Forgive Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton if they come into the 38th Ryder Cup at The Celtic Manor Resort a little starry-eyed.
Watson and Overton -- along with Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson -- make up the five rookies on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is new territory for all of them, members of the road team, trying to snap the 17-year drought the Americans have experienced on foreign soil in the game’s biggest team event.
Watson, for one, isn’t much of a history buff.
“What's that going to take? It's going to take more points than the Europe team and we'll take the Cup back home,” he said. “Some days, I'm going to beat you at golf, some days you're going to beat me at golf, that's how it is. The only history I look at, I've got one [PGA Tour] win and a lot of people have a lot more wins. I just see it as a competition and hopefully by the end of the week, we have won more matches than the other team. I don't look at the history of it, no big deal to me.”
The long-hitting Watson, whose spectacular short-game is often overlooked because of his monstrous length, earned that lone PGA Tour victory early this summer at the Travelers Championship in a playoff, beating out Scott Verplank and, of all people, U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Corey Pavin.
Watson, 31, nearly picked off his first major championship as well, falling short to European Ryder Cupper Martin Kaymer in a three-hole playoff at the PGA Championship just a little more than a month ago.
Don’t mistake nerves for pressure if Watson takes the first tee on Friday. He’s following some advice from teammate Zach Johnson, who told Watson, “It’s just golf, Bubba.”
Plus, there’s that experience with Kaymer at Whistling Straits that Watson can lean on.
“I had a chance to win a major championship a couple weeks ago, a month ago, however long ago, and I lost,” Watson said. “That was a lot of pressure. Because who doesn't want to lift a big, heavy trophy like that? So that was a lot of pressure. So the first tee is going to be a lot easier than the 18th hole, you know what I'm saying? The first hole, I'm only 1 down after one if I choke or slice a tee shot. One down after 18 is going to hurt worse than 1 down after No. 1.”
Watson, just as well-known for showing his emotions as his booming long drives, got choked up when describing what this Ryder Cup appearance means to him, especially after a speech the U.S. team received from Maj. Dan Rooney, an F-16 fighter pilot in the Oklahoma Air National Guard and a PGA Professional, on Tuesday evening.
“My dad was a military man,” Watson said, fighting back the tears. “He was in Vietnam. He gave us a special present last night. It meant a lot. My dad is dying of cancer. The doctor says he has three months to live. I'm playing this for him and representing the United States and I more than likely am never going to be in the military unless they ask for our help, so more than likely I am never going to be in the military so this is the chance to be like my dad.”
Watson and Overton share rookie status, but that’s were the comparison ends.
This week, the 27-year-old from Evansville, Ind., will become the only U.S. player in Ryder Cup history to tee it up in the prestigious biennial matches without a PGA Tour victory on his resume. It should be added that even without a victory, Overton played his way onto the team via one of the eight automatic berths.
No one knows better than Overton that he hasn’t yet won, but he isn’t feeling any added pressure as a result.
“I'm just trying to take it all in,” Overton said. “It's really neat. The whole experience has been really neat so far, as far as just getting on the plane, sitting next to all of the guys, and just the whole camaraderie of it is awesome.”
The fact is that while Overton’s career summary has “0” beside wins, he’s contended plenty in his brief five years on Tour. In 134 starts, Overton has racked up 17 top-10 finishes, highlighted by six in 2010 alone. He came close to winning at The Greenbrier Classic, but had to settle for sole second when a final-round 67 wasn’t enough to hold off Stuart Appleby’s closing 59.
Asked by a European writer if he deserved a spot in the first set of matches on Friday morning because he’s “struggled under the pressure on Sunday,” Overton rolled his eyes and sarcastically snapped back, “Yeah, it was tough getting beat by a 59. I didn't play very well that day and hit every green.”
More remarkable than his 2010 season is the fact that Overton is even on the U.S. team at all.
In 2008, he was the recipient of an emergency appendectomy and forced to withdraw from a late-season event causing him to slip to No. 126 on the PGA Tour money list. The top 125 players on the money list earn an exemption for the following season. Those who don’t take the dreaded trip back to Q-School.
Determined not to experience Q-School again, Overton teed it up nine days after his surgery and tied for 18th at the Ginn sur Mer Classic. With a tie for 21st at Disney the following week, Overton secured his playing privileges for 2009 at No. 99 on the money list.
Now, a little less than two years later, rather than stressing about the Fall Series on the PGA Tour, Overton is in awe of the fact that he’s representing the U.S. in a Ryder Cup.
Appendectomy aside, “Man, as of about four or five months ago, I think I was probably one of the last people on the money list and really did not envision myself playing over here for sure,” Overton said.
“Then, you know, I kind of caught fire. It's just one of those games, it's funny, you work so hard and you don't see very many immediate results and next thing you know, it's like, all right, I'm going to let my hair down a little and just go out and play. Then all of a sudden, bam, you're playing great. It's a fun game and I'm really excited to be part of something so cool.”