Souhan: Pull up a chair for three days of golf's greatest theater

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2012 - 12:05 PM

It begins Friday morning and never lets up.

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In this Oct. 4, 2010, file photo Europe's Graeme McDowell, left, and Ian Poulter celebrate winning the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Photo: Peter Morrison, Associated Press file

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MEDINAH, ILL. - He laughed, he cried. He mused about the bonding powers of table tennis.

He told stories about the joys of team camaraderie, and stories that might keep his players up until 2:30, which is when he finally got to bed Wednesday morning while contemplating his lineup.

Hours later, on Wednesday afternoon, Davis Love III had more luck explaining his emotions than controlling them. The captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which will face Europe this weekend at Medinah Country Club, might as well have been telling Minnesotans what they have to look forward to when the golf's most relentlessly compelling tournament visits Hazeltine National in 2016:

Golf not as the pursuit of individual glory, but as a staccato burst of won and lost holes that leaves players singing patriotic songs or weeping with guilt.

"We just went through an Olympics, and this is becoming like the Olympics for America," Love said.

Love played in six Ryder Cups. He has watched great players wilt under the pressure of playing for their teammates and country instead of an oversized check.

"The Ryder Cup, to me, is like the last nine holes of a major when you've got a chance to win," he said. "Except it starts Friday morning on the first tee, and it never lets up.

"I honestly don't think you get any more nervous on Sunday trying to win your singles match than you are on Friday morning hitting the first shot. You know every shot, every half-point, everything adds up."

The Americans have lost four of the past five Ryder Cups. Their most famous player, Tiger Woods, has played on only one winning Ryder Cup team, as a knee injury kept him off the winning team in 2008. Love has tried to diminish the pressure on his team to win on home soil by treating most of the week like retreat.

A few of his players went to a Pearl Jam concert. They've spent more hours playing table tennis than practicing golf. They've played board games and dined together at Gibson's, the famous Chicago steakhouse. For most of the year, golfers are independent contractors. During the Ryder Cup, they become companions and compatriots.

"The thing is, we don't always get to stay on the same hall, we don't get to go on the same bus to dinner like we did last night," Love said. "That's the difference. And we want them to enjoy the experience and not put too much pressure on themselves."

Love noted that Bob Rotella, the famous sports psychologist, cited the way John Calipari coaches the Kentucky basketball team, by making practices fun and often stress-free.

"We've got unbelievably fast thoroughbreds here," Love said. "If you don't ever let them out on the pasture to kick their heels up and eat some grass and keep them in the stall and make them run hard all the time, they're never going to run."

As a player, Love was known for being stoic, sometimes even dour. As a captain, he sounds more like an activities director than a man beaten down by the United States' discomfiting record.

Love kept coming back to table tennis, or, as he kept calling it, "ping-pong." "I know, I know, it's table tennis," he said. "I learned to say FedEx Cup and the 39th Ryder Cup, I should be able to say table tennis."

A few minutes later, something strange happened. Love, while breaking down the table tennis games of his players, noting that Matt Kuchar is undefeated and that Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods have formed a formidable doubles team, Love mentioned Mickelson's rivalry with Brandt Snedeker, and Love's voice began to break.

"They're just great," Love said. "I love being around them."

One of Love's players, Bubba Watson, is also known for crying.

"Oh, yeah," Love said. "Bubba and I are going to cry a lot. We were both crying at the same table last night."

The Ryder Cup has reduced many men to tears. Usually, they wait for the tournament to begin.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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