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 on Wednesday.
A rain-filled day at Celtic Manor shifted the attention to the team rooms, and even that became somewhat of a contest.
US 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 was 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,” team 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 Web site.
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, Graeme McDowell and the caddies were wearing wigs that resembled the mop top of Rory McIlroy.
Montgomerie said the 21-year-old Northern Irishman 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 news conference on 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.”
Get ready for some noise in just two days, when the bleachers behind the first tee fill with fans who have been waiting two years for golf’s top team competition.
Montgomerie bristled at the notion that Europe needed any motivation, whether it came from Ballesteros, former winning captains Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam, or Welsh rugby legend Gareth Edwards.
All his players had to do was see Pavin carrying around that gold trophy.
“The only motivation this team needed was to lose the Ryder Cup two years ago,” he said.
That American team didn’t even have Woods, who was recovering from knee surgery. He is now recovering from a personal life in such turmoil that the world’s No. 1 player — though probably not for much longer — has yet to win a tournament this year.
Woods and the rest of the Americans went out in the rain, and all but three of them stopped after playing nine holes. Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and 21-year-old Rickie Fowler continued on and played the front nine.
Rain is part of the forecast for the rest of the week, making Celtic Manor play even longer.
“I don’t have any issue with anybody dealing with bad weather,” Pavin said. “I think everybody can handle it.”