Covering the Ryder Cup Gala was probably the most fun I’ve had in a long time (working-wise). It was quite the spectacle, but a nice change of pace. I live-tweeted and ‘grammed the festivities, so I recommend going through my timelines, along with Alan Shipnuck’s Twitter. I missed the first hour or so of the Gala, including the introduction hosted by Chicago sports legends Scottie Pippen and Ernie Banks, and Blues Brothers cover band.
I arrived just as Jean Van de Velde strolled down the red carpet. Perfect timing.
The captains did the somewhat awkward red carpet stroll and picture posing first, then the teams, with the Europeans leading the way. And yes, four of them were rolling solo, including Nicolas Colsaerts, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy (see my Twitter).
Highlight? Fred Couples, who was also dateless, stopped by to chat with ESPN’s Michael Collins. During their chat, Dr. Linda Sluman, assistant captain Jeff Sluman’s wife, dropped in the interview and, well, made an impression. She was last seen with her husband leading her away before she said anything else fun.
I have a feeling there was some drinking happening in the team buses. Just a hunch!
Anyway, read Shipnuck’s write-up, which hits most of the highlights. I’d like to add a few, though. First, Justin Timberlake’s emceeing performance was the best part of the evening. He did a little Q&A sesh on stage with each of them. When Matt Kuchar’s name was called, he walked out — or should I say, hopped out, did a little dance, spin, and showed his moves. I was impressed. Then, he revealed that he was leading the U.S. in giving his teammates a hard time, along with dominating on the ping pong table(s). When he played Phil Mickelson, Kuchar won the first five points, leading Phil to quit.
Phil revealed that he was indeed “Matt Kuchar’s bitch,” but then put his arm around his wife Amy and said, he was OK with it because he “gets to home home to this.”
Sergio Garcia received the loudest cheers from the crowd. Rory McIlroy came in a close second. I thought we were on home soil?!
After the festive formalities and endless speeches at the Opening Ceremonies, American captain Davis Love III (who may or may not cry in his speech–he’s already set a record for tears shed and the matches haven’t even kicked off) and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal will announce the pairings. FINALLY. I know, there’s a lot of non-golf activities leading up to the actual matches. Even the practice rounds are rather tedious. The seclusion of the players and team is more like Fort Knox than a regular golf tournament, which was what I was told heading into the week. (If I had a penny for every time I heard a scribe gripe about the weird limited access this week…but it’s true and I understand the frustration.)
The crowds have been INTENSE. Yesterday, I walked four holes with Matt Kuchar, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker, and the galleries were so large and raucous that it was almost scary. It was Wednesday! I shrunk with fear as I trekked through the walkway from the 18th green to safety. Of course the fans were screaming Tiger’s name and it was loud. If they keep up the cheers and intensity for the Americans, then home-field advantage will definitely help the U.S. team. There’s a large contingent of European fans, though, so I’m interested in how this will all play out. In general it could get ugly on Friday by noon (think beer).
OK, so I’m sure you’ve read or heard this a gazillion times already, but my predictions for the pairings in tomorrow morning’s foursome matches (alternate shot)…
For the Americans:
*Tiger Woods/Steve Stricker — obviously they’re a strong duo, and Tiger looked like he was hitting it good from the four holes I watched him play yesterday. Stricker hasn’t putted as well this year as he did last year, but hopefully his stroke is on the money this week. As we all know, the Cup will be decided by putting.
*Phil Mickelson/Keegan Bradley — not a massive fan of this pair since Phil doesn’t hit that many greens and Keegan’s not the greatest scrambler, but we’ll see.
*Jim Furyk/Brandt Snedeker — Furyk, who has been called the “quarterback” of the American team, is good iron player, and Brandt is the best putter on Tour this year. Both are also decent scramblers.
*Jason Dufner/Zach Johnson — See above, but they’re also both steady players who don’t make a whole lot of mistakes. Last week at the Tour Championship I asked Zach about partnering with Dufner. Zach said he thought they’d be good together in alternate shot, and explained: “I’m probably not quite as stoic as he is, but I’m close. I can get fiery when it comes down to it. I might have a little bit more in me than he does, but I think our mannerisms are similar. They way we approach the golf courses are pretty comparable.”
*Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar — Long Ball and Mr. Consistent. Kuchar didn’t seem like he was hitting it that well from what I saw yesterday, but who knows. Dustin hit a few stray drives, but there’s no rough, so as long as he doesn’t get stuck behind the trees, this could be a strong team (and they whupped Keegan and Phil in a practice match last week).
*Bubba Watson/Webb Simpson — Who would have thought? Mr. Unpredictable and Mr. Predictable are a pretty good team. At least they were at the Presidents Cup. Let’s make one thing clear, the Ryder Cup is very different (the P.C. is more like a hit and giggle).
Who will DL3 sit? I could make arguments for and against nearly each of the pairs, so I’ll guess Phil and Keegan will be cheerleaders in the morning, along with … who knows. We’ll find out soon. I could also see Tiger and Dustin paired together at some point because Stricker probably won’t play all five matches. Dustin hinted at that last week.
For the Europeans:
I’m running low on time (what else is new, right?–but wait, the Opening Ceremonies *start* at 4pm, so the pairings won’t be announced until 5pm), so I’ll make this short and sweet.
*Graeme McDowell/Rory McIlroy
*Ian Poulter/Justin Rose
*Lee Westwood/Francesco Molinari
*Luke Donald/Sergio Garcia
Benched in Friday Foursome matches:
*Nicolas Colsaerts/Martin Kaymer
*Peter Hanson/Paul Lawrie
I’m not as familiar with the European side of things, but my friends on the other side of the press room filled me in on their intel.
Alright, let’s get on with it!