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Thursday, September 27, 2012
Americans might want to forget past

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

MEDINAH, Ill. -- You can't ask for a better atmosphere at Medinah Country Club, where golf fans have been out in full force during practice rounds this week, lining fairways and cheering for, well … guys practicing.

From the day the gates opened, fans have poured into the place that has hosted five major championships and treated every one like it was the final round of a Grand Slam tournament.

It is a tribute to their enthusiasm that they would endure such hassles before the real thing.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is playing in an American-record ninth Ryder Cup this week at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago. Unfortunately for Lefty, with so many appearances, he also holds the U.S. mark for most career losses with 17.

Yet this is what sets the Ryder Cup apart from just about any other event, the passion and outpouring of support that is in full force -- and promises to be even more so when the 39th edition of the biennial matches gets under way Friday morning.

That is why experience is always deemed to be so important as it relates to success in such a high-pressure endeavor. No amount of major championship pedigree or professional tournament success can prepare a player for the cauldron that is the Ryder Cup. It is important to have endured the cheers for missed putts, the chaos that is common.

Yet for the U.S. Ryder Cup team that has won only twice in the past 17 years, just how valuable is that experience?

For the Americans, they've experienced mostly defeat to Europe. Of the eight U.S. players on the 12-man team who have played in a Ryder Cup, none has a winning individual record.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, two of the most accomplished players in the history of the game, have combined to go 24-31-8. Throw in Jim Furyk, another Ryder Cup veteran who is 8-15-4, and the three most accomplished Americans have been disappointing, to put it mildly. Woods has played on just one winning team in his career, having missed the 2008 triumph at Valhalla due to injury.

"In order to win Cups, you have to earn points, and we certainly have not earned points," said Woods, who is 13-14-2 and would even his record for the first time since being 1-1 at his first Ryder Cup in 1997 if he could manage a victory in foursomes Friday morning. "And on top of that, Phil, Jim and myself have been put out there a lot during those years. So if we are not earning points, it's hard to win the Ryder Cup that way."

Which makes you wonder: How much should Woods, Mickelson and Furyk play?

The Americans have four rookies: Brandt Snedeker, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Jason Dufner. Only Simpson has played in a Presidents Cup.

Of the other five team members -- Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Steve Stricker -- only Zach Johnson and Stricker have played in more than one Ryder Cup; both will be making their third appearance.

"For me, it's nice to go in knowing what to expect," said Furyk, who might expect to sit out four-balls, since he is 1-8-1 in the format. "Whether you go back to the first time you ever played in a golf tournament, the first time to tour school, the first time I got into contention on tour … it's nice to have experience on your side. You can draw from it positively and negatively. You can draw from both situations.

"But is it a necessity? No, if that makes sense. I think it's great to have a good mix on each team. But for the young guys that don't have experience, they have a veteran who's kind of in their ear. In a team atmosphere, you've got people there to kind of help you out and let you know and I think make you feel comfortable."

Playing at home should make it easier for the four American newbies, and the Europeans have just one first-timer in Belgium's Nicolas Colsaerts -- a positive in a road Ryder Cup. This will also be the first "away" Ryder Cup for Rory McIlroy, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer and Francesco Molinari.

Of the 11 Europeans who have played in a Ryder Cup, only Hanson and Molinari have a losing record -- and it came in a winning team effort two years ago in Wales.

Lee Westwood has played the most and sports a 16-11-6 record. Sergio Garcia (14-6-4), Ian Poulter (8-3) and Luke Donald (8-2-1) also have impressive marks for the Europeans.

"I think experience is a big key this week, just knowing what to expect," said Graeme McDowell, who is 4-2-2 in his two appearances. "I guess the big thing I've learned from the last couple of Ryder Cups is that being nervous and anxious is kind of not really worth it. Because when the gun goes off on Friday and Saturday and Sunday, you've just got to go out there and play hard and play aggressively.

"There's no room for anxiety about bad shots, because you know, bogeys and doubles are not going to matter this week. It's going to be about the quality of your good shots, holed putts and chip-ins and exciting things. Just get charged up and enjoy the atmosphere."

That sounds like a good plan. If only it were so simple.