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Rookies in name only

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Rob Hodgetts | 18:03 UK time, Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The term rookie usually conjures up images of a raw, fresh-faced youngster. Green, inexperienced, possibly naïve. Sometimes lacking in confidence.

The rookies at this Ryder Cup, though, would appear to be a different breed.

You’ve got 21-year-old Rory McIlroy creating a storm by calling out Tiger Woods. You’ve got Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who comes to Celtic Manor as a major winner.

And you’ve got a host of super-confident Americans who hit the golf ball a country mile and come with serious pedigree.

Of course, anyone who makes a team can play (and has probably earned millions doing so) but the Ryder Cup is a completely different kettle of ball games. It’s just that your modern rookie just doesn’t seem that, well, rookie-ish anymore.

US captain Corey admits his hands were shaking so much he struggled to get his ball on the tee when he made his debut in 1991, while Stewart Cink says that when he came to hit his first shot in foursomes in 2002 he completely forgot what his pre-shot routine was and had to pause for a few seconds until it came back to him.

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Hair-raising antics as Europe share a joke with McIlroy

“This time around, our rookies are incredibly talented, world-class players. What can you tell Rory McIlroy about world-class golf that he doesn’t already know?” said team-mate Graeme McDowell, who admitted he was “like a rabbit in the headlights” when he made his debut at Vahalla two years ago.

Europe have six rookies, the most since Brookline in 1999, and captain Colin Montgomerie arranged for his side to speak with Ryder Cup great Seve Ballesteros and Wales and Lions rugby legend Gareth Edwards on Tuesday night.

“I just feel it was right for the rookies to hear that passion, more than motivation, from two of Europe’s greatest sportsmen,” said Montgomerie.

The skipper, though, seems happy enough so far with their ability to cope with the pressure of a Ryder Cup.

"Having been a rookie myself I'm surprised how relaxed they've been," he said.

That's because of Monty's rookies, Kaymer, 25, is ranked sixth in the world after lifting the USPGA title in August, and has already tasted the Ryder Cup environment as a guest with Sir Nick Faldo’s side two years ago.

And the bouncy McIlroy, once credited by Mark O’Meara as having a better swing than Woods at the same age, has enjoyed a phenomenal surge into the upper echelons of the game and is the world number nine after finishing third at both the Open and USPGA this year.

McIlroy’s “provocation” of Woods, and the ensuing media frenzy forced his team-mates to don black curly wigs on the first tee in solidarity on Tuesday. The match-up, though, is mouth-watering.

Then there's Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, who won the World Cup together last year and are being trumpeted as one of Europe’s dream pairings. Francesco, dubbed “the quiet” one, is a solid performer who many say should have won more, but for a faltering putter. Ryder Cup team-mate Ross Fisher once asked him when he last missed a fairway and Francesco replied “1990”.

The 29-year-old Edoardo is "the more excitable one" and booked his place after a stunning three-birdie finish in the final qualifying event at Gleneagles.

As for Fisher, he was one of the top performing players over the four majors in 2009, won the World Match Play title against Anthony Kim in November and won the Irish Open last month. The 29-year-old admits he used to get given Ryder Cup videos for Christmas and as a youngster growing up at Wentworth he got to see the Cup first hand when captain Bernard Gallacher brought it into the clubhouse after the victory in 1995.

Sweden’s Peter Hanson, 32, could be seen as being more in the traditional “rookie” mode - a lower profile player who may only have a bit part this week.

But Hanson has played in three Seve Trophy matches and has won twice this season to make the team, displacing Paul Casey in the process, and make it four European Tour wins in total. That’s four more than Oliver Wilson took to Valhalla.

Lee Westwood, playing in his seventh Ryder Cup, said all the rookies were "fairly handy". "They have travelled the world and played majors and proved that they can cope with the ultimate pressure, which this is this week."

The USA, meanwhile, have five rookies, one less than in 2008. But the new generation of "bombers" suggests the team could be the longest-hitting squad in Ryder Cup history. Two years ago it was the American debutants that fired their side to victory, with the likes of Kim, top-scorer Hunter Mahan (four points out of five) and the talismanic Boo Weekley igniting the home crowd as the rookies contributed 11 of the US’s 16.5 points.

There were certainly no shrinking violets in that rookie line-up - who can forget Weekley "riding" his driver up the 1st fairway - and Jim Furyk said the more experienced players were "energised" by their presence.

This week they have Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson who are ranked at 11 and 12 in the world, alongside big-hitters Bubba Watson, Jeff Overton and 21-year-old rising star Ricky Fowler.

“I like these rookies, they are aggressive, positive and they are going to come out firing,” said US captain Corey Pavin. “I think I just want to make sure that they are emotionally under control.”

The 32-year-old Kuchar admits he feels like a rookie this week, but he is the most consistent player in the America this year with 11 top 10s, and he came second to Jim Furyk in the $10m Fed Ex Cup.

Johnson has simply been one of the hottest properties on tour this year.

