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Valhalla braced for epic battle

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Rob Hodgetts | 21:49 UK time, Tuesday, 16 September 2008

I knew I was in America when I ordered a beer at Chicago airport as we waited for our onward connection and was asked for ID. On my 37th birthday!

And our presence in the US was confirmed when we revved up the Chevy (very cheap, bean counters), cranked up the country music and set out from downtown Louisville, bound for Valhalla.

Flicking through the morning papers on the freeway, the hot topic was the chaos wreaked by the tail end of Hurricane Ike, which had caused up to 250,000 homes to lose power.

If omens are to be believed, the K Club was hit by remnants of Hurricane Gordon two years ago. And we all know what happened in that event.

But instead of driving wind and lashing rain this week, Valhalla looks set to be bathed in sunshine.

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The storms did cause the US team to miss a scheduled meet-up with Louisville legend Muhammad Ali on Monday night. The great man was in Michigan and didn't fancy coming back to a blackout. Instead, US skipper Paul Azinger took his side to the Muhammad Ali Center, a celebration of his life and career.

"It's all about what-ifs and dreams," said Azinger. "The players loved it. It was a great place to start the week."

On our search for Valhalla we passed Dick's Sporting Goods, some tanning salons, lots of tyre shops, plenty of churches and Moby Dick's fish restaurant where you can get "A whale of a sandwich".

But while Dolly Parton did her own wailing we began to wonder whether we had the right week. The only betrayal that something was afoot was the presence of a few rozzers.

Then a small sign confirmed we were in the right ballpark. Lanning's Paint Store had erected a banner saying "USA, make some putts". Bingo.

Soon we hit Ryder Cupville and Valhalla appeared on our left, in a leafy hollow. Not like, say, an Open venue that spreads out in all its glory in front of you. More tantalising glimpses through the trees.

First impressions are that it is lush, good-looking and pretty undulating (not unlike Ms Parton), though for the perfectionists the electricity pylons that bisect the plot slightly detract.

The grounds were already heaving with fans and the players were on the course early doors, the Europeans on the front nine, the US side on the back half.

European captain Nick Faldo sent his men out in four threeballs, while Azinger opted for three fourballs.

Already us hacks were scrambling to find some meaning in this when Faldo came in for a news conference.

"I thought we were playing in threes on Friday," said Faldo, acting baffled, before admitting to those not tuned in to his unique sense of humour that he was, in fact, joking. The newcomers will have to get used to him, because there'll be a lot more.


But, generally, Faldo's "presser" was going well. He sounded like he already knows what his pairings will be and was upbeat and fairly open. That is until someone piped up with: "Are you confident you can detach your own ego from managing the team over the next few days?"

The Faldo eyebrows lifted slightly there was a pause, a stern look and in a low, slow menacing voice he said: "I'm very confident". Cue silence in the press room.

With everyone's attention, and possibly trying to cover up any of the awkwardness, he added: "I've got a dozen characters [in the team]. I'm the quiet one in there."

To be honest, though, Faldo's "gags" aside, he comes across as a man very comfortable in his role, contrary to those who suggested his once singular mentality would be a hindrance to the side.

"I love being mother hen to this lot," he said. "I'm just loving every minute of it."

Azinger's conference followed Faldo's, and though he's not yet sure of his pairings, he let on that all 12 Americans will play on the first day.

Again, things were going swimmingly as he chewed the fat over various issues, until he was asked whether it was true that he regretted picking Raymond Floyd and the fiery Dave Stockton as his vice-captains, as Faldo had suggested last week.

Like a lion sensing a vulnerable prey, Azinger couldn't help himself and went in for the kill.

"Did you hear him say it? Did you ask him? Who asked him? Did someone hear him say it? Did you?" Azinger badgered the journalist in true Paxman fashion.

"I question whether he said it, and if he did, it's completely untrue."

That was us told. And like Faldo's flashpoint, you could hear a pin drop afterwards.

It was almost like both captains wanted to make their mark, or didn't want to be out-stropped by the other.

