A cold fall day with spurts of driving rain and the occasional rumble of thunder welcomed the 2012 U.S. and European Ryder Cup captains at Medinah Country Club on Monday to kick off the “Year-Out Ryder Cup Celebration.”
When Medinah PGA Head Professional and Director of Golf Mike Scully greeted U.S. Captain Davis Love III and European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal, he joked about the wet reception saying, “believe it or not, this isn’t Wales – we’re actually at Medinah.” It was a playful poke at the rain-plagued 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, where the weather forced more interruptions in play than anyone would like to remember.
Love and Olazabal arrived at Medinah early Monday morning and were scheduled to play 18 holes. That, however, was scrapped due to the weather.
“It would have been nice to play,” Love said, “but it’s not very nice out there right now. I’ve seen the course before today and I know it looks great. I didn’t need to play it to know that.”
Small streams of rain could be seen forming on a few of Medinah’s fairways from the majestic clubhouse. Scully reported that in the early-morning hours, Medinah had taken over an inch and a half of rain and more was expected throughout the day.
Rain or shine, both Love and Olazabal were excited and happy to talk about the 2012 Ryder Cup, which will take place September 28-30, as the U.S. attempts to pry the coveted trophy back from Europe, which has won four of the last five.
For his part, Olazabal’s captaincy – a Ryder Cup legend with seven appearances, who often teamed with the late Seve Ballesteros – was more a question of, “when,” than, “if.” Even after Ballesteros’ death, the Spanish legend looms large in Olazabal’s mind. In fact, he couldn’t help but share one classic Seve story from Olazabal’s Ryder Cup debut in 1987 at Muirfield Village.
On the first hole of their Friday afternoon four-ball match against Tom Kite and Curtis Strange, Ballesteros missed the green withhis approach shot, and Olazabal hit his first putt three or four feet past the hole. “Seve approached me and said, ‘Ollie, why don't you finish it and so I can go for it,’” Olazabal explained. “And I said, okay, fine. So I'm looking at the line and Curtis approached me and said, ‘Ollie, by the way I think you better not putt that one.’
“I said, ‘What's the matter? What's the problem?’
"’Well, if I hit my putt past the hole, you might be standing on my line.’
“Okay. Fine. So I said, ‘Seve, I cannot putt.’
"’What's the matter?’
"’I might be standing on Curtis's line.’"
“So he looked at me and said, ‘Don't you worry. I'm going to make it anyway.’
“He chipped it in,” Olazabal said. “That was it.”
Love, meanwhile, is a veteran of six Ryder Cups, a PGA Champion and the son of a PGA Professional.
“As the son of a PGA professional, I'm very excited to have made this journey, not only to make it on the PGA Toour, to play in Ryder Cup Matches, but now to be in charge of trying to win the Cup back for The PGA of America,” Love said. “I know my dad would be extremely proud of me; to not only have played The Ryder Cup, but to try to uphold the traditions of the game that he taught me. I am excited to be here and excited to kick this year to go event off.”
Olazabal and Love have enjoyed similar careers. They both turned professional in 1986, have competed in several Ryder Cups and have won and contended in majors.
Olazabal said they have something else in common too – both lost a close mentor in their lives. Love’s father, a renowned PGA Professional who contended in the 1964 Masters, died in a plane crash in 1988. Olazabal, on the other hand, idolized his former Ryder Cup teammate and fellow Spanaird, Ballesteros, who passed away in May.
“I think we are kind of similar guys. I think we are kind of sentimental in a way,” Olazabal said. “We do have similarities. I know that your father passed away early, and unfortunately I lost a dear friend and a mentor not long ago, and I'm pretty sure that both of them will be looking on us and when everything is done and over, all I can hope for is that both of them will be proud of us.”
Armed with umbrellas, Love and Olazabal took to the course for some photo-ops on the first tee with the Ryder Cup Trophy, before receiving a brief tour of the 15th hole – a par 4 that has changed significantly since the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah and will be drivable for the Ryder Cup.
“We didn't get to play but it looks like an exciting hole, and it looked long today, but you know, 280, certainly is reachable, and I think it will make for some exciting decisions,” said Love. “We have to decide where we want to put the tee and how we want to play it. … it will be very exciting coming down those last few holes because you've got some risk/reward and you have the 16th hole can play over 500 yards now. Obviously 17 and 18 have been the scene of a lot of dramatic shots and putts in major championships.
Talking about the 15th hole reminded Love of his Ryder Cup debut.
“My first three Ryder Cup Matches were against Seve and José, so I got quite a taste of, welcome to The Ryder Cup,” he smiled. “Tom Kite and I drew them three matches in a row, which is very hard to do. But the 10th hole at The Belfry, they kept laying up on us, and we would try to hit drivers on the green. We kept losing the hole. So I'm going to remember that when it comes time to play 15 here, remind him the way Seve had José play that hole.
Love and Olazabal then rolled a couple of putts on the 11th green, adjacent to the 15th tee, before hopping back in a golf cart to find cover – and warmth – in the clubhouse.
Following Monday’s press conference, the captains had a busy day ahead. They were moving on to visit the Trump Tower in downtown Chicago, then on to Cellular One Field to through out the first pitch at the Chicago White Sox game before ending the evening with a fireside chat at the Chicago Theater.
“I think reality hits you when you walk in this clubhouse; that it's serious, that it's really going to happen in a year,” Love concluded. “We'd better be prepared for it. We'd better get our teams ready, and you know, the next big event here is going to have a lot of people watching everything that we're doing.
“Yeah, reality is certainly setting in. The questions I get around the golf world just day in and day out tells me how important this event is to the golf fans and to the golf world, and days like today, where decisions that we have to make, really make it sink in, that it's coming a lot faster than we thought,” he added. “We thought two years was going to take forever, and it's flying by.”