Last night my attention shifted briefly from the Open in Southport to the Ryder Cup in Kentucky. Nike had kindly extended me an invite to a private barbeque they were hosting at a grand old house near Royal Birkdale and in return for burgers and beer (a winning combo if ever there was one) I was to do a small amount of Ryder Cup focused journalism. But before I tell you about that, let me first indulge in a small amount of scene-setting.
About a five minute walk from the course, the Nike HQ houses all the support staff for the week (the guys you see tinkering with equipment on the range). In the grounds of the garden sat a small marquee and an inflatable practice net. Anyone who fancied a whack with the latest SasQuatch driver was welcome to have a go.
Nikes army of staff players were all on the guest list and, to my surprise and their credit, the vast majority actually turned up. Richard Finch (a recent GM interviewee) was there as was Stephen brightest teeth in golf Ames. Also in attendance was David Duval. Double D, as the Americans at the party were calling him, is still sponsored by Nike despite his limited appearances on Tour. It was clear to see that hes taking a relaxed attitude towards the week – perhaps just as interested in catching up with old friends as playing in the tournament itself.
My job for the evening was to interview three of Nikes American Ryder Cuppers Anthony Kim, Stewart Cink and Justin Leonard. We in the UK press dont often get the chance to chat to the American players (they tend only to come to the UK for the Open and securing interview time is like gold dust) so it was a bit of a scoop that would help bolster GMs Ryder Cup coverage.
The first thing to say is that all three were relaxed and happy to open up about any of the potentially prickly subjects on my list. Most notable was that of the impact on team America of Tigers absence. To their credit both Cink and Leonard conceded that perhaps Woods not being there might actually help their cause, creating a better overall team atmosphere. It was suggested that Mickelson will take on more of a leadership role than in previous years, one which hed greatly relish.
One other nugget of information worth revealing here (before the full feature appears in the magazine) is that all three are desperate to help the Americans win. I can honestly say that any accusations of apathy are way off the mark and each of these guys is relishing the prospect of wiping the smile off our collective faces. Whats more, they feel the team will be bolstered by a band of talented rookies. The likes of Kim, Brandt Snedeker and Hunter Mahan will add some fire to the belly of the American side, giving them the sort of youthful excitement that will endear them to the Valhalla locals.
Quietly confident and eagerly awaiting the clash, these Americans arent about to go down without a fight. All I can say is, bring it on!