Ryder Cup: Epic comeback one for the books at Medinah

My report for Crain’s Chicago Business.

Birdies and bogeys from a historic day at Medinah.

Birdie. Medinah Country Club. Aside from the result,  it couldn’t have been a more perfect Ryder Cup.

The weather was a late-September gift, showcasing the city to a worldwide audience. Medinah No. 3 performed beyond expectations. U.S. captain Davis Love III wanted to set up the course for birdies, and there were many of them. But it also penalized for poorly-hit shots, providing the players with the kind of exacting test you want in a big event.

The crowds were huge and Chicago loud, creating a memorable atmosphere. They did give the U.S. a home course advantage. While there always are a few idiots, the crowds generally were respectful.

Chicago embraced the spirit of the Ryder Cup with a passion usually received for late-stage playoff games. And they were rewarded with tremendous theater.

Last week, the Golf Channel aired a documentary on the memorable 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah. In 20 years or so, somebody will do a documentary on the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.

Bogey. U.S. team. Not quite on the Bartman level, but this will go down as one of the biggest collapses seen on Chicago sports turf.

Bogey. Davis Love III. Thanks to the collapse, the U.S. captain was grilled for sitting out his hot team of Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson Saturday afternoon. Mickelson took  Love off the hook somewhat by saying he wasn’t up for another match. Still, Bradley clearly was ready to go out again, and perhaps he could have helped win another point.

As for Sunday, I thought Love did Steve Stricker a disservice by placing him in the No. 11 slot. With the big lead, the captain probably figured Stricker’s match wouldn’t mean anything. Well, it ultimately meant everything.

With Stricker struggling on Friday and Saturday, he had no business being thrust into one of the anchor roles. He clearly wasn’t up for the task.

Bogey. Illinois sports. Stricker goes 0-4, and Illinois gets drubbed 35-7 to Penn State. Not a good weekend for the Illini.

Bogey. Jim Furyk. He went 1-3, and as he did in the U.S. Open and Bridgestone, he folded down the stretch. Certainly not a good year for his legacy.

Birdie. European team. Coming soon to book stores near you: Brookline II: The European version. Somewhere Seve Ballesteros is smiling.

Birdie. Jose Maria Olazabal. He stacked his singles lineup with his best players at the top, hoping to create some early momentum. And it worked. Europe won the opening four matches, and suddenly 10-6 turned into 10-10.

Regardless of who you were rooting for, you have to feel good for Olazabal. He now gets to walk in the footsteps of his mentor, Ballesteros, as a victorious Ryder Cup captain.

Birdie. Ian Poulter. With a 12-3 mark, he is emerging as the new Ballesteros for Europe.

Birdie. Luke Donald. He kicked off the comeback with a huge opening victory over Bubba Watson. The local favorite came through, even if it was for the other team.

Birdie. Justin Rose. His bomb putt at 17 led to a stunning comeback victory over Phil Mickelson. Suddenly, Europe had more than hope.

Birdie. Phil Mickelson. Showed great sportsmanship in applauding Mr. Rose’s great finish. That’s what the Ryder Cup should be all about.

Bogey. Tiger Woods. Went 0-3-1 and his singles match became irrelevant when Europe clinched the victory. Still a mystery why he doesn’t play better in the Ryder Cup.

Birdie. Keegan Bradley. Lost to Rory McIlroy Sunday, but he was an inspired 3-1 for the match. A fan favorite, he could emerge as the new face of American golf.

Birdie. Sergio Garcia. After finishing second to Mr. Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship, he finally got to taste victory at Medinah.

 

 

Ryder Cup report: U.S. rides ‘rock star’ Bradley; Sunday drama could be lacking for NBC

My report for Crain’s Chicago Business on Day 2 of the Ryder Cup:

Birdie. U.S. Tiger Woods? Who needs Tiger Woods? Never in anyone’s wildest dreams, especially U.S. captain Davis Love III’s, did it seem possible that the Americans could hold a 10-6 lead with Mr. Woods sitting at 0-3 for the matches.

The U.S. played brilliantly in the morning, winning three out of four matches, and only a late European rally in the afternoon prevented things from getting completely out of hand.

