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Ryder Cup hostilities cast aside

After being postponed, this event is about getting along, even if some players are struggling.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002

The Ryder Cup is upon us, in case you forgot.

One of the most highly anticipated sporting events is this week, lacking the hype and hoopla that have come to signify it.

Gone are the trite phrases, such as "War By The Shore" and "Battle at Brookline." Sniping across the Atlantic between the United States and European teams has been nonexistent. The buildup, if any, has been slow, although it is expected to increase when the two sides arrive in England on Monday.

When the 34th Ryder Cup matches were postponed a year ago after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the event changed.

And, many believe, that is fine.

"The edge has been taken off the tournament a little bit, and I think it's going to be a good thing for the Ryder Cup," said Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1 player who makes his third appearance in the event. "I think we're going to see how it used to be played.

"Granted, this is a competition between Europe and the United States, but this is supposed to be a celebration of golf. It's not life or death, and I think that's what a lot of the public, as well as the press, make it out to be, and even some of the players.

"We're going out there and we're supposed to have fun, enjoy competing against the person in your group, and shake hands and let's go have a beer afterwards. That's how the Ryder Cup used to be, and I wish it would get back to that."

U.S. captain Curtis Strange and European captain Sam Torrance worked toward that goal even before the event was postponed a year ago. They have reinstituted a postmatch gathering that was discontinued in 1995 because of the heated nature of the competition.

Scheduled to begin Friday at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England, the Ryder Cup has enjoyed a phenomenal run since 1987, when the United States lost for the first time at home. Since then no match has been decided by more than two points. The past three have had a final score of 14 1/2 to 13 1/2, and the competition has been as tense as it has been thrilling.

But the consensus was things got out of hand in 1999 at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where the U.S. team staged a huge final-day rally, and trampled all over golf etiquette in the process.

When Justin Leonard's clinching birdie putt dropped on the 17th hole, players, wives and caddies celebrated as Europe's Jose Maria Olazabal waited to putt. Europeans are still seething over the lack of decorum, even though the U.S. side repeatedly apologized.

But Sept. 11 brought perspective. Most competitors from both teams were in the United States, set to compete in the American Express Championship in St. Louis. Competitors turned into allies.

"I think it will be more subdued," said Davis Love, in his fifth Ryder Cup. "The fans will have a tough time. It's going to be harder to pull against the Americans now. We're a lot closer now because of this. It won't be quite as ugly. They won't be so happy in our failures. Before, it was almost as much happiness in failure as there was in your own team winning.

"Maybe that will be good. Hopefully this will wake people up. It gets ugly outside the ropes. Inside, we're fine. Most of us are friends anyway. But outside ... any time there is so much hype, so much attention. ... I think this will get it back to being the competition, the friendly match that it is supposed to be."

Germany's Bernhard Langer is playing his 10th Ryder Cup.

"The world will never be the same," said Langer, now a Florida resident. "I still think the spectators will really cheer on their own team. Hopefully they will go back a little bit to where just good shots will be applauded and bad ones to keep quiet. But in the Ryder Cup, it's different. They applaud even bad shots. They applaud when balls go in the water and when somebody misses a putt. I'm not sure that's going to change, but we'll have to wait and see."

After the postponement the teams remained as they were, with no swaps. That, in part, is why there has been less buzz. Typically there is considerable attention to the process of making the team.

With no changes there has been speculation the matches will be less than spectacular. Several players on each team have slipped from their form of a year ago. The average world ranking of the European team has slipped from 24 to 50, and the U.S. team has dropped from 13 to 28. Although there was thought given to adding a player to each team, it was decided that nothing would be done.

"It's just not the proper thing to do," Strange said. "It's as simple as that. It's important to keep them the same, because it's the 2001 team. The reason we're delayed a year is because of the worst disaster to ever hit our country.

"I just didn't want to change anything about this team because of why we were delayed, to remember why we were delayed and to honor those who died." That said, Strange expects the usual drama of a Ryder Cup.

"Once they put that tee in the ground," he said, "I think it will be as competitive as hell."

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