Meandering around Medinah at the Ryder Cup

Meandering around Medinah on the eve of the matches:

Between holes today, the European team members regularly stopped and signed autographs, winning some cheers and some PR points with the “home” U.S. gallery. A graduate of Northwestern and a Chicago resident, Luke Donald remained a crowd favorite. On the 17th tee, Donald asked a father and his young son, standing along the rope line, to come up to the tee. There he presented the boy with a Chicago Bears jersey. Touchdown, Luke Donald!

Meanwhile, the U.S. team members intentionally avoided signing autographs and instead passed out U.S. Ryder Cup lapel pins. The pins are a smart and practical move and a big improvement over the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills scenario when the U.S. complied with the official request for both sides not to sign autographs. However, the European team—at Captain Bernhard Langer’s cagey urging—did sign autographs thereby gaining some goodwill with the partisan gallery. So, pins or autographs? What’s your choice?

Sitting in a grandstand there this afternoon, I can attest the par-four 16th hole is also a bear. For members, it used to be the no.1 handicap hole. With a new back tee, the dogleg par-four now stretches out to a beastly 482 yards. The second shot is uphill to a perched green with not much depth. The only birdie seen there today was by Lee Westwood whose second shot just hit the front portion of the green and popped up near the flag. If they get this far, several matches will be decided with pars on this most demanding hole.

I had a good conversation today with a Medinah member who provided added insight into the course. He said the tournament course will never play easier due to how it’s been set up this week by Captain Love. Love wanted a layout conducive to making birdies for this team and so there’s only a moderate rough this week—an anomaly for member play. However, the greens are stimping out at 13 and will pose a challenge if the weather stays dry. He also said 800 trees were removed on the par-four third hole. In terms of difficulty, he expects the 509-yard par-four 6th and the 617-yard par-five 7th holes to top the list on the front side.

On the “short” par-four 15h hole which can play anywhere from 358 to 391 yards, Bubba Watson drove over the green during a practice round. But don’t expect to see a lot of that bravado, at least according to Phil Mickelson. In his press conference on Wednesday, Mickelson said most of his U.S. teammates will not go for the green off of the tee and instead lay up and make birdies with wedges. “…We have to play what’s there in front of us and try to score the lowest score and lowest score will be shot by laying up.” A vocal critic of architect of Rees Jones’s re-do work at nearby Cog Hill, Mickelson said: “I just think it’s overdone as a hole…unlike the 10th at Riviera which really entices you and gives you options.”

Speaking of Bubba Watson, he was highly entertaining at his press conference on Thursday, particularly in his remarks about Mickelson and table tennis, aka ping-pong. “Me and Jason Dufner dominated Sluman (assistant captain) and Mickelson yesterday in doubles…and Mickelson is still mad about it. He hates any time I beat him because I’m just this goofy left-handed kid named Bubba.” Later he added: “The Ryder Cup is all about ping-pong. When you bring your own paddles in cases, a briefcase with a paddle in it, then obviously it’s about ping-pong. Mickelson and Kuchar have their own cases…it’s nuts.”

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