I'm back from the Ryder Cup, and there's so much to say about this unforgettable experience. Here's my perspective, including some things that you didn't get to see on the NBC telecast. But, first, I should mention that I was a regular paying customer just like everybody else. My cousin Tripp (who lives in suburban Chicago) and I submitted our names for the PGA's online ticket lottery. I didn't get picked, but he did!
Why is the Ryder Cup so special? First of all, think about how big the Super Bowl is. Now, imagine if the Super Bowl was only played every TWO years, and the game's location alternated between the United States and Europe, meaning that it was only played here in the U.S. every four years. Now you can appreciate how special it is to attend a Ryder Cup. I met some wonderful people who came all the way from Europe to attend, and there were a LOT of them. This tournament is huge!
Why is the Ryder Cup competition so intense? If you go to any local sporting event, you are rooting for our team. At the Ryder Cup, you're cheering for your COUNTRY. The incredible nationalism displayed by fans from both sides of the Atlantic was amazing...and some truly wore it on their sleeves (and the rest of their bodies). The guys I met from Barcelona, Spain had the best outfits...they were dressed like matadors! But the coolest thing of all is how much fun we all had together. We Americans were very gracious in welcoming our European visitors, and they were exceptionally friendly and engaging. The reaction from both sides all day long to EVERY great shot was the same as what you'd hear at Comerica Park if Miguel Cabrera hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th. ..it was that intense all weekend.
Gamesmanship: On Friday and Saturday, after the four groups playing had moved further ahead onto the golf course, those players not playing had the opportunity to practice on the course. On Friday morning, as I walked from one part of the course to another, European player Nicholas Coelsarts (who wasn't playing in the morning matches) walked right past me with his caddy. I asked him if he was playing in the afternoon matches, and all he did was shrug his shoulders and smile. I asked if that meant that he didn't know yet, and he shrugged again. Strategy is so important at the Ryder Cup that he wouldn't even tell me...as if I was going to find U.S. captain Davis Love III and tell him!
No rest for the weary: Since the first matches on Friday and Saturday started at 7:20 am, I had to leave with Cousin Tripp around 5:30am. And believe me, there were a LOT of people already there when we got there at 7:00am (I talked to some people who said they got there at 5:30 and waited for the gates to open). With the matches not ending until between 6:00 and 7:00pm, these were long days. Don't feel sorry for me...
Fore! (Part 1): If you watched on TV, you know how poorly Tiger Woods played. But standing there watching some of his tee shots in person was shocking. For a short time on Friday, I positioned myself down the fairway to watch some tee shots near the spot they were SUPPOSED to land. Tiger's tee shot went way over my head and landed by a TV tower about forty feet off the fairway (I can do that, too). His partner, Steve Stricker, (who had to hit the next shot) walked right by me to find the ball...we actually had to tell him where it was...all he said was "thanks", and boy he wasn't happy. Tiger did rally to hit some pretty amazing shots later in the tournament but, in my opinion, his poor play cost us the victory.
Fore! (Part 2): European player Rory McIlroy sprayed a tee shot and hit a guy not too far from me. I ran and got the guy a bag of ice and, when I got back, Rory came over, apologized, and gave him his golf glove (after signing it) "even though you're an American", he joked. But he was truly sincere, and it was a nice gesture. These are the best golfers in the world, and they feel terrible when they hit a fan.
How does 5'8" Paul Gross see anything when there are six rows of people in front of him? Buying a periscope was the best investment ever. Not only was I able to see clearly above everybody, but the nice one they sold there at the tournament magnified the view. I saw everything I wanted to see no matter how many people were in front of me...that periscope was amazing.
Go Tigers! On Saturday, we were sitting across the lake from the 17th green when a guy in a U of M hat walked by. I shouted "Go Blue!” -- which brought a nice response from a few people who were also from Michigan. A bit later, the guy checked the baseball scores on his phone, and told me that the Tigers were winning, and the White Sox were losing. I exclaimed in a rather loud voice, "the Tiger are winning and the Sox are losing? Great!" In my excitement, I forgot that I was surrounded by White Sox fans. They all took it in stride...they had pretty much given up on their team by that point...so I lived to tell the story.
The funniest thing that you never saw on TV: On Sunday, Cousin Tripp and I got there early to scope out our spot at the beautiful 17th green. We got a great spot right behind where I thought the flag would be and, sure enough, they cut that hole right where I predicted it would be. We fans who got there early were sitting on the top of a steep slope that went all the way down to the edge of the green. During the morning, before any players had made it to our hole, a guy accidentally knocked his unopened beer can over, and it rolled down the slope, onto the green, and stopped just a few feet from the flagstick! I couldn't believe it. The marshal walked over and picked it up...at which point I yelled over to him "hey...you didn't mark it!" (inside joke for those of you who are golfers). You never saw this on TV, but it had to be the most hysterical moment of the entire tournament.
Why did the American team blow a huge lead and lose? Everybody is talking about the pressure on those players and how it affected their play. The night of the Dexter tornado, Chuck Gaidica and I were on the air continuously for nearly 3 1/2 hours, and there was enormous pressure on us. However, we have years of experience and are always prepared for a situation like that, and we never even thought about the pressure, or the nearly quarter-of-a-million people watching us. Those golfers are equally prepared and, as professional athletes, should be able to focus on the golf. The bottom line is that the Europeans played solid, aggressive golf on Sunday...I saw them hit some amazing shots onto that tough 17th green. Meanwhile, the American golfers were hitting much more erratic shots. Being able to succeed under pressure means being able to separate the pressure from your training and preparation, and most professional athletes can do this. Oddly, the Americans started the day with almost no pressure on them...they had a huge lead! The pressure was solidly on the Europeans, and they rose to the occasion. Perhaps the Americans needed the pressure.