NEWPORT, Wales — Preparations for the Ryder Cup were intense and inspirational. There was laughter and a few tears. One thing players from both sides agreed on was the importance of rallying behind the flag.
And that was before anyone hit a shot Wednesday.
A rain-filled day at Celtic Manor shifted the attention to the team rooms, and even that became somewhat of a contest.
U.S. captain Corey Pavin gathered his troops for a motivational speech by Maj. Dan Rooney, a decorated F-16 fighter pilot from Oklahoma with the rare distinction of being an Iraqi war veteran and a PGA professional.
“It was pretty emotional, actually, but a good kind of emotion,” Pavin said. “It was very quiet when he was talking.”
The voice in the European team room came over the telephone, and it was chilling — Seve Ballesteros, the symbol of European pride and determination in the Ryder Cup. The Spaniard, stricken with a brain tumor, is unable to travel.
“We have enough motivation in our team room,” captain Colin Montgomerie said. “I was after some passion. And by God, I got it.”
Ballesteros sounded like he wanted to tee it up himself.
“Go get them so hard that they’ll all be caddies in the future,” Ballesteros told them, according to the Swedish Golf Federation website.
Europe, 1 up.
Montgomerie’s squad waited more than an hour to tee off because of a steady rain that drenched Celtic Manor. Once the players arrived on the first tee, the captain was delighted with what he saw. Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell and the caddies were wearing wigs that resembled the mop top of Rory McIlroy.
Montgomerie said the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland, in his first Ryder Cup, was “quite upset” about press coverage of his rift with Tiger Woods. McIlroy was quoted six weeks ago as saying he would “love to face” Woods at the Ryder Cup, and Woods offered a terse, “Me, too,” in his press conference Tuesday.
“It was getting out of hand, tabloid-wise,” Montgomerie said. “So what we decided to do was find seven wigs — which God knows how people do that, but they do, especially ones looking like that — and the caddies and the players that were playing with him decided that we’ll get Rory on the first tee and make him feel part of the team again.
“And that was the right thing to do. He played magnificently today.”
Phil Mickelson had more to say about McIlroy-Woods than anything Rooney said in the American team room. He defended McIlroy’s comments, calling him one of the classiest players on tour and agreeing that everyone wants a chance to take on the best in the world.