
Golf, however, is only a team sport once a year, and American golfers don't apologize for being more interested in winning as individuals and capturing major titles. Winning the Ryder Cup certainly doesn't get Tiger Woods closer to Jack Nicklaus.
"Let's be honest, no one, certainly on this side of the Atlantic, is going to be remembered for their Ryder Cup record," said NBC course analyst Roger Maltbie. "I mean, that's an asterisk. That's an afterthought. How many majors did you win? How many Player of the Year titles do you have?
"I think it's changed as he's gone along and now Tiger plays in every international team competition, but certainly I think that was a big part of it.
"Everybody was wondering, 'Why can't Tiger lift this team on his shoulders and carry them by himself to victory?' And you just can't do that in a team competition.''
No, it takes a team to win a Ryder Cup and a village to raise the roof.
The fans at Medinah intend to do just that.
•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him on Twiiter @BarryRozner.
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