Love now has to get his team focused on finishing the job Sunday. If he does, he will be lifting the Ryder Cup on Sunday night.

Bogey. Playing the role of the Chicago Cubs: The European Ryder Cup team.

Jose Maria Olazabal now needs to cue the Ben Crenshaw “I’ve got a good feeling about this” speech from the 1999 Ryder Cup, when the U.S. rallied to win from a 10-6 deficit on Saturday. However, it also might be a good idea if he practices his concession speech.

Bogey. NBC. Besides the Europeans, the other people who don’t like the one-sided score are the NBC executives. The biggest ratings come when there is suspense. That likely won’t be the case Sunday unless the Europeans pull a repeat of the U.S. in 1999.

Birdie. Last 90 minutes. How good was that? The last two matches went to No. 18  with players on both sides hitting incredible shots. That’s what the Ryder Cup is all about, friends.

Birdie. Keegan Bradley. Luke Donald said it best about Bradley. “He’s a rock star out there,” Donald said.

Donald made that comment after he and Sergio Garcia were on the wrong end of a 7 & 6 thrashing by Mr. Bradley and Phil Mickelson. Yes 7 & 6 in a Ryder Cup.

Bradley has been flawless in winning all three of his matches. And the crowd and U.S. are feeding off his emotion and intensity.

“It’s just an unbelievable event, an unbelievable experience as a player and fan,”  Bradley said.

On a day when Michael Jordan, both presidents named George Bush, and Woods were on the course, the biggest star was Bradley.

Birdie. Phil Mickelson. The 41-year old has found the fountain of youth in playing with  Bradley. “Phil is a smart guy,” Love said. “He picks good partners.”

Bogey. Tiger Woods. He got benched in the morning, the first time he ever sat on the sidelines during a Ryder Cup. Then he and Steve Stricker lost to Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in the afternoon.

Woods did play terrific on the back 9, registering five birdies to nearly pull off the comeback. But as has been the case during the matches, he struggled again on the front side, failing to record a bogey. It led to a 4-down deficit at the turn, and ultimately Woods looking for his first point in singles Sunday.

Bogey. Steve Stricker. He’s playing as if he’s not 100 %. Also 0-3, Stricker made only two birdies, and failed to convert on 18, losing to the Europeans.

Birdie. Ian Poulter. He has been Europe’s equivalent to Bradley. Talk about clutch. He made birdies on the final five holes to give Europe a crucial point and some hope going into Sunday.

Birdie/bogey. Luke Donald. He and Lee Westwood were terrible in getting blitzed by the Bradley-Mickelson team. However, Northwestern’s very own did redeem himself with three birdies in the final five holes to win the match over the Woods-Stricker team. Huge clutch shot into the par 3 to record a critical birdie.

Bogey. Rory McIlroy. The No. 1 player has yet to show up at this Ryder Cup. He lost in the morning and needed Poulter to bail him out in the afternoon. Even worse, his body language is terrible. He seemed whipped for most of the day. That’s hardly the look you want from your big gun.

Birdie. Chicago golf fans. The roar for Dustin Johnson’s birdie putt at 17 rivaled anything heard at the United Center, or the old Chicago Stadium for that matter. “The 13th man” has delivered for the U.S. team.

 

Day 1 Ryder Cup TV Coverage: Too much Lee Corso, commercials

Since I was on the course and in the press room, I didn’t see much of ESPN’s presentation of the Ryder Cup Friday.

However, GeoffShackelford.com did, and he wasn’t pleased with ESPN running the Lee Corso-West Virginia commercial 18 times during the telecast.

From Shackelford:

To be clear, the mostly NBC produced pictures, sound and announcing from Friday’s Ryder Cup made the fantastic golf that much better.
Unfortunately, over the course of 11.5 hours, we were actually deprived of coverage.

We all know they have bills to pay, but showing a promo 18 times over the course of 11.5 hours? Obnoxious.

The primary atrocity committed by ESPN and the PGA of America was the call in three instances to leave live, thrilling Ryder Cup golf. Twice they showed a Scott Van Pelt narrated highlight package and most painful of all, an interview with PGA of America president Allen Wronowski that not a single person on the planet wanted or needed to hear.

