John Clay

Ryder Cup experience might be overrated

LOUISVILLE — There are a half-dozen Ryder Cup rookies on the United States team, all without the curse of rearview mirrors.

On the one hand, the six have not a spot of Ryder Cup experience.

On the other hand, "Not being a part of the last few U.S. teams is not necessarily a bad thing," Phil Mickelson, a veteran of six Ryder Cups, joked yesterday.

After all, the Europeans have basically seized the Cup and beaten the Americans over the head with it the last three meetings.

The last two have been particularly ugly. In 2004, at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan, the Euros rolled to a nine-point rout. Two years ago, at the K Club in Ireland, same victor, same margin.

Is experience an advantage if it's covered by scars?

"I honestly felt like the selection process would get the eight best players," Paul Azinger, the American captain said yesterday. "It didn't matter who it was."

But even when that process tabbed three Ryder rookies (Anthony Kim, Ben Curtis and Boo Weekley), Azinger employed three of his four captain's picks on another trio of first-timers, J.B. Holmes, Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker.

"When you talk about rookies, these guys know they're as good as the ones who played before them," said Azinger. "These rookies are gamers."

"All the rookies that are here, we know how to play," said Weekley, the self-professed country boy who has five top-10 finishes this year. "This is just another tournament to us."

Well, not exactly just another tournament.

"I'm enjoying every minute of it," said Anthony Kim, the rapidly rising 23-year-old from Los Angeles who has won two tour events this year, finished in the top 10 seven times and is third in scoring average. "I'm trying to soak it all in."

"I think this team has great energy," said Mahan, the talented 26-year-old from Orange, Calif., who has five top-10 finishes this year.

Add that duo to a first-year group that includes Holmes, the 26-year-old Campbellsville native; the 31-year-old Curtis, the 2003 British Open champ from Columbus, Ohio; the 35-year-old Weekley out of Milton, Fla.; and veteran Stricker, 41, the old man of the group but a man ranked eighth in the world.

"We've got a great mix of guys who've played Ryder Cup and some who haven't," said Justin Leonard, whose remarkable 45-foot putt on Sunday at Brookline back in 1999 helped the Americans complete the biggest comeback in Ryder Cup history.

Thing is, the Americans have not led after a session of Cup play since '99. Not one. Something had to give. Azinger tweaked the selection process, basing the criteria more on money than points — "As Boo Weekley says, money don't lie," Azinger said yesterday — then doubling the captain's picks from two to four.

"What do we have, six newcomers?" said Jim Furyk, in his sixth Ryder Cup. "I think Paul's happy about that."

After all, most rookies don't know any better than Azinger did in '89 when he went 3-1 in his first Ryder Cup.

Or take Holmes, who walked up to the 13th tee at Valhalla on Tuesday, easy as you please, and unleashed a 338-yard bomb that found (and stuck to) the green.

"The crowd went crazy," said Azinger. "Hopefully that's a little dose of things to come."

Maybe green is good.

"You don't know what kind of dogs you got until you run them," said Weekley. "So let's run them, and we'll see."