|Medinah Country Club, State of Illinois Open Curtain for the 39th Ryder Cup, with United States Making Its Bid to Reclaim Trophy|
|The two-year wait is over for United States Team Captain Davis Love III as the 39th Ryder Cup begins Friday.|
MEDINAH, Ill. — You would think that Chicago sports fans had seen it all by now. That all changes Friday when the 39th Ryder Cup convenes at Medinah Country Club, the first visit of golf's pre-eminent team event to Illinois.
Medinah's 650-acre property, once farmland, has transformed this week into "Medinahopolis," a suburb of its own with chalets, grandstands, and plazas blooming alongside the longest course in Ryder Cup history (7,658 yards).
"I've been here to two PGAs, and it's a different golf course again," said Tiger Woods, who won the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships at Medinah. "I'm going to need to do my homework so that whoever I go out with, that I will be ready and able to contribute and understand this golf course and how to play it."
Woods may find Medinah a bit longer than his 2006 appearance when the course played to 7,561 yards, while he also bids to atone for a lengthy blemish in his career. Woods has competed on only one winning Ryder Cup Team (1999 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.), and will need to generate a spark. The U.S. has lost to Europe six of the past eight outings, including a 14½ to 13½ decision at The Celtic Manor in Wales two years ago.
Europe's dominance over the past 12 years came when Woods was playing at a peak, and winning the bulk of his 14 major championships.
"Well, certainly I am responsible for that, because I didn't earn the points that I was put out there for," said Woods. "I believe I was out there, what, in five sessions each time, and I didn't go 5-0 on our side. So I certainly am a part of that, and that's part of being a team. I needed to go get my points for my team, and I didn't do that. Hopefully I can do that this week, and hopefully the other guys can do the same and we can get this thing rolling."
The two-year wait is over for U.S. Captain Davis Love III and European Captain José María Olazábal, who have each visited Medinah many times over the past 24 months.
"It's been a long two years for both of us," said Love, who met the European Official Party Monday at Medinah's clubhouse, "but now we are excited to play golf and get this match started."
"This is a huge week for our game and for all of us," said Olazábal.
Both teams are desperate to gain possession of the gold trophy that Olazábal brought over on the charter plane from London.
Olazábal stepped off the plane at an airport in Rockford, about 45 minutes from Medinah, with the Ryder Cup trophy. He was followed off the plane by only three of his 12 players - Francesco Molinari, Paul Lawrie and Nicolas Colsaerts.
Five of the Europeans - Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Peter Hanson, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia - have homes at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla. Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, among four players who were in Atlanta on Sunday for the Tour Championship, are moving to South Florida. Luke Donald lives about 45 minutes away on the north side of Chicago.
Olazábal didn't see a lack of company on the trip across the Atlantic as a problem.
"Obviously, when you look at some of the European players, they have their home base here," he said. "They play the tour over here. They are very familiar with the golf courses around here, with their opponents, and in that regard, I think they feel comfortable with the whole situation of coming here to the States to play the Ryder Cup. It has changed in that respect, and that they have realized through the years that they have been able to compete against the players here.
Love remembers his first Ryder Cup in 1993, when U.S. Captain Tom Watson assembled his group in New York and before boarding the Concorde, said, "Boys, it's going to be a grand adventure; it's going to be incredible."
"I miss that a little bit," said Love. "We all gather and fly over; they fly over here. That was really a cool thing. But I think what we have now is a much bigger event and we have 24 of the top 36 or 36 guys in the world. I think that golf has got incredibly better."
The fact that only three members of the European Team joined Captain Olazábal on the charter plane to the United States is a moot point for European players as well.
"Definitely, the team dynamic has changed over the years, and more of us play a worldwide schedule now rather than sort of just a tight knit European schedule which may have happened 15, 20 years ago," said Justin Rose, who calls London home but has played 23 PGA Tour events this season.
"It's also changed in terms of quite a few of us live in the same communities in Florida, myself, Ian Poulter, Peter Hanson, Graeme McDowell, we're pretty much neighbors. So from that aspect, what you lose playing on a tight-knit tour you gain by actually pretty much living together. So we see each other on weeks off, we practice a little bit together, so I think that helps bond the team."
McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open Champion and who captured European hero status by winning the deciding match in Wales, shrugs off past European success.
"I really don't think history counts for much this week," said McDowell. "I think you've got two very different teams assembled here this week. Our team certainly has quite a different look to it than it did five to 10 years ago. The American Team, four or five of their stalwart players on there, and five or six new, young, up-for-it players as well, and talented, both teams are very talented.
"I really don't think history counts for much coming in here this week. I think Europe have to be slight underdogs perhaps on paper, you know, with the home advantage here and the home crowd. It's going to be an exciting week. Like I say, we all start from scratch, and it's a lot of fun having the Ryder Cup in our team room this week, and we certainly want to play hard and we want to take it back to Europe with us."
The team comparisons give the United States an edge, with players who own 234 worldwide victories to 168 for Europe, with a 28-26 advantage in Ryder Cup appearances and 23 major champions to five for Europe. But Love is quick to note, that a Ryder Cup is not decided on paper. Love repeated how often that he has received advice from 2008 U.S. Captain Paul Azinger, who guided the last American victory. Azinger has played something of a muse for Love in preparing for this week.
"Another thing that I learned from Paul Azinger, is that you better do it before you get there on Monday, because it might be a little late," said Love. "If everybody is disorganized and discombobulated on Monday night and Tuesday, you don't have time to catch up."
Begun in 1927, The Ryder Cup is among the last great professional sporting events where winning, and not prize money, is its own reward. Covering 85 years, the Ryder Cup is one of the most spirited, exciting and compelling events in sport, and it features the greatest players in the world while producing some of the greatest moments in the game.
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