2012 Ryder Cup Preview: Sweet Home Chicago
By Tom Ward
When I heard that Medinah Country club was chosen to host this year’s prestigious Ryder Cup matches between the U.S and Europe I couldn’t have been more pleased. As a native Chicagoan I will take great pride in seeing one of my favorite courses not only in the Chicagoland area, but the world being showcased during this upcoming weekend. Medinah’s number 3 course has long been a true American classic hosting U.S. Opens, P.G.A. Championships & Senior P.G.A. Championships as well as numerous Western Opens. Medinah is the perfect venue to stage the Ryder Cup and I believe it will play an integral role in helping the U.S. team regain the cup. The U.S. squad is going to need all the help they can get because the past few Ryder Cups haven’t turned out too good for our guys. There are still lingering images of the U.S. being beaten in Wales 14 ½ to 13 ½ in 2010 that I’m sure are still gnawing at many players looking at a shot of redemption. The U.S. got shellacked 18 ½ to 9 ½ twice in 2004 & 2006 before pulling out a big win at Valhalla in Kentucky in 2008. Since 1985, The European teams have won a total of 8 times compared to the U.S. who have won the trophy 4 times and there was a tie in 1989. Another big advantage the U.S. squad will have going for it is the Chicago area sports fan base. In my opinion, Chicago sports fans are some of the best in our country. They love their teams whether they are winning Super Bowl titles like the Chicago Bears or N.B.A. titles when Michael Jordan played for the Bulls. Let’s not forget the Blackhawks hockey team which won the Stanley Cup just a few short years ago and the White Sox baseball team that finally got Chicago a World Series championship. Even the beloved Cubs those loveable losers from the north side who are stilling waiting for a world series championship going on for over 100 years now.
Medinah is usually a pretty stern test for the players when major championships have been played here in the past. It will be playing at a long 7,658 yards. One significant change that will be seen at this year’s event that is unusual to a course like Medinah is the rough will be almost non-existent. That mean this layout will be playing fast & furious. That’s because I believe the tournament organizers want this to be a hitter’s course and allow the fans to see more birdies than bogies. Also, from what I’ve heard a large number of trees have been cut down which is a shame, but it will make it great for the galleries to follow the action. The opening hole is a 433 yard par 4 that most of the competitors won’t be using driver on. When you compare it to the rest of the course this is a relatively easy hole. When the players reach the second hole it’s game on because Medinah has some of the best par 3’s anywhere. Number 2 requires near perfect club selection and execution because Lake Kadijah must be carried at 192 yards to a small green with no bailout to the left. This hole will get your attention immediately and anything short of this green and double bogey will start to look real good. The third is a nice par 4 of only 412 yards which is short in comparison to the other par 4’s on the course. A nice controlled draw off the tee will help the players navigate bunkers down the right side and over hanging limbs from huge trees that Medinah is known for. Hit this fairway and you’re looking at a good birdie opportunity with a short iron. Players need to favor the right side of the fairway on the tough 4th hole which is a par 4 of 463 yards. Anything going down the left side of the fairway will more than likely catch the rough and could encounter some issues with the trees if it runs out too much. There is a severe uphill elevation on the second shot that TV won’t really be able to show the viewers. Approach shots coming up short will be rolling all the way back down the hill. Players must keep their balls below the hole here or you’re going to see a lot of three putts. The 5th gives the players a short breather with a par 5 weighing in at 536 yards. If the golfers hit the fairway they will be left with a long iron into an elevated green. This is a birdie hole even for the shorter hitters. The 6th is a brute of a long par 4 that Medinah is famous for measuring at 509 yards. If the competitors from either side miss this fairway right here they will be lucky to make a bogey. Long irons or hybrids will be used in attempting to hit a well bunkered green. The par five 7th will be playing at a stout 617 yards and players will be wanting to aim for the left side of the fairway off the tee. This is a true three shot par 5 and the key is how the players layup to leave them the best angle into another elevated hole with deep bunkers. The 8th hole is the only par 3 on the course where water doesn’t come into play, however that doesn’t mean it’s an easy hole. The hole stills plays at 201 yards and is heavily protected with bunkers. The front 9 ends with a severe dogleg left that is somewhat blind to the players from the tee. It’s a 432 yard par 4 and most of the field won’t be using driver here. The key is to stay in the short grass and you’ll be rewarded with a clear shot to the green with a short iron.
