The obvious topic for today is The Ryder Cup, which finally ended on Monday in Wales. At least I think it ended. David Feherty, who was the (fall down funny) dinner speaker last night at our sixth annual Bruce Edwards Celebrity Golf Classic isn’t sure that it was actually played.
“I lost track of it completely with all the stops and starts,” he said. “Didn’t watch a minute of the singles so now I’m going to go write a column about it.”
If anyone can do it, Feherty can.
The matches themselves—when finally played—were, as always, great theater. The U.S. grabbed the lead; Europe roared back and appeared headed for a comfortable win and then the U.S. rallied late, forcing Graeme McDowell to make one of the all-time big moment birdies you will ever see to finally wrap things up for Europe, 14 and ½ to 13 and ½. Remember if Hunter Mahan had been able to pull out a TIE in that final match with McDowell, the U.S. would have retained the Cup. Mahan closed to within one down after birdieing the 15th hole only to have McDowell, with the pressure of an entire continent riding on his shoulders, roll in a birdie putt at the 16th that put him in control, two-up with two to play.
Jim Furyk will win the PGA Tour’s player-of-the-year award. Great guy and good for him. But it says here that McDowell is the player-of-the-year worldwide: He won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, won another tournament in Europe (at Celtic Manor as a matter of fact) and then won the clinching point of The Ryder Cup. Game, set, match right there.
The most important thing at any Ryder Cup of course is which TEAM wins. That result becomes a part of each captain’s golf legacy. Corey Pavin didn’t do a bad job running the U.S. team—other than letting his wife run amok in the run-up to the matches—but Colin Montgomerie did a better job for Europe.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I like Colin Montgomerie. He can be whiny, prickly and difficult. His personal life is, from what I can tell as an outsider, a mess. That doesn’t exactly make him unique in golf right now, does it? But he’s also disarmingly honest; lives up to his mistakes when asked about them; has a very sharp sense of humor and, in my experiences with him has gone out of his way to answer questions honestly and with humor.
So, if you hate him, fine. If you want to call him Mrs. Doubtfire—which Feherty put on him years ago—fine. I like the guy. This was a very big weekend in his life. With all the rumors swirling around his personal life—you think Tiger Woods has had it bad, try living in Great Britain in the midst of a personal crisis—and with Europe playing at home and favored (not by me I picked the U.S. to win) the pressure on Monty to win the Cup back was huge. Throw in the fact that his non-buddy Nick Faldo failed to win the Cup in 2008 and you have another reason he wanted to win so badly. (Monty was asked once years ago why he and Faldo were paired together so often in Ryder Cup. He smiled and said: “because no one else wants to play with either one of us.”)
Down 6-4 after two sessions and lengthy rain delays, Monty put all the right pieces in place for the third session and Europe won 5 and ½ of 6 points over two days. That decided this Ryder Cup. As is almost always the case, the U.S. won the singles, just not by enough. Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, MIA during four-ball play, showed up and won their matches. Tiger Woods, who had been good but not great, got on a roll and dusted Francesco Molinari (I think it was Francesco, I know it was a Molinari for sure) and Steve Stricker and Jeff Overton—the most pleasant U.S. surprise of the weekend—closed out really strong weeks with wins.
When Rickie Fowler finished with four straight birdies to steal a halve from the other Molinari—I think it was Eduardo—the U.S. suddenly had a chance. McDowell saw to it that those chances and hopes were dashed. Still, the case can be made that this was the best U.S. performance in Europe since Tom Watson’s team went to The Belfry in 1993 and won.
Watson was also at The Bruce Edwards event yesterday as he is every year. He remembered telling his players on the eve of that Ryder Cup the following: “I know you’re going to be nervous on the first tee tomorrow. Your legs may shake. That’s what this event does to guys. Remember this though: their legs are going to be shaking too.”
He also famously put as his thought for the day on the Americans schedule for that first morning: “Remember, everything they invented, we perfected.” The players liked that.
One other Watson note: He was asked during a Q+A if he thought Tiger Woods would come back and he said yes, he thought he would, that he would still break Jack Nicklaus’s record by winning at least 19 majors. Then he said this: “His swing still isn’t there right now. Of course if he came to my farm in Kansas I could fix him in about 15 minutes.”
Obviously he thinks he sees something in Woods’ swing that can be corrected quickly. I didn’t ask for details because that wasn’t what interested me. Instead I said, “how much would you charge for a lesson like that?”
Watson paused for a moment and then said: “I’d ask him to give $1 million to ALS research.”
Okay all you Woods supporters, get the word out: Watson will fix Tiger’s swing in return for a $1 million contribution to ALS research. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
Back to The Ryder Cup: Kudos to Europe and to Montgomerie for coming through in the heat and winning. But, even though it’s a cliché, Pavin was right when he said the U.S. had nothing to be ashamed of when all was said and done. Except maybe his wife’ choice of rain gear.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention here the death of Maury Allen. If you are from New York, you probably know the name and you’ve almost certainly read him at some point. Maury was a long-time reporter and columnist for The New York Post and, later, the Gannett Westchester papers. He wrote at least 30 books, most of them on baseball. One of the first books I ever read was a book Maury wrote called, “Now Wait a Minute Casey,” which was a chronicle of the Mets first three (horrific) seasons.
Even as a kid, I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a wonderful read and reading it may have been the first time it crossed my mind that sportswriting might be a fun thing to do someday. Of course back then I was planning to PLAY for the Mets, not cover them.
When I came up just a tad shy of The Major Leagues—I did start in high school so I guess I JUST missed—and ended up as a sportswriter, I had the chance to meet and get to know Maury. You will never meet a nicer or more generous person. I still remember where and when I first met him: It was the day before the U.S. Open began in 1981. It was my first Open as the lead reporter for The Post and I showed up a day early to see if anyone was around I could write about.
Sure enough, John McEnroe, fresh off his win over Bjorn Borg in The Wimbledon final—not the classic 1980 match, the one a year later that McEnroe won—was practicing on the empty grandstand court with Peter Fleming, his doubles partner. I walked in there and saw Maury standing there watching. I introduced myself.
“Ever met McEnroe?” he asked. I hadn’t.
When McEnroe and Fleming took a break, Maury walked over with me in tow. “Hey Maury,” McEnroe shouted. “Did they kick you off baseball forever during the strike?”
“John, the Mets are so bad they sent me to cover you,” Maury answered.
Then he said. “I want you to meet a friend of mine. You should give him a few minutes when you’re finished.”
Maury and I had been friends at that point for five minutes. McEnroe talked to me when he was finished and, of course, wrote my entire story for me. He and I went on to have a very good relationship. Maury Allen and I stayed friends until he passed away over the weekend. I will miss him but I will never forget his work, his laugh or his generosity.