I interviewed six American Ryder Cup wives and girlfriends (WAGs) — Tabitha Furyk, Sybi Kuchar, Angie Watson, Amanda Caulder (Dustin Johnson’s girlfriend), Kandi Harris (Hunter Mahan’s fiancee) and Christina Zimmer (Jeff Overton’s girlfriend) — at the Tour Championship last week.
With the exception of Tabitha (I’m a huge fan), who has been on many teams, the other five ladies are first-timers at the Ryder Cup, so they weren’t sure what to expect, but they were excited. They were all incredibly helpful and delightful to chat with (it was practically a novelty interviewing women). It was also interesting to hear the preparation behind the Ryder Cup, like their excitement over buying ball gowns and anxiety over the gift exchange (it’s custom for the ladies to give presents to the wives/girlfriends of the other players and captains — more on that later).
Basically, it’s easy to dismiss the WAGs as made-up Barbie dolls and much of their prep leading up to the big show does revolve around, well, “stuff,” but they actually are important to the team morale and play a greater role than usual during Ryder Cup week.
I wrote about their role for the Wall Street Journal. Here’s an excerpt:
The wives and girlfriends of PGA Tour golfers are hardly wallflowers. We see them hugging their husbands after they hole out from 40 feet on 18 to win a tournament and consoling their boyfriends when they’re on the other side of that big putt.
But the Ryder Cup places more demands on the significant others. They’re expected to look and act like the first ladies of golf. The superficial version of this is that they’re supposed to be smiling faces in Stepford-like prep school cardigans and matching slacks who always stand by their men (and Team USA). But they’re more than that – they’re a secret weapon for the U.S. team as it tries to knock off Europe for the second straight time.
I had to either cut or leave out many quotes because, well, this was a blog post and not a feature story. So, I figured I’d share some of the deleted scenes with you here. Oh, I was really happy to get Tabitha’s perspective — when I asked about the matching uniforms the wives wear, she laughed and the look on her face said, “Um, yeah, I know it’s weird.” — but her answer was diplomatic:
You know, I’ve been on a lot of different teams and some of the clothes have been good and some have been bad. I understand why they do it. It’s difficult with all of those people with all of that energy out there at the Ryder Cup. When they have us all matching and inside the ropes, they can have their eye on us and keep everyone safe…Because if you get lost out in the crowd and you get the fans try to get in and be inside the ropes, it makes it difficult to keep the guys and everybody separate. Another reason is unity. By putting us all together in the same clothes — good, bad or ugly — it really works out well to have us all in the same boat together.
Meanwhile, Kandi Harris, a former Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Mavericks cheerleader, was looking forward to the matching togs. “Because I’m a cheerleader and I just have that in my blood, I love it,” she said. “When Hunter and I go to Cowboys games — we have season tickets — I dress in all Cowboys gear, so I love the idea of all of us dressing as a team. I think that’s really cool.”
But it’s more than just about the clothes and looking pretty. It’s also about a deeper connection — that between partners, the team itself, and the country they represent on such a large stage. “It’s you and your husband as a couple and it’s this bond you form with the other teammates,” says Sybi Kuchar. “It’s like nothing else in golf. The world is watching.”
“For me, my role won’t change any,” says Angie Watson. “Although it’s an exciting time for us, it’s really about them and it’s about them competing for their country. I’m there to support and encourage him on and off the golf course and to help him play golf even though there is a big show.”
Echoes Caulder, “In my opinion, [my role is] to support Dustin and to support the team to hopefully a victory…He loves the team camaraderie. I’m sure deep down he’s a little nervous. When you’re playing for a team and your country, you’re not just playing for yourself.”
Even for the sole single U.S. player on the team – perhaps you know him from his 14 majors or his Nike commercials – there’s a different level of support at the Ryder Cup. If their significant others aren’t playing, it’s safe to say the ladies will be cheering on Tiger Woods, too — even though a few, who may have been friends with his ex-wife Elin Nordegren, will be forced to put aside their personal feelings. After all, it’s a team effort.
“Even if they’re not married, they have a big group of girls that are their new family and we’re out there to cheer them on and when we go back to the hotel, we go through the day and make sure they’re ready to go,” said Tabitha Furyk.
The ladies are included in just about everything the guys do — they’re at the team dinners and meetings, and on Saturday before the Sunday singles matches, everyone goes around the room to share their Ryder Cup experience and give words of encouragement.
“When you see — I mean, the quality of play, the shots that come out of the Ryder Cup don’t come out in a normal round of golf,” Tabitha said. “So when you see that, what I like to do is remind the guys and point out to them, ‘Hey, do you remember the shot you hit on 18? Do you remember when it came down to this match? Do you remember that feeling you had?’
“And that’s what we want to take into Sunday and to make all of the people that are new — this year that will be really important — to make them understand, you earned your way onto this team, you deserve to be here, now let’s make this happen.”
[Photo by Getty Images]