On a scouting trip to the K Club, an older, wiser Woods embraced the role of U.S. team leader
Posted: Tuesday September 12, 2006 8:39AM; Updated: Wednesday September 20, 2006 5:23PM
The one hole in Woods's resume is his play in the Ryder Cup, and he intends to fill it.
Ian Walton/Getty Images
By Michael Bamberger
The Ryder Cup was slated for the K Club in 2006, in the horse country beyond sniffing distance of the Dublin breweries, and Tiger Woods wanted Marko. Mark O'Meara, U.S. team captain. A no-brainer, really. Hall of Fame player, consummate Ryder Cup gent, map of Ireland all over his cherubic face, Tiger's friend.
But the American club pros who run the U.S. Ryder Cup team, once blandly predictable, didn't go the safe route. They gave the job to Tom Lehman, the man who has been a one-man Ryder Cup lightning rod. The man of whom Sam Torrance, the European stalwart, said after the 1999 Cup fiasco at the Country Club, "Tom Lehman calls himself a man of God. He should be ashamed of himself." Never mind that Lehman was one of the few American players who didn't take part in the premature victory dance all over José María Olazábal's 17th green -- facts are not even speed bumps in the age of blogging, right?
Now it was late August 2006, and Captain Lehman wanted to do something audacious: He wanted his entire 12-man team to drop everything and make a Monday-Tuesday, bonding- reconnaissance trip to the K Club, by private jet, several weeks before the match. He got the four rookies and six of the returning lettermen to sign up. That was easy. And then, less easily, he got Phil Mickelson to change his schedule and join the gang. And then the coup de grâce: He got Tiger Woods on board, literally and otherwise.
Now we know. This 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team, short on experience and accomplishment, is led by two guys: Tom Lehman, captain; and Tiger Woods, ace pitcher, cleanup hitter, 30-year-old wise man. O'Meara was the first person to take Woods to the K Club, but Lehman is driving the tour bus now.
Man of God is a hell of a phrase, but there's a religious undercurrent to this U.S. team. Lehman's a mainstay at the Tour Bible study, and so are his three assistants at their respective tour's Bible studies: Corey Pavin (PGA), Loren Roberts (Champions) and David Ogrin (Nationwide). Lehman sought the coaching advice of John Wooden, the devout UCLA basketball legend whose books are best sellers in Christian bookstores. One of Lehman's rookies, Zach Johnson, is a Bible-study regular, as is one of his captain's picks, Stewart Cink. Lehman asked Byron Nelson, a deeply religious man, a woodworker and a former Ryder Cup captain, to make small wooden keepsakes for the players, each engraved with the same verse from Psalms, chapter 18, verse 29: with your help i can advance against a troop; with my god I can scale a wall. It's David, from David versus Goliath. An apt rallying cry for a team that has lost four of the last five Ryder Cups. The Euros as Goliaths; it takes some getting used to, no?