John Strege in his Golf World review wrote:

ESPN began a recap of earlier play while two tight matches were still being  contested, the second time on Friday that it broke from live play. At the  conclusion of morning foursomes, with the afternoon fourballs already underway,  it cut to Scott Van Pelt doing a 10-minute recap.

Golf Digest’s Stina Sternberg, via Twitter, reacted to ESPN’s miscue this  way: “PSA: The Ryder Cup is still live, without highlights on rydercup.com and  Sky online.”

Strege, though, had praise for Mike Tirico for the way he set up Tiger Woods’ final putt.

A remarkable day of golf came down to this, as told by ESPN’s Mike Tirico: “The  U.S. will lead. It will either be five-three or five-and-a-half, two-and-a-half.  And has been the case most of the last 15 years in golf, one guy standing alone  and all eyes are on him.”

 

Saturday flashback: Calc’s epic meltdown at Kiawah

There’s nothing like the pressure of the Ryder Cup. Especially during the singles on Sunday.

Nobody succumbed to that pressure worse than Mark Calcavecchia. Up 4 with 4 holes to play against Colin Montgomerie during the 1991 Ryder Cup, Calc, the winner of the 1989 British Open, choked–big time. His shank off the tee at 17 ranks among the worst shots in golf history.

Watching it again, you can still feel his pain 21 years later.

Ryder Cup Birdies and Bogeys: Keegan, U.S., Medinah up; Tiger, Europeans down

Some bonus golf coverage:

Putting on my golf cap for birdies and bogeys on a day when the U.S., Keegan Bradley and Medinah Country Club shined.

Birdie. Davis Love III. All things considered, it was pretty solid opening day for the U.S. team. It could have been a slam dunk if Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker don’t go 0-2, but the U.S. captain will take a 5-3 lead going into Saturday.

As for his decision to play Tiger Woods in the afternoon in fourballs, it was the right move. Even though Woods struggled in the morning, the afternoon format is the place to for players who make a lot of birdies. Mr. Woods did, recording six.

Love, though, has learned his lesson, placing Woods on the bench for Saturday morning’s Foursome matches. I suspect it will be a while before Woods plays another alternate shot match in a Ryder Cup.

Birdie: Keegan Bradley. Easily the biggest U.S. star of day 1. In the morning match, he made several clutch putts, sparking him and partner Phil Mickelson to an easy 4 & 3 victory over Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald.

Then, teamed with Mickelson again in the afternoon, Bradley lit up Medinah with six birdies in a 2 & 1 victory over Europe’s top team of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

Besides his stellar play, Bradley animated reactions fired up the crowd. He’s definitely the new fan favorite.

Bradley is playing in his first Ryder Cup. However, if he keeps this up, put him down for the U.S. captain in 2034.

Birdie. Nicolas Colsaerts. If you hadn’t heard of him before the Ryder Cup, you know about him now. It turns out Colsaerts is Belgium for birdie machine. And throw in an eagle to go along with those eight birdies. His round saved Europe from a disastrous day.

Bogey. Tiger Woods. Granted, he ran into a buzz saw in Colsaerts in the afternoon match. It used to be the kind of whipping he put on his opponents.

Still, going 0-2 added up to another lost opening day for Woods at a Ryder Cup. For his career, he now is 3-10-1 in Day 1 matches, hardly a record befitting a player of his caliber.

Woods simply can’t keep the ball in the fairway off the tee with any consistency. Some of his drives were so bad, I thought Medinah might want to put a protective shield on the trees.

Woods has two days to redeem himself. The pressure is on.

Bogey. Lee Westwood. While Colsaerts was raining birdies, Westwood couldn’t manage one. He also lost a match in the morning.

The official record will show that Westwood went 1-1 Friday. The reality is, he got lucky to be paired with Colsaerts.

Bogey. Rory McIlroy. Salvaged a point in the morning match with a clutch putt, but registered only 1 birdie in opening 14 holes in losing afternoon match. Needs to come strong for Europe Saturday.

Birdie. The weather. Whoever was in charge of the weather, take a bow. For this time of year, when anything is possible (as in cold and rain), it truly was a spectacular day. And the weekend looks good too.

