Little electricity at Ryder Cup, literally
J.B. Holmes tugged on his black glove, steadied his eyes down the fairway of the 594-yard 10th hole at Valhalla and pounded a tee shot Monday with such force that Raymond Floyd, an assistant captain at the Ryder Cup, could only shake his head.
“It’s a different game,” said Floyd, who played in his first Ryder Cup four decades ago.
It was a display of sheer power, something that was in rare supply Monday as the Ryder Cup activities began with hardly any electricity.
Even as European captain Nick Faldo and seven of his players arrived on a charter flight from London, much of Louisville was without power as the host city tried to recover from a spinoff storm generated by Hurricane Ike that brought 60 mph wind on Sunday.
Faldo and U.S. captain Paul Azinger held their first news conference in the Kentucky Exhibition Center, where generators were required for television lighting.
“I’ve got 12 guys who want to win,” Faldo said.
Of equal concern was getting Valhalla Golf Club dressed up for its biggest golf event ever.
Fairways that normally are as clean as carpet were littered with small twigs and leaves, with larger branches scattered in the rough. Dozens of workers were busy raking the leaves into piles, and carts zipped along the roads removing the debris.
A television tower collapsed onto the back of the 12th green, causing enough damage to possibly eliminate one back hole location. Course superintendent Mark Wilson and his crew patched up the dents with pieces of sod in the shape of circles and squares, but there were nasty scars that might need more than a few days to heal.
Holmes was joined by Boo Weekley, two of the six Ryder Cup rookies on an American team that has not won the Ryder Cup since that raucous rally Sunday at Brookline in 1999. Chad Campbell, who became a father 10 days ago, rapped a few putts on the ninth green.
The matches begin Friday, and there is little doubt who is favored to win.
Europe is on its longest winning streak since this exhibition began in 1927, having won the last three. Its dominance stretches even further, capturing the cup eight of the last 11 times dating to 1983.
For the first time, all 12 of Europe’s players are among the top 50 in the world ranking.
“You brought a great team over this year. I’ve been marveling how well you’ve been playing,” Azinger said to Faldo. “I know we’ll be a bit of an underdog. Hopefully, we can rise to the occasion and put on a good show.”
The Americans will have to do that without Tiger Woods, who had season-ending knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open in June. Faldo expected this to be the year Woods won all five of his matches, although he wonders if the Americans now will be motivated without him.
Even so, pressure resides with both teams in what has become high-charged matches, with or without electricity.
“There’s always pressure at the Ryder Cup,” Azinger said. “Anyone who says there’s not pressure is out of touch or hasn’t been here. We have an opportunity here. Europe has brought over an incredible team. Not everyone expects us to pull this off, minus Tiger Woods.”
Without Woods, the United States does not have a current major champion on its team for the first time. That honor belongs to Europe, which is led by Padraig Harrington, who won the last two majors and has won three since the last Ryder Cup.
The Irishman played five times in a seven-week stretch since winning the British Open, but Faldo said he slept on the flight.
Valhalla is familiar ground for both teams, having hosted the 1996 and 2000 PGA Championships. Gone are the days when Europe faced a distinctive disadvantage on U.S. soil because so many players now compete around the world.
What felt strange for both captains was the start of the Ryder Cup without the butterflies they once had as players.
“Your golf clubs are in your mind this week,” Faldo said. “There’s a lot of thinking. You’ve got to prepare for team meetings, strategy, different things. The players here have a simple goal. They’re itching to get out to the golf course.”
The first practice session is Tuesday.