Souhan: Time to unleash teams on Medinah

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2012 - 10:58 AM

The players are ready to get down to business after all the pre-tournament hoopla.

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Fans cheer on the first tee during the foursomes matches at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill.

Photo: David J. Phillip, Associated Press - Ap

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MEDINAH, ILL. - Brandt Snedeker might be the first golfer ever to be chosen to play in the first match of a Ryder Cup because his team feared he wouldn't react well to sedation.

"With pace of play, we wanted to get Brandt going," said Davis Love III, the U.S. team captain. "Brandt likes to get out there and get after it."

The Ryder Cup begins on Friday morning at Medinah Country Club, the last time the event will be conducted on U.S. soil before it visits Minnesota's Hazeltine National in 2016. Thursday, the teams from the United States and Europe played their last practice rounds and announced their pairings for the Friday morning foursomes, or alternate-shot, matches.

The popularity of the Ryder Cup has grown to the point where the organizers now treat it like a Super Bowl. There was a flyover that was aborted because of air-traffic concerns above the opening ceremony, plus Justin Timberlake, in what appeared not to be an attempt at satire, reciting a poem about golf.

"I feel like I'm wasting my time getting ready," Snedeker said. "I'm ready to go."

Snedeker, a Ryder Cup rookie coming off a victory at the Tour Championship, will pair with veteran Jim Furyk against Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. In other words, Snedeker will be an underdog in his first match, given that McIlroy is the top-ranked player in the world.

Love left four outstanding players on his bench for the morning session, including the two Americans who won majors this year, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. He chose the eager Snedeker for his leadoff group; paired Tiger Woods with his chosen partner, Steve Stricker; and paired Phil Mickelson with Keegan Bradley.

"They are two very good players and it will be a tough match," said Sergio Garcia, who will face Mickelson and Bradley. "But they are also two players that sometimes might not always hit it straight."

Europe has won four of the past five Ryder Cups, overcoming theoretically superior American rosters with gamesmanship and camaraderie. The Europeans may need the silhouette of Seve Ballesteros printed on their golf bags to cough in a lot of American backswings this week if they want to continue their dominance.

"Seve," said European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, Ballesteros' friend, "we miss you."

The United States is loaded with long hitters and excellent putters. Love set up Medinah's course with shallow rough to encourage players like Watson and Dustin Johnson to bomb away, and the U.S. claims to have sowed team spirit with a week of table tennis and group meals.

"The fans are already loud and electric out there," Simpson said. "Tuesday, the first practice round, we get to the first tee, and there are 10,000 people. I felt like I was in the final group of a major, in a practice round."

Simpson's presumptive partner, Watson, spent Thursday trying to ensure a home-course advantage. When he reached the first tee, he waved his arms as the massive crowd screamed his name and chanted, "U-S-A!" Watson lashed a shot with his pink driver, then jogged through the rough, slapping palms.

Someone once joked that the Ryder Cup is an international event featuring 12 guys who live in Florida playing 12 guys who live in Florida, and Watson, a key member of the U.S. team, admits that he's friends with most of the European players. He and his teammates spent Thursday tossing souvenir pins into the massive and rowdy crowds at Medinah, anyway, trying to incite patriotic fervor to give the U.S. an edge when the competition begins on Friday morning.

"You know, it's not really a dislike," Watson said. "We're friends with all of them. We've played golf with all of them for years. We know them all. We know their families.

"It's just that little trophy. It's funny -- it's just that little trophy we want to win so bad."

If Love made a mistake with his Friday morning lineup, it was benching Watson.

Bubba might be the most charismatic player on the U.S. squad, and Love's setup of the course may favor Watson more than any other player.

"It wasn't who to send out," Love said. "It was who to sit down."

Friday morning, Watson will be leading cheers, this time without a driver in his hands.

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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