The back nine starts out with a par 5 measuring 578 yards, but it can be reached in two with a good drive and second shot. I think most of the golfers will play it smart and leave themselves short wedges to try to knock their 3rd shots stiff to make birdie. The par 4 11th hole is quite deceiving because at 440 yards the key to this hole is hitting the fairway. Also, this green is by far the smallest that the players will be putting on. Personally one of my favorite stretches on the course begins at the 12th hole. It’s a great par 4 that is long at 476 yards that slopes severely from left to right on the fairway. The left side of the green is guarded by huge trees and anybody blocking their approach shot too far right might find their ball heading towards a pond. This is a hole where par will be at a premium. Players need to take a deep breath when they approach the par 3 13th tee. This hole can eat your lunch playing 245 yards to a postage stamp green protected by 3 deep bunkers. The 14th hole is another long par 5 playing to 609 yards with trees majestically lining the fairway. It’s a birdie opportunity if the players can keep it in play off the tee. The 15th may turn out to be pivotal hole when it’s all said and done. If the tees are moved up than this will be a drivable par 4 which could lead to some fireworks and lots of excitement during the matches. For my money the par four 16th is one tough hole playing at 482 yards. Players fortunate enough to hit this fairway off the tee will have a huge advantage with their approach shots into this elevated green. This green is particularly tricky to putt as well. The breathtaking & beautiful 17th hole awaits all the competitors and if a crucial match comes down to this hole there will be some serious lumps in the players throats when they get over this terrifying tee shot. At 193 yards this par 3 demands pinpoint accuracy from an elevated tee to a flat green guarded by lake Kadijah. If the players bail out long as most will, it will take all of their skills to salvage par. It will be a watery grave drowning the hopes of the unfortunate player who comes up short on this green. The 18th is a par 4 playing at 449 yards made famous back in 1990 at the U.S. Open when Hale Irwin made a long putt and began running around the gallery ropes high fiving the fans. This green has been raised since then and has some very steep bunkers awaited any shots off-line.
Europe’s team captain Jose Maria Olazabal has put together a formidable squad led by Rory McIllroy whose been on quite a roll lately. Justin Rose is coming off a strong finish in Atlanta last week. Luke Donald will certainly pull a lot of Chicago fans into his gallery because he lives in the area and went to Northwestern. Sergio is playing better and has fond memories of Medinah especially in 1999 at the PGA championship. Long hitting Nicolas Colsarets should enjoy his time at Medinah because he can really let it fly. Watch out for Graeme Mc Dowell because he seems to step up his game every time he tees it up at the Ryder Cup. The rest of the group is solid and play well as a team in fourball and alternate shots formats which usually is where they outplay the U.S. in the first two days. I would give the Europeans and advantage in camaraderie over the U.S. in that department. Captain Davis Love III has fielded an equally strong team headed my new Fed Ex cup champion Brandt Snedecker. Tiger Woods is back playing well again and has a personal love affair at Medinah winning two PGA Championships there in 1999 & 2006. Jim Furyk has got good vibes for the Chicago area winning his U.S.Open championship at Olympia fields in 2003. Steve Stricker will be considered a home town favorite as well because this Wisconsin native and former Illini golfer will have a huge following during the matches. Long hitting Bubba Watson & Dustin Johnson should enjoy a big advantage here especially if they can keep it in the short grass off the tee. On paper the U.S. team should win especially if they can withstand the first two days of team play that has historically favored the Europeans. If the U.S. is ahead at that point going into Sundays final round it could and should be a blow out. If it plays out like it has in the past and the U.S. is behind going into the singles than it’s going to be exciting and tense TV viewing. This is where I think the Chicago fans will step in and help cheer on the U.S. team to victory. I predict the U.S. will be hoisting the Ryder Cup trophy come Sunday evening and the Champagne & Beer will be flowing as the players and fans alike will be enjoying the festivities Chicago style. It would only seem appropriate that during the celebrations that the Frank Sinatra classic “My Kind of Town” should be playing to pay homage to a wonderful week in the windy city. In the end, the Ryder Cup will be back in the U.S. hands where it belongs thanks to sweet home Chicago.
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com