U.S. Ryder Cup Rookies Not Burdened By Recent Failures

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

A recurring theme when Paul Azinger huddles with his U.S. team is to forget the past at the Ryder Cup.

He can be sure at least half of them get the message.

Ben Curtis was playing the mini-tours when Phillip Price and Paul McGinley delivered crucial points in Sunday singles to win at The Belfry in 2002, the opening blow in this decade of domination for Europe.

Anthony Kim still was in college when Padraig Harrington dropped one last putt at Oakland Hills to give Europe its biggest rout.

Boo Weekley? He doesn't watch much golf on television, so he might have been in a deer stand with a rifle slung over his shoulder when Darren Clarke provided the inspiration and Sergio Garcia provided most of the points at The K Club in another record romp for Europe.

They are among six rookies on the American team, the most in nearly 40 years, who have no Ryder Cup experience. Considering what happened the past three times, and eight of the past 11 dating to 1985, they might be the Americans' greatest asset.

"Not being a part of the last few U.S. teams is not necessarily a bad thing," said Phil Mickelson, whose best Ryder Cup was his first one, in 1995, when he went 3-0. "So the guys who haven't played, they have never lost this event."

The other Ryder Cup rookies are 41-year-old PGA Tour veteran Steve Stricker, powerful hometown favorite J.B. Holmes and Hunter Mahan, who made it through his first big test Tuesday when the British press grilled him about his comments earlier this year in a magazine interview, in which he referred to the Ryder Cup as a moneymaking machine and said he heard that players were treated like slaves by the PGA of America.

Stricker, who has had a remarkable career turnaround in recent years, said his greatest thrill in golf was when Azinger called to tell him he was a captain's pick.

"Right at the top," Stricker said. "It's a great opportunity, something that I'll have forever."

Europe had five rookies on its 2004 team, and captain Bernhard Langer kept three of them out of action until the second day. One of them, Paul Casey, thought that was a smart move, because it gave them time to get used to noise and the nerves.

Azinger doesn't have that option. At least two of them will be in the opening lineup Friday morning. He might use all six.

"I wouldn't have any trouble putting rookie and rookie together," he said. "Sometimes, I think it's more difficult to go out with an experienced player. I think sometimes the rookie feels like he has something to prove to that guy. But when you talk about rookies . . . these guys all know that they're equally as good as the guys who have played in the Ryder Cup before."

BEWARE OF SPIES: Nick Faldo might want to keep his ideas close to his vest.

The European captain was in front of the 11th green Wednesday when he called Henrik Stenson over and pulled out a small notepad. Little did Faldo know, a British photographer was perched on a hill by the 12th tee. With a zoom lens, he was able to capture the notes on the paper, which appeared to be pairings.

They were only initials, but it wasn't hard to figure them out.

"SG" was next to "LW" - Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, who have gone 4-1-1 in two previous Ryder Cups; "JR" and "IP" would be Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, who are close friends with similar games. "RK" and "PH" would indicate Faldo was considering matching Robert Karlsson and three-time major champion Padraig Harrington.

Stenson's initials were next to the initials of Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey.

"We pretty much have a very clear idea of what we're going to do," Faldo said at his news conference. But he squirmed in his seat when someone pointed out that a photographer caught on camera a piece of paper with what appeared to be pairings.

"It just had the lunch list," Faldo said. "It had sandwich requests for the guys, just making sure who wants tuna, who wants the beef, who wants the ham. That's all it was."

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