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Vindication & Vindictiveness
September 29, 2008
With a different player coming up big in every session, the first U.S. Ryder Cup win in nine years was truly a total team effort
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September 29, 2008

Vindication & Vindictiveness

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Then there was the natural: Weekley. Every successful team has a mascot. Last year, when the U.S. won the Presidents Cup, Woody Austin played that role memorably, and at Valhalla, Weekley may have outdone him. Weekley concocted a word, compatabate, that was immediately employed by his 11 teammates to describe the high goal of team unity. Azinger spoke often of the importance of the 13th man, the Kentucky fans, and no player did more to inspire them, including galloping off the 1st tee on Sunday with his driver between his legs as if it were a hobbyhorse. Weekley is viewed on Tour as a loner, somewhat diffident. Last week, between his teammates and the fans, the honorary Kentuckian looked as if he had found love, maybe for the first time as a pro. He said of his team, "I think we actually became a family." He was dead serious.

Among Kentuckians, there was probably nobody on either team that needed victory more than Perry. He's had a long, remunerative and mostly unremarkable career, and before last week he had done two memorable things: He lost the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla in a playoff to Mark Brooks, and he skipped this year's U.S. and British Opens in order, by his thinking, to help secure a place on the Ryder team. As for the other majors, he wasn't in the field at the Masters, and he pulled out of the PGA after one round with a scratched cornea. At Valhalla he finished the week 2-1-1 after a resounding singles victory over Henrik Stenson. "I figured this week was going to define my career," Perry said. "You know what? It made my career."

The career of Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion who had fallen out of the top 100 by 2006, has been back on solid ground for two years, but last week he showed that he might be ready to contend in majors again. He played twice on Friday with Mahan and did so again on Saturday morning, winning 2 1/2 points. (On Saturday afternoon, when Azinger wanted to rest him, Leonard walked the course, following his teammates and eschewing the cart offered him.) He won those points the way he won his Open, and the way he got into a playoff in another British Open and in a PGA—with his putter. It's one thing to win at Memphis with good putting, which Leonard did in June. It's another thing to make good strokes in the Ryder Cup. Last week his stroke was so solid and reliable, it brought to mind only one other in golf: that of Tiger Woods himself. "This week," Leonard said, "is a step in that direction, to contend in majors again."

At Valhalla, when Leonard wasn't making putts, he was managing the considerable talents of his partner, Mahan, who, like most young golfers, can be a high-strung perfectionist. (Leonard himself used to be one.) "What I told him," Leonard said, "was that Hunter Mahan golf was good enough." Mahan, in his interviews, was using that language almost verbatim, and no doubt the words were a factor in propelling him to a stellar 2-0-3 performance. He had come to the Ryder Cup looking to bury critical comments he had made about the event, and he could've tried too hard, but Leonard surely helped with that.

As he sat next to Azinger at the postvictory press conference, it was easy to see Leonard as a future Ryder Cup captain. He has the detail-oriented personality that the PGA bosses like, and he has the critical win-the-point, no-crying-in-public mentality that typified Azinger's reign. When Leonard spoke of the keys to the U.S. victory, he went technical right away: Azinger had reworked the selection process, and that made an enormous difference. Someday, Leonard said, he'd love to be captain.

Azinger would accept no such credit. He cited the rookies, the course maintenance, the returning lettermen, the fans, the players' wives, the opponents, the PGA of America officials, the caddies. One stud per session—someone on Friday morning, someone else on Friday afternoon, do it again on Saturday and Sunday—Azinger didn't see it that way, and why would he? "Victory," John F. Kennedy once said, "has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan." For the Americans, you could explain the U.S. win a hundred ways, with a different hero in each retelling.

Second-guessed from start to finish, captain Nick Faldo was the recipient of the blame for Europe's failings—deservedly or not

FALDO SNARLED. Faldo sobbed. Faldo lashed out. Faldo left in a huff. Faldo was angry, caustic, mistrustful, sarcastic, flippant, careless, petulant and rude. ¶ Don't you love the British newspapers? On the eve of the Ryder Cup they turned every press conference with European captain Nick Faldo into a scene from The Dark Knight, with you-know-who as the Joker. Faldo was "an accident waiting to happen" (The Guardian), "a potentially huge embarrassment" (The Sun) and "Captain Cock-Up" (The Mirror). Faldo, fumed a writer for The Mirror, was a guy "whose mind often seems so warped with self-regard and disdain for others that he makes you wince when he speaks." ¶ And that's what they thought of their man before he lost the Ryder Cup. ¶ I'm thinking maybe it wasn't entirely Faldo's fault. A pinch of blame has to go to reigning British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, who scored a mere half point for Europe. A modicum of accountability must be assigned to Sergio García, who came to Kentucky with the best winning percentage in Ryder Cup history and left with no wins, two halves and less sparkle than Anthony Kim's belt buckle. A smidgen of scorn should be reserved for Lee Westwood, who after scoring 8 1/2 points in the two previous Ryder Cups, contributed only one point at Valhalla and sulked when he was asked to sit out the Saturday morning foursomes.

To tell the truth, I didn't actually see Westwood sulk. But I never saw Faldo snarl, sob, lash out or leave in a huff, either. From my seat in the peanut gallery, Europe's captain came across as composed, amiable, respectful, enthusiastic, wry, supportive, gallant and, yes, flippant. (I like flippant.) I did see Faldo choke up with emotion last Thursday when he tried to express his admiration for Muhammad Ali, whom he had just met for a photo op. But Faldo did not sob. His eyes got moist, that's all.

It is possible, I suppose, that my British colleagues know Faldo better than I do. They were closer to the Englishman in his playing days, when he was so busy winning major championships (six) and setting the alltime Ryder Cup points record (25) that he had little time or patience for his wives (three) or tabloid journalists (hundreds). The scribes remember, as if it were yesterday, how Faldo celebrated his victory at the 1992 British Open by thanking the press "from the heart of my bottom."

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