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September 23, 2008

Memo from the Winners’ Circle

To: Mr. Eldrick “Tiger Who?” Woods

From: Team America

Re: Easy Ryder Cup at Val Holler


Hey, buddy. Just kidding about that “Tiger Who?” stuff. We know that “you da man,” as those drooling idiots in the galleries like to yell from time to time. It’s just that we’re pretty deep in the champagne here in Louisville, Ky., and … wait a minute, here comes that guy in the white sheet yelling “Booo” again. I’m not sure, but I think Paul Azinger has officially adopted him.

Anyhow, Eldrick, we sure did miss you this week. Hey, that’s another joke. Don’t get bent out of shape. The truth be told, we all were very appreciative that you decided to stay in Florida, or wherever you were, and let us have our moment in the international spotlight.

Photo courtesy of the PGA of America: Anthony Kim (R) and the U.S. Ryder Cup Team celebrate their win on hole 17 during the singles matches.
Photo courtesy of the PGA of America: Anthony Kim (R) and the U.S. Ryder Cup Team celebrate their win on hole 17 during the singles matches.

Nothing against you, understand, but you have cast such a large shadow over the game that it’s hard for anybody else to get any attention when you’re around. We know it’s not your fault. You can’t help it if you play this game better than any mortal ever has. Still, well, we have our egos, too, you know.

Our team probably began to jell right after your incredibly gutsy win in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. When the news broke that you were done for the year because of your bum knee, those fools in the media immediately said we’d have no shot in the Ryder Cup.

We understood their reasoning, but that still ticked us off. You are the best player on the planet, Eldrick, but not the only one. Guys like Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan and Justin Leonard aren’t exactly chopped liver, you know. And sorry to break this to you, Eldrick, but when you get back into action you’re going to find Anthony Kim yapping at your heels just about every time you tee it up.

Kim is only 23, probably too young to understand what the TV goobers were talking about when they kept babbling about “pressure.” Captain Azinger, in one of his many brilliant moves, put him in the leadoff position in the singles competition and all he did was play Sergio Garcia like a matador.

As you well know, Sergio has been the heart and soul of the European team, the guy who gets his teammates and the crowds revved up. When Euro captain Nick Faldo failed to select Colin Montgomerie, Sergio automatically inherited the title of “European player the American fans most love to hate.” That’s why Faldo put him in the leadoff spot Sunday. He wanted Sergio to give the Euros a quick jolt of energy.

Instead, Kim drilled him, 5 and 4. And laughed while he did it. Strolling the fairways between shots, Kim even managed to get Phil Mickelson as loosened up as Phil possibly can be. Buoyed by Kim’s infectious enthusiasm, Phil played fairly well on Friday and Saturday in the alternate-shot and best-ball competition. But left alone to contend Justin Rose in the singles, Phil lapsed back into one of his patented comas.

Speaking of cheerleaders, Tiger, Azinger was simply brilliant in his role as captain. He was all over the place in his golf cart, slapping backs and leading cheers and boosting spirits. No captain in Ryder Cup history has put more into the job than “The Zinger” did. For two years, he worked tirelessly with the PGA of America and the Valhalla officials on every nuance of every detail. 

Photo courtesy of the PGA of America: Hunter Mahan reacts to sinking his putt on hole 17 during the singles matches at the 37th Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club.
Photo courtesy of the PGA of America: Hunter Mahan reacts to sinking his putt on hole 17 during the singles matches at the 37th Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club.

Heck, Tiger, he even found time to exchange text-messages with you. He made sure the team knew you were there in spirit. And speaking of spirit, big guy, the crowds — and they were crowds, not galleries — were nuts. Not European-soccer-crowd nuts, but Southeastern-Conference-football nuts.

The European fans made their presence felt by singing a lot of pub songs. Some of them dressed like leprechauns. But what they needed to do was take out missing person reports for Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez and several of their other heroes: they were MIA. Only Ian Poulter — you know, the dude who once said he was a good as you, Tiger — didn’t seem to get rattled by the overwhelmingly red-white-and-blue crowd. 

The Americans were so boisterous you would have thought gas prices had dropped to a buck a gallon. Every tee had a group chanting “Boo-S-A, Boo-S-A.” And there was a group of Southeastern Conference refugees who spelled out “B-O-O-O-O-O,” each one having a letter on his bare chest.

Which brings us to Mr. Boo Weekley, the unofficial captain and Head Good Ol’ Boy of Team Bubba, our team within the team. Our secret weapon, if you will. Along with Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes, two native sons of Kentucky, Boo taught the Euros something about Southern-style home cooking.

You wouldn’t have believed it, Tiger. Perry’s 84-year-old father showed up on the final day wearing bib overalls. They did not have a Nike logo on them, so far as anybody could see. Boo had something stuck in his jaw that looked suspiciously like a chaw of tobacco. And Holmes routinely hit drives from here to yonder, as they might say down around his hometown of Campbellsville.

Now, it’s not true that they come from so far back in the sticks that they thought the Ryder Cup was being played in Val Holler instead of Valhalla. You know what a holler is, right, Tiger? It’s a cut in the mountains where there’s usually a crick — ah, creek. As in, the great country singer Loretta Lynn comes from Butcher Holler.

I mean, these are three guys who probably already have photos of Sarah Palin nailed on their walls right next to their stuffed fish and deer antlers. Weekley had the audacity to say that, on the whole, he’d rather hunt that play golf, a statement he recanted somewhat after beating the bejeezus out of poor Oliver Wilson in the singles play.

Now that he’s an overnight international celebrity in his mid-30s, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of endorsement contracts Weekley picks up. It’s possible he could be the first Ryder Cup member ever to do commercials for John Deere, Levi’s and Smith & Wesson.

His soulmates, Perry and Holmes, put the finishing touches on a great week for the commonwealth and the city of Louisville. On the Sunday before the Ryder Cup, the city was battered by hurricane-force winds that left thousands without electricity for most of the week. The governor even declared a state of emergency, which isn’t exactly the way you want to begin the week in which you will host the biggest golf event in the world.

But just like the U.S. golfers, the city and state came through. Louisville served its visitors a huge order of true grit, which isn’t to be confused with grits, a favorite with every good ol’ boy worth his weight in pork rinds. Even Faldo didn’t have anything bad to say about Louisville or the crazy fans, including that guy who ran around all day in the white sheet screaming “Boo” whenever a TV camera was in the vicinity.

He caught Lee Westwood, Europe’s Rock of Gibraltar, as he was walking from the fifth tee to the sixth green. Earlier in the week, Westwood became nettled with how Weekley was exhorting the fans, sometimes even before a hole had been completed. So now here was the guy in the sheet, crab-hopping next to Westwood and flapping his arms and screaming, “Booooo, booooo, booooo.”

At first Westwood glared. Then a huge smile spread across his face. He laughed and tried to toss the galloping ghost (no offense, Red Grange) his golf ball, but the guy was too busy flapping his sheet to see the gesture.

America 16 ½, Europe 11 ½. 

You missed a helluva party, Tiger. Too bad your invitation was canceled. But maybe the lesson of this Ryder Cup is that the game is far, far bigger than any one person — even if that person happens to be the best who ever played. In your absence, new heroes emerged and old ones stepped up their games. And, frankly, just as it was refreshing to be at a golf tournament where nobody wore logos, it was nice to be at one where the main question wasn’t, “How’s Tiger doing?”

We hope your knee is healing nicely, Eldrick. Don’t feel that you have to rush back. The game of golf is doing just fine, thanks, and we’ll be glad to let you touch the Ryder Cup if you say please.