Both sides will go with the teams they planned to use in 2001. That's a good deal for the players who earned their way into the most elite club in the sport, at least apart from the one with major championship winners in it. Captain Strange ("I'm just delighted to say that," Feherty says. "Captain Strange. It gives the whole thing a nice ÔPigs in Space' quality") takes his Tiger-led team on the road to a course where the Americans have won before, a course where the Europeans are supposed to have a score to settle—they're still moaning that golf wives from hell ran across poor Jose Maria Olazabal's line after Justin made a putt-for-the-ages in Brookline that seemed to start rolling in Chestnut Hill.
Despite Europe's nearly making it three Cups in a row in '99, you have to believe the Americans are due to provide a good old-fashioned butt kicking this time. They are more than due. They think they got a bad rap in Brookline, that the scene at the seventeenth green made the world forget the kind of Sunday beating they gave the European lineup, with all those Coltarts and Van de Veldes laid out all over The Country Club like extras on Six Feet Under. The average world ranking of this year's American team members was twenty-two coming into the U.S. Open. The Europeans' average world ranking was thirty-seven. Even in an event in which you're supposed to throw statistics out the window, those numbers ought to mean something.
Here's a number that has plenty of meaning: one. As in number one. As in Tiger. As in we have Tiger and they don't. It's why I believe there won't be any great drama or bad soap opera on Sunday this time, just a massacre led by the game's premier predator.
But Feherty, who's one of the funniest, smartest guys in golf, disagrees. "I think it will be another Sunday to remember," he says. "You can't analyze the Ryder Cup normally or rationally. It's not that kind of competition, especially with this extra year of waiting. I completely sympathize and understand why they postponed it, but part of me thinks that in light of what happened last September, golf missed a great opportunity to return the Ryder Cup to the sporting spirit with which it was intended to be played, not as the life-and-death event people believe it's become.
"That said," Feherty continues, "I believe it's one of the last true sports events, along with the Stanley Cup and perhaps the Iditarod dog race. It's probably closer to the Iditarod, with everyone having roughly the same set of balls, because in the pressure of Cup play the players' balls all generally shrink to the same size."
Sure, Feherty says, the Americans have the bigger names, starting with Woods. We have Phil Mickelson and David Duval, too, though Duval did not start out '02 shooting any fifty-nines. We have a tough old Ryder Cup vet named Paul Azinger, who always goes to battle with a lot more than a long putter in his belly. Still, Feherty believes that European golf—even if only Golf Channel wonks watch it in this country—is getting better and better and better, and that somebody like Pierre Fulke might have as much chance to be a star at The Belfry as Tiger does.