Friday, September 19, 2008
A good friend of mine called me as the afternoon matches were concluding and asked a simple question -- "Why the huge celebrations so early?"
It's a fair question, this is only day one and it isn't like they went 8-0 or anything. The answer to this lies with history. No American team we can remember has ever done anything like this. Friday is like Kryptonite to the American team. The last three Ryder Cups we've been down a combined 16-8 after day one. Most of the time we dig ourselves so deep Shawn Bradley couldn't see out. It gets ugly.
This year has had a different feel. We weren't the favorite, we were outmatched on paper and they had the best player in golf. Don't all those things sound familiar? It is almost like the Europeans took the role as "Can't lose" and the Americans waltzed in with some sneaky players.
Hunter Mahan and Justin Leonard were absolutely brilliant all day long. Starting out losing the first two holes, you almost got the feeling the Texans match-up wouldn't work. They weren't that good. They couldn't mesh their styles of play. Then the two just blew up, winning the morning round 3 and 2 and the afternoon round 4 and 2. Chip ins, near hole-in-ones, solid putts -- these three had it all.
Then came the flashy grouping of Anthony Kim and Phil Mickelson. Drawing the best player (actually playing) in golf both rounds, the duo had to deal with Padraig Harrington, who seemed to forget how to miss a 20-footer. A half point in the morning was disappointing and they feel behind by three after four holes, but Mickelson's brilliant iron play and Kim's fiery youth prevailed. It was the epitome of teamwork.
Other stars showed their faces. Boo Weekley drained a snake from the fringe. Steve Stricker kept a sinking (and birdieless) Ben Curtis afloat for as long as he could. Kenny Perry tried desperately to sneak a point away from the Europeans. Chad Campbell hit one of the shots of the tournament with his second shot on the 18th.
It was 12 guys working together. They all were involved, they all were rooting the others on and for the first time since my young self can remember, they looked to be having some goddamn fun.
If this continues they won't lose. They can't lose. The Europeans are behind the eight ball for the first time since 1995. Nick Faldo looks lost and confused. Hell, Sergio Garcia didn't win a match today!
Personally, I have only been part of the 1999 comeback. I've never been old enough to watch a team go out and dominate like the old American teams did. The Ryder Cup was losing fans because it wasn't fun for people in the United States to watch. Today, with a whole new crop of stars and some oldies, team golf was fun again.
We can only hope Paul Azinger's crew can continue this on the weekend.
Sam Greenwood, Getty Images