Chris Riley excited by prospect of Ryder Cup
All it took was one phone call for Hal Sutton to get instant gratification as Ryder Cup captain.
On the other end of the line was Chris Riley.
"He could hardly speak to me on the phone," Sutton said. "He was ecstatic. If God lets me live long enough to hear one of my kids be that excited ... then it will all be worthwhile. Because Chris Riley was that excited."
Wait until Sutton really gets to know him.
Riley gets excited over a plate of onion rings.
"He's like an 8-year-old," said Stewart Cink, who at 31 is about six months older than his Ryder Cup teammate. "Jay Haas is like our uncle. And then Chris is like our nephew. He's got a naivete about him that draws you in. He's one of the great personalities on the tour that many people don't realize."
For most people, Riley is one of the great unknowns.
His only PGA Tour victory came two years ago at the Reno-Tahoe Open. The most TV time he got this year was when his 5-foot birdie putt in the playoff at Torrey Pines somehow defied gravity and spun out of the cup, allowing John Daly to win for the first time in nine years.
Riley showed up again at the PGA Championship, somehow salvaging par from the bottom of the cliff on the par-3 17th at Whistling Straits. He missed a 4-foot par putt on the final hole and fell one shot short of the playoff, but still got the final spot on the Ryder Cup team with a tie for fourth.
On paper, he is the least accomplished player on the American squad.
But take a poll of his teammates, and all of them are just as excited about having him at Oakland Hills.
"He's going to keep everyone loose," David Toms said. "I think he's going to be great. Half of what he says is nuts. He asks so many questions that we call him 'Really Riley.'"
Kenny Perry hasn't heard anyone that inquisitive since his son was in diapers.
"When my son was little, he was always saying, 'Why, Daddy? Why this? Why this?' And that's what Riley is like," Perry said. "He's a pure kid. Pure joy. He's a lot of fun to be around."
Riley played a practice round at Firestone with Phil Mickelson, Chad Campbell and Davis Love III, asking them everything and more about the Ryder Cup.
When he sat down for lunch in the grill room, the questions kept coming.
"Do you think I'm going to like the Ryder Cup better because it's in the States?"
"If someone hits it in the water, will some knucklehead go, 'YEAH!' Really?"
"Hey, is there water at Oakland Hills?"
"Is it always close? Really?"
"Have you ever interviewed Johnny Miller? What's he like?"
"Hey, why did that captain not play those European guys until Sunday? You think Hal will do that? Really?"
"Do you want some of these onion rings?"
One of the famous stories on tour is the time Riley was playing in Reno and gazed at the snowcapped mountains. According to two players and their caddies, Riley asked one of them, "That's not really snow up there, is it? Really? But it's warm down here, and wouldn't the snow melt being that much closer to the sun?"
Riley swears he never said that, but then he smiles and hits you on the arm, and you start to wonder if maybe he's not the one who had the best laugh.
His game is hardly a case of hit-and-giggle.
This is his sixth year on the tour, and he has been to The Tour Championship the last two seasons. He isn't the longest driver, and not always the straightest. But put the flat stick in his hand, and Riley expects to make everything inside 50 feet.
That wasn't always the case. Riley had the yips as a teenager, and that leads to another story that his frequent partner in junior matches -- Tiger Woods -- loves to tell.
"It was alternate shot. I teed off on a par 5, Riley laid up and I hit a wedge into about 3 feet," Woods said. "We were 2 up at the time, and if we made birdie, we were almost a lock to win. So we get to the green, Riley looks at the putt and says to me, 'You putt this one.' I said, 'Riles, I can't. It's not my turn.'
"I had to stand right next to him and say, 'OK, put a good stroke on it.' He jabbed it, but he made it."
The turnaround came at UNLV, where golf coach Dwaine Knight recognized tremendous feel in Riley's hands. Knight taught him to keep his head still, let his stroke go through the ball and not worry about the result. Riley still follows that advice, and sometimes doesn't know he has made a 10-foot putt until he hears it drop in the cup.
"A lot of people don't see how hard he works," Knight said. "He looks flippant in a lot of ways. But what gets lost is he's a great competitor. He has a deep, deep passion for everything he does."
Woods treats Riley like a kid brother, but ask him what Riley brings to the Ryder Cup and he doesn't hesitate.
"He's someone who will fight all the way around," Woods said. "He never dogs it. He's one of the top grinders out here. And he's such a nice guy -- a little strange at times, but that's just Riley."
The first order of business for Riley is becoming a father. His wife is expecting a daughter (Taylor Lynn) on Sept. 17, the first day of the Ryder Cup, although they will try to induce sometime next week.
"What kind of father do you think I'll be?" Riley says.
"You have girls, right?"
"I think I'll be a good father."
"Hey, is it awesome?"
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