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RYDER CUP | PREVIEW

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Too Close

The 15th at Medinah Country Club has been transformed into a driveable par-four and could well prove to be a pivotal hole at the Ryder Cup later this month

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With the teams seemingly even matched, the 2012 Ryder Cup could once again come down to the wire

by Scotsman Tom Bendelow, has hosted three US Opens (1949, 1975 and 1990), two PGA Championships (1999 and 2006) and a US Senior Open (1988). At that 1999 PGA, it was the scene of one of golf’s most unforgettable moments when Sergio Garcia, then a fresh-faced 19-year-old, gouged a 6-iron from behind a tree during the final round. The excitable Spaniard sprinted down the 16th fairway to follow the flight of the ball as he pushed Tiger Woods all the way. The American ended up winning by one stroke to claim his first PGA title and his second major, leaving Garcia without a play-off but with lots of new friends who admired his raw enthusiasm. “It was my second major as a professional, and to be able to play the way I did at 19 against a guy like Tiger was a great experience,” says Garcia. In preparation for the Ryder Cup extensive work has been carried out on the greens, 11 of which were completely renovated. Six other greens were re-grassed and the 15th hole was dramatically changed under the supervision of Rees Jones who has overseen all architectural design aspects of Medinah’s three courses since 2000. The 15th has been reduced in length by 100 yards and now offers players a great risk-reward opportunity with a driveable par 4. A two-acre lake borders the right side of the fairway and green. The new forward tee means the hole can be set up as short as 280 yards, so expect this to be the sight of much drama over the three days of competition. The green was moved to the left making way for the creation of a new back tee for Medinah’s famed tree-lined 16th hole which plays around 480 yards. Perhaps the best known hole is the 17th which has played a big role in deciding some of the major events held on the course. This treacherous par-three is all over water with the front of the green sitting hard against Lake Kadijah.

Rise of the Rookie

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Photo credit: Montana Pritchard / PGA of America

here’s nothing quite like the Ryder Cup. By far and away golf’s premier team event, this year’s edition, which takes place from September 28-30 at Medinah Country Club in Chicago, will see US skipper Davis Love III lead a side desperate to avenge their loss at the hands of Europe in Wales two years ago. He’ll have his work cut out however, because in José María Olazábal Europe has one of the most passionate and successful players in history, one more than capable of rousing his troops and ensuring that the Cup travels back – first class, of course – with his team. But the fact remains that six of the last seven Ryder Cups have been won by the host team and Medinah, which comes in at over 7,657 yards, is expected to favour the Americans. The course was also the site of two of Tiger Woods’ 44

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PGA Championship wins, so it’s clearly the type of challenge he enjoys. It would be something a shock if an in-form Woods, despite his fairly ordinary record in Ryder Cups, doesn’t finish with a hatful of points. The United States are the slight favourites, according to British bookmakers at least, and that sounds about right. Home advantage counts for a lot. In a sportsmad city like Chicago – the third largest city in America – the US team is going to enjoy tremendous – and likely tremendously vocal – support. HKGOLFER.COM

In their favour, the Europeans have a camaraderie that the Americans will find difficult to match. Their strength is greater than the sum of its parts, with players like Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia saving their best performances for the Ryder Cup. Taking part in a Ryder Cup, for most Europeans, is rated second only to winning a major. It means that much to them. The verdict: too close to call.

Major Setting Built by as group of Shriners in the early 1920s, Medinah, whose Byzantinestyle clubhouse is one of the most distinctive in the game, has been a fairly regular feature on the major championship schedule. The course, which was designed HKGOLFER.COM

Nicolas Colsaerts will be the only rookie on the European Ryder Cup team and his participation caps a quite extraordinary rise from obscurity. Four years ago Colsaerts, the tall 29-year-old was ranked outside of the top 1,000 golfers in the world and enjoying a lifestyle in which he played much harder than he worked. At the time, he had a reputation as being something of a party animal. Much has changed. Colsaerts’ receipt of a captain’s pick from José María Olazábal will make him the first Belgian to appear at the biennial match. In a country where golf has a battle to generate any form of coverage, Colsaerts is suddenly a prominent sporting figure. HK Golfer・SEP 2012

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“I knew I had it in me, but I knew I was going to be a bit of a clown before I got there,” says Colsaerts. “I had my mid-life crisis at 25, which was a good thing. I got it out of the way. People took me aside to have a word, to tell me to knuckle down a million times, but that decision has to come from you. Everyone is busy doing their own things – no one has time to babysit out here.” Colsaerts got the message and, in 2008, travelled to Australia to get away from the tour and concentrate on his game. “It was a great hideaway place for me,” he says. He returned to Europe and won twice on the Challenge Tour to earn his way back onto the main tour. Colsaerts kept his card in 2010 when he finished 67th on the money list. Then in 2011 he hit the big time when he won the Volvo China

Open. This year he got into the Ryder Cup frame with victory in the Volvo World Match Play Championship. “To be honest I didn’t make much money until last year,” he says. “It’s funny how everybody has this idea of me being really wealthy but I’m only starting to make some cash in the last year. Ten years on tour without making any is pretty difficult.” With his fiscal problems behind him, Colsaerts, who is arguably the longest driver in elite professional golf, can’t wait for the Ryder Cup to get started. He loves match play. “I give myself a lot of chances and when you are put under the gun in a match play format and forced to do stuff, sometimes the target gets smaller. Your focus becomes more intense and that’s why I like it,” he says.

NUMBERS GAME

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Out of the last seven Ryder Cups, this many have been won by the host team. Home advantage counts for a lot but it wasn’t the case for the United States in 2004. That year, Europe thrashed the Americans by nine points at Oakland Hills for their biggest ever victory.

The captains (top left) might be good friends off the course but they’ll be battling to out do each other when the action begins; Nicolas Colsaerts (top right), one of the longest players in the game, loves match play and could be a surprise package at the Ryder Cup 46

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The length, in yards, of the reconfigured 15th hole, a par-four, at Medinah Country Club. The 15th, which features water in front of the green, was redesigned by Rees Jones who hopes to lure players into reaching for their drivers and going for the putting surface in one blow.

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This was Nicolas Colsaert’s world ranking just four years ago. The Belgian, who will make his Ryder Cup debut this month, rededicated himself to the game after suffering what he calls “a mid-life crisis at the age of 25. ”The long-hitting Colsaerts won the Volvo World Match Play Championship earlier this year.

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