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Block That Putt.
Posted Wednesday, September 15, 2004

by Bill Hogan


 
 

The weather in the Detroit area this weekend should be sunny and warm; temperatures in the mid-70's and winds at about 12 miles-per-hour. Perfect playing conditions. And even more perfect tail-gating conditions.

Fans can apply the face paint, slip into their team's colors, break out the hibachi and folding chairs, fill the cooler with beer and ice and head out to the parking lot bright and early, eagerly anticipating a hard fought contest between bitter rivals.

 
 


Or those very same fans can head up to Pontiac Stadium to watch the Lions in action against the Houston Texans. Not exactly Game of the Week material. The real sports action taking place this weekend in the Detroit area will be at a golf course just outside of Motor City.

If recent history is any indication, the crowd at Oakland Hills Country Club will be every bit as loud, raucous and obnoxious as the one at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (sorry, Network Associates Coliseum) where the Raiders host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Once every two years, the best golfers from America and Europe tee it up in an atmosphere usually reserved for Super Bowls and Stanley Cups. And the team colors for just about everybody in the stands – er, gallery – this year are Red, White and Blue. No wonder the Ryder Cup is such a popular event.

American team captain Hal Sutton's fiery nature has been compared to that of a football coach; his motivational talks more closely resemble Knute Rockne halftime speeches. The players use words like "battle," "combat" and "hostile," not your typical golf lingo. Then again, this is not a typical golf event.

At the Ryder Cup, fans take heckling to a new level. They are loud and vulgar and relentless. And, unlike the crazies that reside in the "Black Hole" at Network Associates Coliseum, they are spitting distance away from the players and separated by a quarter-inch piece of twine.

The crowd is boisterous and excitable and it doesn't matter if your name is Chad Campbell or Tiger Woods, as long as you're wearing the colors, you have their unwavering support. They are the thirteenth man.

The Ryder Cup is football with soft spikes and sand wedges. And, at times, the players will become as volatile as the fans that are cheering them on. There will be plenty of fist pumps and high fives. Hearts will pound and adrenaline will flow; pigskin or dimpled balls, this is no place for the meek or mild mannered.

When Justin Leonard sank an improbable 45-foot putt on the 17th hole to virtually secure a USA win at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1999, the crowd went into a frenzy and the players stormed the green in celebration. Only the match wasn't over. Had this been a football game, the American team would have been penalized for excessive celebration.

Under any other circumstances, the seasoned players would have known better; they would have acted appropriately. Appropriately for a golf match, not a football game played with titanium drivers and belly putters.

But these players – these professionals – will need to find a way to maintain their composure in a rowdy and chaotic atmosphere. When a middle linebacker gets fired up, he shakes and gyrates and foams at the mouth. If Fred Funk starts to shake and gyrate, he's going to miss a lot of three-foot putts.

If Phil Mickelson tries to put all that extra aggression behind his tee shot, he'll likely find himself hitting his second shot out of the trees. Unless he releases the tension by clothes lining Sergio Garcia as the Spaniard skips by him off the tee box. Take the 15-yards for unnecessary roughness, Phil, you're already 40-yards off the fairway.

In 1969, Jack Nicklaus conceded a two-foot putt to his opponent, Tony Jacklin, on the 18th hole that halved their match and gave the European team a Ryder Cup tie. The gesture was and is one of the most notable displays of sportsmanship in sports history.

Back then, under relatively normal golfing conditions, Jacklin likely would have sunk the putt anyway. But nowadays, with the crowd roaring, star spangled banners waving and the loud speaker cranking out "We Will, We Will Rock You," two feet may as well be 20 and that 4-inch cup would look like a thimble.

"I'm afraid you're gonna have to putt that one out, Tony." Talk about pressure.

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