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Ryder Cup 2008: Day 1 -- Foursomes, Fourball, and J.B. Holmes

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Friday was the first day of Foursomes and Four-ball, the part of the Ryder Cup Matches that the USA usually gets way behind in.  I have no idea why this is so, bu historically, the USA has struggled mightily in team play and when they have won, they have done so, by making a comeback in the singles matches.

For those of you unfamiliar with this kind of golf, how it works is this:  In Foursomes, each team of two plays one ball, and the shots are alternated -- i.e. player one hits a drive, and player 2 for the same team hits the second shot, and so on through the green.  Yesterday, the USA was up 3-1 after the Foursomes, with two wins (one point each) and two, "halves," (where the teams end up tied after #18, which gives each team 1/2 point apiece.

In the Four-ball matches, each player plays his own ball and the lowest score is what counts for each team.  In yesterday's Four-ball, the USA once again rose to the challenge with two wins, a loss and a half.  That places the USA ahead after the first day, 5 1/2 to 2 /12, for the first time in six Ryder Cup meetings -- twelve years.

I was fortunate enough to watch all the players at one time or another, as our tendency was to pick a hole and watch all the teams cruise by.  The crowd was electric and huge, and this was only the first day.  I saw a few familiar faces there, including Matt Jones (to whom I introduced myself, but I'm pretty sure he didn't know that I write at A Sea of Blue).

Now, about J.B. Holmes.  I didn't get to see him that much yesterday, but I did during the Four-ball on #16 tee, where I watched him smash a 350+ yard drive into the fairway.  Now, folks, I have been a golfer since I was ten.  I played on my high school golf team and narrowly missed qualifying for the Kentucky State Amateur a couple of times.  I am an above-average golfer, and know what good golf looks like.  But watching someone smash the ball 350 yards in a professional golf tournament is something that I was unprepared for. No wind-aid, no hit-on-the-downhill ground effect adding 50 yards -- he simply flew the ball for 330+ yards and got maybe 20 yards of roll.

Holmes hit the ball so incredibly high, it simply vanished -- I don't think anyone could have seen it.  It wound up 50+ yards ahead of the three other players, and these guys hit great drives.  It was a margin so gaudy and unlikely that it was shocking, utterly gobsmacking to me.  I think a lot of fans just failed to appreciate the magnitude of a drive like that.  I myself have hit 300+ yard drives, but we are talking 310 at the most after a downhill roll or a 20 MPH following wind.  This was a 330+ yard carry in dead-still wind.  Amazing.

Some observations:

  • Phil Mickelson is much bigger in person than in TV.  Tight-end big.
  • Nothing can prepare you for the violence of J.B. Holmes swing.  As short as it is, the power he generates is impossible to describe or see on TV.
  • Sergio Garcia looks the same in person as he does on TV.
  • José-María Olazábal, the many-time Ryder Cupper, assistant European captain and frequent partner of Sergio García, is much, much smaller in person.  Tiny little guy.
  • The European fans break out into Olé! Olé! far too often, and at weird times.
  • Valhalla is a fantastic venue for the Ryder Cup, and the American fans have been spectacularly well-behaved.  It may get worse as we get closer to the end, as it often does, but so far, I have been pleasantly surprised given what we have seen at other Ryders.
  • Nick Faldo is a very active, very motivated captain.  Azinger is extremely involved, but less frenetic.  Interesting contrast, given Faldo's extremely stoic mein during his PGA career.
  • The Europeans have been very subdued, almost grim.  Given how loose they have been at previous Ryder Cup's it is a strange and unexpected contrast.
  • What great weather we have had.  Maybe worse today, but it should be good tomorrow.
  • Hearing the remote crowd roars in person is an experience everyone should have.  They are extremely exciting.
  • Mickelson made maybe 4 or 5 20+ foot puts.  America really had the flat stick working, and it was a 180-degree reversal from what we have seen the last six or seven Ryder Cups.

I'll be leaving a bit later today, I needed a few morning hours to recover from yesterday.  Walking around a golf course for 12 hours in the sun is draining, and at my age, I have to pace myself.