The lanky 26-year-old blew a three-shot lead with a final-round 82 at the US Open in June and lost a play-off spot in August’s US PGA when penalised two shots for falling foul of a controversial bunker rule. But the US Tour’s third longest hitter (with average driving distance of 308.5 yards, behind Watson and Robert Garrigus) has also won twice this season.

Then there’s wise-cracking Watson, the loose left-hander with the self-taught swing, who is the second longest player on tour at 309.8 yards (Garrigus averages 315.9). The fast-talking Floridian, who has his own TV show, uses pink-shafted drivers and always does the top button up on his T-shirt, lost to Kaymer in the play-off at Whistling Straits. Afterwards, he said he didn’t mind losing because it got him into the Ryder Cup.

“Bubba is a character,” says team-mate Steve Stricker. “He’s probably the Boo Weekley of the team.”

Watson admitted he hadn’t really grilled any of his team-mates on what to expect this week. “It’s just golf,” he said. But his eyes filled with tears when he said he wanted to win for his Vietnam war-veteran dad who has cancer and has been given three months to live. Watson says he cries a lot, and admitted he was in tears as the US team listened Major Dan Rooney, an F16 fighter pilot, give a speech at Celtic Manor on what it means to represent your country.

“More than likely I’ll never be in the military so this is the chance to be like my dad,” said Watson.

The 27-year-old Overton is the first player to make the US team without having won on tour but has steadily accumulated almost $3.5m this season. And finally there’s Fowler, the first US wildcard not to have won a pro tournament but a winner of seven of his eight matches in the Walker Cup and the first player to go from the amateur event to the Ryder Cup the next year.

When picking him as a wildcard, Pavin said he had a “feeling” about Fowler, the long-time world amateur number one, who was nine when Woods won the first of his 14 majors in 1997.

The Californian, one of the new breed of young guns bringing some dash and dynamism to the game, is usually decked out in some block of lurid pastel colour ad always wears orange on the final day of a tournament in honour of his college, Oklahoma State University.

“I guess my playing style, I’m very old school, but I guess very new school with the stuff I usually wear,” said Fowler, whose middle name is Yutaka after his Japanese maternal grandfather. “I like to play fast. I don’t have the perfect video swing. It’s just step up and go.”

Like McIlroy, Fowler exudes confidence but insists he is not brash.

“I’d go on the confident side, I don’t like to build myself up or anything,” he said. “Being confident is, I guess, just staying humble, in a way quiet, collected. Cocky may be when you start to throw out predictions or say, I want to beat this guy or feel like I could beat him. It’s a fine line.

“If you gave me time I might be able to come up with some dictionary stuff and bigger words that might work out a little better.”

There is a changing of the guard, but no matter how confident a player is, the Ryder Cup is likely to take the breath away.

“You are not just playing for yourself, you’re playing for 11 other guys, plus all of the backroom staff and most of Europe as well,” says McIlroy.

Put like that, maybe the rookies will feel the pressure after all.


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Really good article and a nice summary of the Rookies involved.

    I am curious as to why the McIlroy comments are being made into such a big deal. From the coverage I have seen (from this website) in essence McIlroy has said that yes what Woods is capable of doing in beyond any other player in World golf (when he is at his best) but that at the moment he isn't anywhere near his terrifying best and he does think people will fear playing him to the same extent that they may have done. It seems ludicrous that anyone could suggest Tiger has the same Aura now that he had a couple of years ago, you can clearly see that. I think the moment when a lot of this aura may have gone was when he was beaten by YE Yang, who showed that its possible to hunt down Woods and beat him in a major where EVERYONE else had failed. McIlroy's comments seem like a reasonable observation and, in my view reflect what most golf commentators and followers have been saying for the last 18 months or so.

  • Comment number 3.

    I personally think everyone is making too much of this mcilroy - woods thing that is going round. Surely there is more to talk about with the first tee shot a day away !!

    only thing at the moment is that mcilroy is maybe a bit naive with the media in what he says. In a few years, he'll be putting things alot different that what he has this week (not that there is anything wrong with being direct!).

    but the last thing we need is to pump up woods any more. i get the feeling he's out to make a point this weekend. alot of people have been lining up to snipe at him for one reason or another. His game is showing signs of improvement and like it or not, i think he will get back to the games dominating player sooner rather than later.

  • Comment number 4.

    Some interesting insights, Rob, but also some strange choices of words.
    "...the ensuing media frenzy forced his team-mates to don black curly wigs..."

    'Forced'? Looks like a laugh - Rory has been hyped almost to the Second Coming or something so the 'I'm Spartacus' - "no, I'm Spartacus' (or 'I'm Brian', for younger readers!) looked about as unforced as it gets.
    (Or was it a reference to the 'I'm Tiger Woods' hype of a few years ago? Whatever, it lightened the atmosphere - but I think you give your fellow scribblers too much credit in saying they 'forced' the team into it. They have whipped up a fuss about nothing at all. Get a grip, guys, and try and realise your true role in life - not to make the news, rather to report it.