There's so many strands to this part of the week, from prospective pairings, to captaincy style, to course set-up and home advantage. And with it the press pack are like one of those flocks of birds or shoals of fish you see on TV nature programmes - darting and dancing this way and that, always on the move, but always as one.

To drum up the local support, Azinger's side are passing out lapel pins with the US flag and Ryder Cup logo on.

"They're loving that," he said. "They're screaming for more pins. We only have 10,000. That might not be enough."

His men will also be attending a "pep rally" in downtown Louisville on Thursday where they will be firing T-shirts out of guns for the fans.

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"We want to embrace this crowd and try to get them energised," he said, before adding quickly, "All the while, the message is certainly always going to be to maintain a certain level of sportsmanship. We don't want anybody out of hand and, of course, there will be some alcohol served, but we are engaging the crowd."

The Europeans are also keen to make friends, though in a more low-key way. Paul Casey's caddie Craig Connelly was spotted handing out balls, while Ian Poulter, for example, took four drives to find the 10th fairway and then punched the air in ironic triumph to cheers all round.

Faldo was asked what boost he thought the US would get from having Kentuckians JB Holmes and Kenny Perry on the team.

"Well, most of your states are bigger than our countries," he said, alluding to the fact that they might be from Kentucky but that doesn't mean they are "local". You can't fault his logic, but when the battle heats up, logic is likely to go out of the window.

"I'll tell you one thing," added Azinger. "On 13, it's 330 yards to the front of the green and Holmes flew it all the way. The crowd went absolutely crazy. That was just the kind of a dose of what we could be in for and I look forward to it."

You bet he does. But then so does Faldo. Asked whether there was a key to being successful in the Ryder Cup, his eyes sparkled.

"There sure is," said the record points scorer, puffing out his chest. "A big heart, strong in mind and strong in battle."

Valhalla will not be a place for the faint-hearted this weekend.


  • Comment number 1.

    It sounds like Nick is getting it together and isn't feeling the pressure YET.

    I am not sure about the 3 balls, but assume it's bonding and he is maybe putting together the 'other guy' for a change if the 1st choice don't do the business..?

    I am not sure how much of the Cup I'll see here ( Madeira ) as there is no local TV coverage and Eurosport are more interested in cycling and beach soccer, pity !!

    Good Luck to the lads from Europe. I am confident they will retain.

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm hoping for some fireworks between the Zinger and Faldo once it get going.

    We WILL win though, COME ON EUROS!!

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm hoping for some fireworks between the Zinger and Faldo once it gets going.

    We WILL win though, COME ON EUROS!!

  • Comment number 4.

    I think Europe will win - but it will be nothing to do with Faldo's leadership ability - just we're generally better all round - and they don't like matchplay - mistake not taking Darren Clarke

  • Comment number 5.

    Sounds to me like the two captains are similar in personality both with a touch of arrogance and large ego. Can't help feeling that the 'get in the hole' type attitude helps or suits the Americans more than us.

    Not saying it will change the outcome as I think well win but it may be closer than most people think.

  • Comment number 6.

    Faldo has surprised alot of people with how he's handling things, much better than they thought he would, convinced his ego would get in the way. Which is strange really, the man took a singular approach to the game when he was playing it because it made him a better player, enabled him to win. He's shown since that he's not the p**** that most people had him down as. He also is well aware of how to win at the Ryder Cup and will know the best way to get the most from his team. No one was going to be better prepared for this than Faldo and I think that will come across as the week wears on. I want to know, is anyone using the drum kits he's got in the team room?

  • Comment number 7.

    I hope the Yanks win. Faldo is a disgrace and well hated by most players and fans in the UK and very immature. Poulter is an arrogant so and so. On balance the Yanks should win as they have the better team. Why on earth was Faldo chosen as captain anyway he was never a team player? The omission of Monty and Clarke for two no marks shows what an ego Faldo has on him. If Faldo won we would never hear the last of it from this billy no mates charmless nurk.