Birdie. Medinah Country Club. The course never has looked  better. The greens were perfect and the fairways were ideal. Considering the weather challenges during the summer, Medinah superintendent Curtis Tyrrell deserves credit for a job well done.

Also, the 15th hole, the short par 4, provided the intrigue hoped for with Rees Jones’ redesign. It forced players to design whether to go for driver or lay up, and the new pond caught some balls in key moments.

Birdie. Chicago. They had radios at the course that provided the BBC feed along with the American broadcast. It was terrific to hear the British commentators talk up Chicago. They lauded the virtues of the city and the atmosphere at Medinah.

The course and the Skyline shots also looked good on ESPN’s telecast. Definitely a strong advertisement for the tourism folks.

Bogey. Luke Donald. The local favorite on the road team had a rough day. He and Sergio Garcia, previously 4-0 in foursomes, suffered a 4 and 3 drubbing to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. The poor showing earned Donald a spot on the bench during the afternoon matches.

To make matters worse,  Donald and Garcia were reminded by Chicago fans that neither player has won a major.

Birdie. Dan Jenkins. The 82-year old sportswriting legend is tweeting from the press room. He is a must-follow at @danjenkinsgd (insert link: https://twitter.com/danjenkinsgd) A sample tweet: This is my fifth time at Medinah
after two U.S. Opens and two PGAs, and the clubhouse still looks like the Babylon Marriott.

Birdie. Ryder Cup. So that’s what it is like, Chicago. It should only get better on the weekend.

 

Still the best: Dan Jenkins’ Twitter is a must-follow during Ryder Cup

One of the highlights of covering a Ryder Cup is being in the same press room as Dan Jenkins.

At age 82, the Hall of Famer is covering his 1,003,416 major golf tournament, dating back to 543 B.C. Or something like that, as he would say.

Once again, Jenkins is tweeting his thoughts, easily the best thing about Twitter. Make a point of following him at @danjenkinsgd.

Nobody does it better in 140-characters. I told him I won’t be satisfied until I see a tweet referring to Lou Graham, who won the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah.

Here are some of the best from the best:

One theory why Tiger didn’t sit after the erratic display this morning: Maybe one of those stray drives hit Davis in the head.

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Westwood and Sergio had a dogfight to see which European could play as bad as Tiger this morning. Westwood won.

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Still trying to figure out the color of the European sweaters. Looks like they were going for lime and didn’t quite make it.

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Nineteen holes into his Ryder Cup career, this Bradley guy is the best Keegan in Ryder Cup history.

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This is my fifth time at Medinah after two U.S. Opens and two PGAs, and the clubhouse still looks like the Babylon Marriott.

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As for water hazards, Medinah’s Lake Kadijah is the hardest to spell or pronounce.

My First Job: Roger Maltbie tells off producer during first Ryder Cup; Thought his NBC career was over

Roger Maltbie will be working his 11th Ryder Cup for NBC.

However, back in 1991, Maltbie feared his broadcast career was over after his first Ryder Cup.

In today’s My First Job, an on-going series on people’s first forays in the business, Maltbie discusses why he decided to leave the PGA Tour even though he still was exempt to play for several more years.

And Maltbie talks about how he told off the producer in the aftermath of Mark Calcavvechia’s meltdown at Kiawah in 1991. When the confrontation happened, he didn’t expect to be on hand for a second Ryder Cup.

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Roger Maltbie: Announcing came out of the blue. In 1987, NBC tried out a bunch of us at Kapalua. Koch was there. Johnny Miller. Dick Stockton. Irwin. They offered me a job, but I said, ‘No thank you. For what you’re offering me, it doesn’t make sense.’

They asked me again in ’89. They had a big schedule of events. I wasn’t interested. I wanted to play more golf.

By 1991, I had two shoulder surgeries. I had won the World Series of Golf in 1985. That gave me a 10-year exemption through ’95. I could still play, but I wasn’t the same.

They asked if I wanted to do the Bob Hope. I said, ‘OK, but only if you give me the Ryder Cup (later that year in Kiawah).’ The Ryder Cup was getting big, and I wanted to be there.

