NEWPORT, Wales (AP) — Talk of war filled the air Wednesday at the Ryder Cup.
For that, thank Corey Pavin and the British tabloids. The American captain served up a controversy ripe to be spun on a rainy day when controversy was needed the most.
The spat between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy? That was so yesterday’s fish wrap.
No need to go after just two players when the entire U.S. team can be trashed. And all because a motivational speaker had the title “Major” in front of his name.
Military madness quickly ensued.
Can you explain, Phil Mickelson was asked, “the Americans’ apparent fondness for associating sport with war?”
Well, no. But give Mickelson a few minutes and he might have mentioned a fondness for associating this Ryder Cup with a charity that provides scholarships to children and spouses of U.S. military members disabled or killed in action.
Not much fun in that, though. Not when there’s a chance to dredge up the “War by the Shore” Ryder Cup of 19 years ago and conjure up images of the U.S. team reporting to the first tee Friday in camouflage fatigues.
Pity poor Jeff Overton, a Ryder Cup rookie, who was set to talk about how much he liked the golf course when one of the first questions was about the speech Maj. Dan Rooney gave the night before. Rooney is a National Guard F-16 pilot who runs the Patriot Golf charity.
“Yeah, I just hate to hear of anybody who ever has to go to war,” Overton said. “It’s just an awful thing.”
Sorry, Jeff. Let’s try that one again.
“Going back to Major Rooney for a second, and I know everybody thinks war is bad,” a reporter opined to Overton. “But I’m not sure he was brought in to give you the message war is bad.”
And Overton thought the driveable 15th hole might be the trickiest part of his week. Winning a few points in the Ryder Cup might be easier than going 1-up on the British tabloids.
Pavin, of all captains, should have seen this coming. He spent the better part of the last two years preparing every detail just so to try to retain the cup. Yet somehow he thought the ever vigilant tabs wouldn’t link a military speaker to Pavin’s much-criticized decision as a player to wear a camouflage hat at Kiawah Island in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm.
Would it not, one reporter asked, have been wiser to avoid a military connection altogether so that no one would confuse golf with war?
“No, I don’t think so,” Pavin said. “I think the military awareness in the United States is probably at an all-time high. And I think people, certainly in the States, and over here, appreciate the military and what they do for our freedoms, and that’s what that was good about.”
Just what Rooney told the team that will help them play golf this weekend wasn’t exactly clear. Players talked about being spellbound in the room, and Bubba Watson said he cried because his ailing father served in the military and now he feels he is serving his country much like his dad.
If they were supposed to bond as a team, they probably did, at least for the night. Whether that means they’ll make more putts on Friday than the Europeans because of it is doubtful.
Indeed, Euro coach Colin Montgomerie pulled off a tearjerker of his own, putting his team on a conference call the same night with Seve Ballesteros, the great Ryder Cup player and captain who is battling brain cancer but was still able to urge them on to victory.
Both captains, of course, are pulling out all stops, trying anything to get an edge in an event where the buildup is so immense that nothing that happens on the Celtic Manor course during the three days of competition can possibly live up to it. European team members even donned McIlroy-like wigs Wednesday before heading out in the rain to practice in support of the young Irish star for not backing down in his desire to play Woods.
That was in fun, and there apparently is some fun going on this week, particularly on the pingpong table in the American team room. There, Ryder rookie Matt Kuchar reigns supreme while Woods and Phil Mickelson trade barbs over their planned best-of-five match scheduled for after the closing ceremonies Sunday night.
On a day that was filled with talk of war, they were welcome reminders that golf is still just a game.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org