  • Comment number 8.

    reply re blogbag.
    I watched Faldo play in the 1993 Ryder cup and have been to others on this side of the pond.To most playing golfers Faldo is a legend and irrespective of whether you like him or not he is not only the most successful British golfer of all time he is the most successful European golfer of all time and is rightly held in awe.
    He may do it his way but it will be professional whether we win or not and although pairings and picks are important it is ultimately down to whether the players play good golf or not and both sides are capable.European dominance will not last forever but the European sides are overall stronger than in the past despite the hegemony of the Big 5 (Faldo ,Ballesteros,Langer Lyle and Woosnam )in the 80s and 90s.
    But I will be amazed if it is another drubbing. I expect this to very close.Hopefully it will not be Brookline!

  • Comment number 9.

    Pompey_Oz wants to know what Rob thinks of Faldo's latest blunder in giving away his foursomes pairings for Friday? Surely this is just his latest mistake on his way to becoming Europe's Hal Sutton?

  • Comment number 10.

    Thank you BBC for this coverage !

    As a Scotsman living in Louisville for the past three years I cannot tell you how excited I am about this competition. Over the past few days everyone has taken time to explain in glorious detail how the Yanks are going to beat us (though most people seem confused as to who the Yanks are actually playing).

    The local television news only shows Americans sinking puts which is remarkable considering they have been spanked the last couple of years !

    Lets go Europe, time to put the disobedient children back in their box.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Pompey_Oz!

    Faldo tried to pass it off as his pairings for Thursday but they could quite conceivably be the bones of his Friday line-up.

    I reckon it could have happened to anyone, though it was vintage Faldo to think we would buy his explanation that it was the list of who was having what sandwiches for lunch.

    We're not all as stupid as we look!

    As for Europe's Hal Sutton, no chance. No one can be that bad! Everything I have seen and heard here suggests that things are ticking over nicely for Faldo and his side. I would say the Americans are definitely on the back foot.

    But I reckon it's going to be a pretty tasty atmosphere on Sunday. Hang on to your Tommy Nakajima signature cap!

  • Comment number 12.

    Biopcy - take the points on board - but everytime I see Faldo I just wretch at this loathesome person. He may have been a winner in his career but the other pros could not stand him - I go with their judgement - he has not matured with age. Monty/ Clarke may have won no majors but they have the heart and play for the team. The team lacks any personality (looks more like a team of accountants!), heart, fight and courage - haven't even heard of half of 'em! - also too many Europeans and not any Welsh or Scots - should be compulsory as we were there before the Europeans. Anyway its time for the Yanks to win as otherwise it just becomes a dull one sided tourney like before the 80s - yawwnnn! And its best that Faldo is the one that loses the cup as I woud just love to see his boat race when that happens. Will be close but Yanks will edge it - home advantage - then Faldo can rightfully be consigned to history as a loser in the RC and backstabber to Monty and Clarke.

  • Comment number 13.

    Why all the anti-Faldo?? Lets not forget who the good guys are in this battle!

    I have spent $850 on a TV and taken annual leave over here in Australia so I can watch the whole thing so lets get behind the boys.
    When we compare the captains I see two things. Big Nick and the legendary singles performance against Curtis Strange at Oak Hill in '95
    Paul (in the water at the Belfry in '89!) Azinger acting like a complete tool when he held his bunker shot in '02 in a losing battle!!

    Bit nervous about the potential outcome but not about to become a turncoat! Team Europe all the way.

  • Comment number 14.

    blogabg, everyone's allowed an opinion and i appreciate you're not faldo's number 1 fan but get over yourself bud, please. faldo was europes' most successful golfer and like all great sportsmen, he hated to lose. you haven't got to like him and you can even knock his methods but come sunday night, if we keep the cup in europe it would have been a job well done. im staggered at the amount of bad press that he's getting and there's morons like you who even want europe to lose the cup so you can see faldo suffer. complete madness in my opinion......i was as dissapointed as anyone to learn that clarke hadnt got the nod (monty was a real outside chance, surely?) but the fact of the matter is, we dont need people who play for the heart and soul of the team we need points on the board as i understand it correctly.



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