I remember on the last day Mark Calcavecchia lost the last five holes of his match. (Producer Terry O’Neill) said, ‘Leave your match and go find Calc to get an interview.’ Calc was in a TV trailer. Peter Kostis was trying to console him.

Mark was in no condition to talk. He thought he just cost the U.S. the Ryder Cup. He was physically ill. His eyes were swollen shut from crying. I walked in, took one look. Peter shook his head. I said, ‘I get it.’

I walked back to the compound, and O’Neil was in the doorway. I said, ‘I found Calc, but he can’t speak.’

He said, ‘I told you to stay with him. Stay with him and he’ll talk.’

I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, pal. Why don’t you stay with him and maybe he’ll talk to you. I’m not doing it.’

I wasn’t going to be the reporter standing outside the house that’s burning down trying to interview the people who own it.

I figured, ‘Well, so much for the TV thing.’ I thought, there’s no way they’re going to hire me now.

Thankfully, they did.

 

On-Course TV reporters get best view for Ryder Cup; Rolfing says ‘favorite event in golf’

This is the story I wrote for the official Ryder Cup program:

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Dottie Pepper was pumped up. Not that she requires much of an energy boost, because as her last name implies, she always is ready for action.

It turns out Pepper is just as feisty as a broadcaster as she was during a stellar playing career. A member of six U.S. Solheim Cup teams, she experienced her first Ryder Cup as an on-course reporter for NBC at the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland. The experience, Pepper said, was exhilarating.

“For me, it was almost as exciting as playing in the Solheim Cup,” Pepper said.

Now she was eagerly awaiting the 2008 Ryder Cup at Vahalla in Louisville. It would be her first on U.S. soil.

But on the eve of the matches, the anticipation suddenly deflated for Pepper. Producer Tommy Roy assigned her to work in a tower at a hole for the opening day.

“I was so bummed,” Pepper said.  “I didn’t want to be stuck on some outer corner of the course. I thought, ‘No, you can’t do that.’”

Pepper kept those feelings to herself and didn’t complain. Roy, though, must have sensed her frustration. He called Pepper late on that Thursday night.

“He said, ‘Do you want to walk tomorrow?’” Pepper said. “I said, ‘You’re damn right, I do. I want to be at that first tee.’”

There is nothing comparable to the Ryder Cup in golf, or sports, for that matter. And there’s nothing like being inside the ropes.

That’s why Pepper, Roger Maltbie, and Mark Rolfing feel like they have the best assignment in broadcasting during the Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. They are NBC’s on-course reporters for the event.

“It’s my favorite event in golf, no doubt about it,” Maltbie said.

Only the players and caddies are closer to the action. The on-reporters are embedded in a sense, allowing them to hear the labored sighs and gasps that accompany the pressure of playing in a Ryder Cup. They can notice if a player’s gait becomes a fraction slower, as he feels the weariness of playing a second match of the day. They can witness the interaction between the players, teammates and captains, collecting morsels of information that add texture to the broadcast.

And the best part: Like the players, they also get lifted by the surge of noise generated by the large galleries, the deafening sounds that have come to define the Ryder Cup.

“There’s just a different decibel level,” Maltie said. “As we used to say, you could pick out a (Jack Nicklaus) roar a (Arnold Palmer) roar at a tournament. It’s pretty simple at a Ryder Cup. Depending where the matches are held, it’s either a USA roar or a European roar. It’s just a different animal.”

Adds Pepper: “Each match is essentially its own tournament. It has a finality to it. There’s just an intensity level you can’t describe.”

Maltbie has been a part of NBC’s coverage for 11 Ryder Cups. In fact, he made covering the event a stipulation in his contract when he first joined NBC in 1991.

NBC had asked Maltbie to help cover the Bob Hope tournament earlier in the year. Coming off two shoulder surgeries, he began to look seriously into broadcasting.

“I said ‘OK, but only if you allow me to cover the Ryder Cup (later that year at Kiawah),” Maltbie said. “The Ryder Cup was just getting big and and I just wanted to see it.”

