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View from the Couch – 2008 Ryder Cup

Sept 16th, 2008 – The Battle of the Talking Heads

You think athletes have the biggest egos in the world? Then you’ve never met a former athlete who becomes a TV commentator. Labeling them as “Know it All’s” is barely sufficient.

Some are more “Know it All” than others however. On the top of the pile are former professional golfers who have turned into video bloviators. And for good reason. They have to criticize Tiger Woods for a living fer gawds sake.

Now, amp that up and imagine a golf tourney led by two of those guys who don’t really like one another very much.

That’s this weeks’ Ryder Cup.

Ryder Cup captains have often been overrated in their role in the outcome. This time however – it’s personal.

The American boss Paul Azinger and the European squads Nick Faldo have a long and nasty (by golfing standards anyway) history.

It started when Faldo beat Azinger in the 1987 British Open. Azinger bogeyed the final two holes allowing Faldo, who had parred all 18 holes at Muirfield, to sneak off with the win. They played the third round together and never spoke a word to one another. That irked the usually loquacious Azinger.

They was a big “to-do” during their singles match in the Ryder Cup in 1993 about Faldo not conceding a 5-foot putt after the American’s had been declared the winners.

“I can’t tell you how irritating that was,” Azinger said.
Later Faldo criticized Azinger’s grip. Earlier this year Azinger reportedly called Faldo a “dick,” although he is denying it now, saying he told Faldo, “I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but one of those papers said I called you a “dick” and that everyone from your generation hates you. Even though you pretty much are and everyone pretty much does, I have more diplomacy than to say that.”

Azinger’s Tuesday press conference indicated otherwise. Sounding downright snarky, he openly criticised both the old Faldo and the new. “I never heard the guy complete a sentence 20 years ago, and now we can’t shut him up. He’s a different guy.”

That’s the kind of thing that made them easily the strongest golfing commentators in the game when they shared the booth at ABC.

Funny – with a built-in edge.

The only problem is, these two aren’t playing. Other guys are.

And none of them are called “Tiger Woods.”

Is a rivalry between captains enough to engage the golfing audience the way they haven’t been since the U.S. Open? One would hope so, seeing as the Ryder Cup drought for the Americans is now stretching back to Justin Leonard’s miracle putt in 1999. Even with Woods, the U.S. side was completely schooled in the last two meetings.

And sans Woods, they are clearly the underdog.

At the top of European team, there is Padraig Harrington who looked perfectly Tigeresque winning both the British Open and the PGA Championship. Sergio Garcia, who is already a Ryder Cup legend, and is playing the best golf of his life, follows him closely. They are supported by the likes of Lee Westwood, who has also had a great year and Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson who are both high in the world rankings.

Countering that is the 48-year old hometown boy Kenny Perry. Winning three times, he had the best year of the any American on the team, however those wins were a while back and he’s cooled off significantly since. Next comes rookie Anthony Kim who sounds confident but will probably assume that “deer in the headlights” look shortly. Then comes recently chronic Ryder Cup underperformer Phil Mickelson and the consistent but winless Jim Furyk. They are backed up by six rookies, or half the American roster, and the 13th man, the Kentucky loud and proud home crowd at Valhalla.

Yet even with that Budweisered-up bunch, the U.S. has won only one of the last six Ryder Cups.

This sure doesn’t look like the team to alter that trend and it could be over early – and it could get ugly.

The only solace perhaps is – at least we’ll get a lot of good Azinger and Faldo quotes out of it.

Cheers – Gavin McDougald – AKA Couch

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