    Loved the Molinari insight, though - '1990' the last time he missed a fairway? Was he misheard when using the 24-hr clock? With the pressure of the Ryder Cup, the next time is likely to be before 9am Friday - or 0900, if you prefer.

  • Comment number 5.

    I like the blog today - lots of interesting facts about the new faces in the Ryder Cup.

    It's just a shame that yet again the media created story of McIlroy calling out Woods is reference - but I noticed you're now putting quotes around provocation so is this a sign that we're beginning to win the fight to get his comments reported accurately?

    Either way I'm looking forward to tomorrow and hoping for a really competitive tournament this year, both sides have outstanding talent so could be one of the best ever!

  • Comment number 6.

    Team - you're right, they weren't forced. But according to Monty, one of the caddies told him Rory was upset with all the furore and they decided they needed a gesture to make him feel better. Poor old Monty's a bit bemused by these sorts of antics - "I've no idea where you get these 'so-called' wigs from". They're not 'so-called' Monty. They're wigs. Probably from a joke shop, next to the blonde 'Colin Montgomerie wigs'.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am pretty excited about tomorrow! Rookies galore with bags of confidence, a happy, confident and most of all engaging captain (unlike Faldo) and a keen sense of rivalry that is tempered by the fact that at the heart of things most of the guys on either side are great friends.

    I see it being close, no more than 1.5 points in it, but I think (I hope) the Europeans will come through!

    Go on Monty, keep smiling and get those boys fired up for the win!

  • Comment number 8.

    Oh, just a quick question the BBC photos of Wednesday Practice it shows Fowler, Furyk, Stricker and Woods in their waterproofs, only Woods does not have his name on the back, any insight into why?

  • Comment number 9.

    Damog7 - good spot, don't know, I'll do some research.

  • Comment number 10.

    The Ryder Cup is a great event but it sounds like the weather is going to spoil it. Maybe playing this late in the year is a bad idea in the British Isles.

  • Comment number 11.

    I just read on Jason Sobel's twitter page (he's a reporter for ESPN) that Tiger did not wear a jacket with his name on it because the one they got him was the wrong size.

  • Comment number 12.

    Tiger is bound to be raging with that....dissention in the American camp, the trophy is clearly Europe's for the taking!!

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree with Carior. Why the furore over McIllroys comments on Woods which were respectful, tempered, honest and accurate. The usual press angle is to select parts out of context and try to illicit a response from the opposition, which seeingly includes Pavin who wants to use extracts to motivate Woods and keep the issue simmering. For years we have listened to inane, guarded comments from top sportsmen and as soon as we receive honest, open comments from a fine young sportsman his words are interpreted as disrespectful. Get a life.

  • Comment number 14.

    For years we have listened to inane, guarded comments from top sportsmen and as soon as we receive honest, open comments from a fine young sportsman his words are interpreted as disrespectful. Get a life.


    Great comment. Agree completely.

  • Comment number 15.

    Sorry, too nervous to blog.

    LETS GET IT ON!!!!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    Surprised to see Overton and Watson put out Friday morning - if they don't win, that'll be it until the singles.

    Just a comment about, not rookies, but veterans.
    1).No-one ever mentions Robert Karlsson, but he had arguably the best Ryder Cup for Europeans in Valhalla, was in super form. A big loss for Monty.
    2).Why do the press let Woods get away with this "I tried to qualify and wasn't successful"? No he hasn't, hasn't even played the bare minimum of Tour events. All very well to have a go at Casey and Rose etc (as has been done ad nauseum on this site), but Woods just didn't try, not one bit. Yet time and time again the press lets him off scot-free.

    Have a great time, hope you've figured out how Europe will win Friday morning 3-1 by now!

  • Comment number 17.

    id go 3-1 to Europe tomorrow morning, at worse 2.5-1.5

    I think that Westwood and Kaymer will half to Mickleson and Johnson.

    Mcdowell and McIlroy will win against Cink and Kuchar.

    Poults and Fisher to half against Woods and Stricker (maybe lose)

    Harrington and Donald to win against Watson and Overton.

    of course they are just predictions the Ryder cup is very unpredictable but its going to be 3 good days of golf, with the Europeans winning the Samuel Ryder cup back 15-13

  • Comment number 18.

    I feel Monty has missed a trick by not playing the world pairs champions, especially since they have apparently been playing very well in practice. I'm equally surprised Pavin has put out Watson and Overton, who both have been in poor form recently.

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm English but this time I will be wanting the Americans to win - and I hope they give the Europe team a thrashing. Maybe that will be enough to wipe the smug, self-praising grin off Monty's face and prove to him once and for all that his leadership qualities and golf judgments are below par.

  • Comment number 20.

    Nickerlouse...calm yourself down! Monty seems pretty popular with the team and most reckon (me included) that he is doing a great job and representing Europe like a gentleman with good grace and sportsmanship...unlike your Nick Faldo who was an embarassment to the European team, Golf and more importantly to himself!

    Go on yourself Monty, lets get that trophy back!


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