Maltbie’s premonition was rewarded as he was part of the epic “War by the Shore” showdown. He got an up-close look at how the pressure can wilt the strongest of men at the Ryder Cup. After Mark Calcavecchia’s famous meltdown, in which he lost the final four holes to halve a key match against Colin Montgomerie, the producers sent out Maltie to get an interview.

“I had never seen anything like it,” Maltbie said. “He thought he cost the U.S. the Ryder Cup. He had been physically ill. His eyes were swollen shut from crying. He was in no condition to talk.”

Rolfing, meanwhile, was covering the final match between Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer. Like Maltbie, it was Rolfing’s first Ryder Cup as an on-course reporter. Rolfing could sense the Cup was going to be decided on the last hole. Sure enough, Langer missed a putt on 18, clinching the Cup for the U.S.

Flash forward to 2010, and Rolfing is walking with the Graeme McDowell-Hunter Mahan pairing. He had a sense of déjà-vu, as the match evolved into determining the outcome. This time, McDowell and Europe won.

The common thread for Rolfing: suffocating pressure.

“I remember thinking (at Kiawah) it doesn’t seem fair that it should come down to one putt for Langer,” Rolfing said. “It struck me as wrong. I felt the same way at Celtic Manor (in 2010). It was just excruciating to watch.”

The pressure starts from the first moment of the first match on Friday. Maltbie recalled being at the first tee for Darren Clarke’s opening match at the 2006 Ryder Cup. Clarke’s wife, Heather, recently had died of cancer. The Irish fans, his fellow countrymen, wanted to show they were behind him.

“What a moment,” Maltbie said. “The crowd was so loud. I’m thinking, ‘How is this guy going to get a club on the ball?’”

Clarke, though, was able to get through it. Walking with him, Maltbie was able to see that Clarke had his emotions in check.

Pepper said the up-close view gives her a sense of a player’s grip on the match at that moment.

“I remember once seeing Ian Poulter in a match,” Pepper said. “His intensity frightened me. His eyes were enormous. I had never seen that from him before. I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way he wasn’t going to get the job done in that match.’”

The captains also come to them for information. After all, they can’t be everywhere. Rolfing recalled Hal Sutton asking him during a morning 4-Ball match, “Which player is playing better?” Sutton needed the information in order to make the pairings for an afternoon match.

Maltbie said when he is approached by a Ryder Cup captain (It’s always been from the U.S. side), he provides facts, not opinion.

“If I’m asked a direct question, I’ll respond to that,” Maltbie said. “I’ll say, ‘He hasn’t been sharp’ or ‘He looks tired.’But I won’t tell a captain what to do.”

The on-course reporters are just that—reporters. Pepper said her marching orders are to report news back to Roy in the production truck, “especially anything out of the ordinary.”

And they are supposed to be objective. Rolfing said the entire announce crew is careful to not use the pronouns “we” and “they” in describing the action. It’s always “the U.S.” and “Europe.”

Yet the reporters are Americans broadcasting for an American audience. They can feel the emotions, to be sure.

Maltbie was standing close by for perhaps the most memorable moment in U.S. Ryder Cup history: Justin Leonard’s clinching putt during the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline.

“The momentum had been building all day,” said Maltbie of the Sunday American rally. “You could hear the cheers of USA, USA throughout the entire course. (For Leonard’s putt), I was near the back edge of the green, not more than 20 feet from the cup. My last comment was, ‘This looks good.’

“Then all of the sudden bedlam broke loose. The hair on the back of my neck went up. It was the culmination of what had been building for the last six hours. What a moment.”

Little wonder why Maltbie said the Ryder Cup is his favorite event in golf. Pepper has been looking forward to 2012 in Medinah ever since the last putt in 2010 at Celtic Manor.

Yet of the three on-reporters, this Ryder Cup will have the most meaning for Rolfing. While he has lived in Hawaii for most of his adult life, he still considers himself a Chicago kid who grew up in nearby DeKalb. Now to be part of a Ryder Cup in his hometown is the ultimate.

“This is like completing a bucket list for me,” Rolfing said. “In a lot of ways, it’s going to be the highlight of my career. Medinah is going to be a fabulous venue; Chicago is going to be a terrific host; and it’s going to be a great Ryder Cup.”

All three of them will describe it from the best spot on the course: Inside the ropes.