Defending the Ryder Cup on foreign soil is something the United States hasn’t successfully accomplished since 1993, when current U.S. Captain Corey Pavin contributed three points to a winning effort at the Belfry.
In just two weeks, Oct. 1-3, the U.S. will have a chance to end that 17-year drought at The Celtic Manor Resort in City of Newport, Wales.
Pavin fielded questions from the media on a teleconference from his home city of Los Angeles Friday, touching upon a number of topics, including final preparations, Tiger Woods and what advice he’ll pass on to his rookies based on his own maiden Ryder Cup experience in 1991.
“I’ve been busy talking to the assistant captains and players and trying to get everything organized with them so that they understand what's happening during the week and trying to figure out pairings; been working on that for the last few days pretty hard,” said Pavin.
Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, Woods, along with rookies Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Jeff Overton, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler make up the 12-man U.S. team. For the first time in his career, Woods did not qualify on points and -- along with Cink, Zach Johnson and Fowler -- needed to rely on Pavin for a wildcard pick.
While many suspect that because of the tumultuous 10 months Woods has gone through, the pressure could be at an all-time high when he tees it up in Wales, Pavin believes it will be the exact opposite of that.
“He's in a position as a pick, and he has not played up to his own standards, but he's playing some very good golf now; that I think just like everybody on the team, he's one of 12 guys and I'm going to pair him and talk to him just like all of the other players I've talked to about who they want to play with and who I feel is best for them,” Pavin said. “I'm just going to look at every player and try to figure out how many times to play them and where they will do better. The object is to get more points than the other team at the end of the competition, and that's what I'm looking at.”
Nearly half the U.S. team is made up of rookies and Pavin already knows what he’ll be telling them on the first tee.
“The first thing is … breathe would be a good thing,” he joked. “I think, you know, when you're nervous like that, you tend to do things a little bit quicker, so, you know, I'll just ask him to slow down a little bit and take some breaths and just try to relax and just try to make a good rhythmic swing. Things happen so fast when you're nervous.”
Two of those Ryder Cup rookies, in particular, are in spectacular form at the moment. Kuchar currently leads the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup standings, thanks largely to a win at The Barclays, while Dustin Johnson quickly dusted himself off after a crushing 72nd-hole debacle at the PGA Championship to win last week in Chicago at Cog Hill.
“I think Dustin has had one of those years that he'll never forget, and hopefully there will be a lot more positive things happening in the next couple of weeks,” Pavin said. “You know, his win in Chicago, it was a huge deal for him. The things that have happened to him this year, the maturity that he's shown as the year has gone on. And to come back after the U.S. Open and play well at the PGA Championship the last day and with the bad break there on the last hole, he handled that very well, certainly with the media, and he just seemed to be … he understood it and he digested the whole situation very quickly, and that was a big sign of maturity. And then to come to Chicago and win that tournament with everything that's happened during the year, you can just see him growing as a player. Obviously as captain, I was very pleased to see it.”
Unlike the 2008 experience at Valhalla, where the Americans were rallied on enthusiastically throughout the week by the home crowd, Pavin knows from experience that things will be quite different in Wales.
“Obviously there's going to be 80, 85 percent of the fans are going to be pro-European, which is great,” Pavin said. “I think that's good fun. You know, they are going to be cheering and going crazy for the European Team, and I'm sure they will be very respectful for our guys.
“But it's different when you're out there and you're playing and maybe you miss a putt somewhere and Europe wins the hole; you know, there might be a pause and then applause, which you're not used to hearing,” Pavin added. “But I think the players have to be aware of that, the young guys that haven't been in that situation need to understand that there might be some clapping for bad shots possibly and to kind of be able to integrate that into their thinking before you go out there.”