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Pressure Cooker

The Heat Will Be Turned Up This Weekend in Spain, No Matter What the Temperature Is


SOTOGRANDE, Spain — . . . Wait . . . Back up a couple of words. Now, make it this:

SUFFOCATION, Spain--Hello and welcome to Ryder Cup, where shirt collars suddenly shrink two sizes, your tongue gets stuck to the roof of your mouth like Velcro, sweat glands shift into overdrive and every hole on the golf course is smaller than George Steinbrenner's heart.

You know, there's nothing like this little biennial, bi-continental combination golf outing and psychosis-inducing get-together to cause some of the best players in the world to start wondering.

As they stand there on the first tee, naked to the world except for polyester and fried nerve endings, they wonder, by gosh, if it's not too late to make a career change. At this moment, the dry cleaning business never looked so appealing.

Case in point: Consider the case of Davis Love III in his Ryder Cup debut in 1993 at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. Love and Tom Kite were playing Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal in foursomes on the first day, but fog delayed the start of the match.

Kite said that by the time they were ready to tee off, Love didn't really come all that close to resembling the calm, collected individual he had been only a short time before. In fact, Love was something entirely different.

"He was a blithering idiot," Kite said.

This time, when the U.S. tries to take the Ryder Cup away from Europe at Valderrama Golf Club, Kite serves as the nonplaying captain and thus the idiot's team leader, not his partner.

Kite's biggest job, besides making sure everybody wears the same color-coordinated outfits on the right day, is to try to get his inexperienced players accustomed to Ryder Cup pressure that is so intense it can turn a golf ball into a pile of dimpled goo.

Kite said Ryder Cup pressure will have a huge effect on how he will pair his players. He's not sure he will put two rookies together . . . and for good reason.

"Well, one might say 'I can't hit it here' and the other might say 'I can't hit it here, either, so let's go get a beer,' " Kite said. "They might walk off the tee and disappear."

When the first match is played Friday here at this pleasant layout on the Mediterranean coast, the U.S. team actually may have a factor in its favor, even if intimidation isn't one of them.

Sure, the U.S. is fielding a powerful team that features three of the four winners of this year's majors--Masters champion Tiger Woods, British Open champion Justin Leonard and PGA champion Love. These guys already have whipped the best players from around the world and held steadfast under more scrutiny than Jesse Helms would be able to muster.

But the fact is that a large portion of the team is really inexperienced on this storied stage. Roll call. Woods, Leonard, Jim Furyk and Scott Hoch are making their debuts.

The U.S. team actually is quite deep in inexperience. Tom Lehman, Brad Faxon, Phil Mickelson, Jeff Maggert and Lee Janzen are playing in only their second Ryder Cup. Only Fred Couples, Mark O'Meara and Love have played more than twice.

All of this means the U.S. team might have a few things to learn about the Ryder Cup. So in the interest of higher learning, here's a pop quiz. (Yes, it's open book).


Question: Who is the Ryder in Ryder Cup?

Answer: Sam Ryder.


Q: Thanks, but who is Sam Ryder?

A: Sam was an English seed merchant who in 1927 presented a trophy to the British PGA to go to the winner of an international competition between professional golfers from the U.S. and Great Britain.


Q: What kind of seeds?

A: Sorry. Only golf questions allowed.


Q: How tall is the Ryder Cup?

A: 19 inches.


Q: Who is that tiny guy with the golf club standing on top of the trophy?

A: That's Abe Mitchell, who was a friend and instructor of Sam Ryder.


Q: What's the Ryder Cup a symbol of.

A: Choking.

All right, the last one, that's the short answer. There is a lot more to the Ryder Cup than stomachs rumbling like cement mixers, but at the very least, it's pretty clear that this competition has far exceeded its original mandate.

No longer is the Ryder Cup a done deal for the U.S. Europe still trails, 23-6-2, but has kept the

Cup three of the last five encounters.

Meanwhile, the level of pressure increases each time, swooshing by like the backdraft from Woods' swings. Ryder Cup competition has become so intense and the jingoism so strong that frayed nerves and blown shots may be remembered as much as anything.

In the unblinking eye of television, every goof seems magnified. Who can forget Bernhard Langer of Germany missing a six-foot putt on the 18th hole at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C., in 1991, allowing the U.S. to win?

Hale Irwin had bogeyed the 18th, which meant all Langer had to do to win the match was make the putt and Europe would retain the cup with a 14-14 tie.

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