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Ryder Cup: Where Business Is Pressure

Golf: In these matches, which will be played under intense security, heat is on from the start.

September 27, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England — After spending an extra year on the drawing board, the 34th Ryder Cup matches roll out today, this model outfitted with wall-to-wall security and full stereophonic pressure.

"This is where the fun begins," said Sam Torrance, captain of the European team.

Of course, it remains to be seen how much fun anyone is going to have if he's so nervous he can't swing a club. Davis Love III remembers standing over his putt at the 18th hole that would defeat Costantino Rocca, 1-up, in the U.S. team's 15-13 victory in 1993.

"My hands were shaking so badly that I had to back away," Love said. "I literally couldn't do it. I was shaking so bad that I couldn't handle it. I was trying not to miss. And then I said, 'It's either going to go in or not go in,' and I calmed down. I got lost in the moment and made the putt."

Expect similar moments to occur almost anywhere on the course for the next three days, now that the Ryder Cup has finally arrived. Postponed for a year because of last September's terrorist attacks, the Ryder Cup matches are back at the Belfry for the first time since Love's hands shook in those 1993 matches. And nine years later, the U.S. team is in a similar situation as defending champion.

"If we play well and play up to our potential, I feel confident," U.S. captain Curtis Strange said.

While Strange and Torrance and the players from both teams try to maintain a business-as-usual posture, there is an abundance of evidence indicating otherwise.

Clearly, this is not a normal golf tournament.

Ryder Cup Ltd., which runs the event, has adopted unprecedented security measures. Cars are not allowed within miles of the course and fans board row after row of buses to take them from the parking lots to the course. Once at the course, purses are searched and run through X-ray machines. Fans pass through metal detectors while uniformed guards, carrying semi-automatic rifles, look on.

Cellular telephones, cameras, pagers, ladders, picnic baskets, briefcases, portable televisions, lawn chairs, bicycles, bags, backpacks and carry-alls larger than eight inches square are banned.

The armed guards form a 45-person unit, and there are 24 uniformed guards with the players, as well as undercover officers circulating through the crowd.

"It's a comfort, of course," Torrance said. "Unfortunately, in this day and age, it's a necessity with such a high-class field. It probably wouldn't be something terrorists would look at, but you do have some high-powered people here, so they have to be looked after."

Eight matches will be played today, beginning with four four-ball, or better-ball, matches in the morning. Tiger Woods-Paul Azinger lead off against Darren Clarke-Thomas Bjorn, followed by David Duval-Love against Sergio Garcia-Lee Westwood, Scott Hoch-Jim Furyk against Colin Montgomerie-Bernhard Langer, and Phil Mickelson-David Toms against Padraig Harrington-Niclas Fasth.

Strange has been busy this week reminding his team of the importance of getting off to a quick start. In 1999 at the Country Club at Brookline, Mass., Europe held a 6-2 lead after the first day, including a 3 1/2-- 1/2 edge in better ball.

The Woods-Azinger pairing was a mild surprise, because Strange had all but guaranteed that Woods would have Mark Calcavecchia as a partner. Strange changed his mind when Calcavecchia told him he was more comfortable in the alternate-shot format, so expect a Woods-Calcavecchia team in the afternoon matches.

Woods says he is ready for the rigors of match play.

"This is a boat race for 18 holes," he said. "That's the most challenging thing about Ryder Cup, that you're in an 18-hole match. And things do happen. And it's a lot of fun."

Woods also said he's growing accustomed to the team format of a Ryder Cup.

"It's a completely different animal," he said. "I'm telling you, 51 weeks out of the year, you're trying to beat these guys' brains in. And now you're together, which is different. And it's really cool."

Beginning today, all the players would be advised to stay cool, because the temperature is about to be turned up, and in a hurry.

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