Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland
Story Image Captain Tom Lehman (left) reunited the successful partnership of Chris DiMarco and Phil Mickelson (right) for practice on Monday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Building Bonds

The heavens opened up on The K Club on Monday, but the downpour didn't dampen the spirits of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Captain Tom Lehman sent his charges out in threesomes, with each group containing two veterans and a rookie.

Brian Keogh, The Irish Sun
August 28, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- The U.S. Ryder Cup team bonded just a little closer in County Kildare on Monday. But that had as much to do with huddling together for shelter from the soft Irish rain as with any sense of heightened camaraderie.

Just minutes after arriving en masse at the practice ground to start a two-day reconnaissance trip, the heavens opened on The K Club in true Irish fashion, giving the 12-strong United States squad a feel for what may lie in store for them when the most eagerly awaited occasion in Irish sporting history finally gets underway on Sept. 22.

The team arrived in Dublin from Cleveland, Ohio, on a charter flight for an exercise that Captain Tom Lehman hopes will not only create a greater sense of team spirit, but also give his victory-hungry side an edge in terms of course knowledge.

"It's been cold, windy and rainy but good," was Lehman's initial assessment of his squad's first look at The K Club's Palmer Course. "Everybody is obviously pretty tired after a long stretch of tournaments. But they are happy to be here and having a good time.

"There was a lot of snoring on the plane ... a few of the guys didn't get any sleep at all. They were having too much fun."

While many have categorized the trip as a much-needed bonding exercise designed to strengthen U.S. team spirit in the wake of four defeats in the last five Ryder Cups, Lehman is looking at the bigger picture.

"Why come here? I think it was necessary for all kinds of reasons. A lot of guys had not seen the course," he explained. "The simple fact of the matter is that we all felt it would be a good idea because we want to win. Period.

"Today was a day for our four rookie players to go out with two veterans and just see the golf course," added Lehman, who sent his players out in groups of three, with two veterans and one rookie in each group. "[Tuesday] will be much more designed against what is going to be happening later on in September.

"I am thrilled that the entire team has come over. It shows the commitment of the players. They are all big boys and decided if they wanted to come over or not and they all decided that they would. It says a lot about their goals, about their motivation and their commitment to the Ryder Cup team and to each other."

Phil Mickelson knows exactly what lies in store for the American side next month, having played on a winning U.S. Walker Cup side at Portmarnock in Dublin in 1991.

But like Lehman he recognizes that the trip is far more than a bonding exercise. It's about getting to know a course the European Tour players know like the back of their hands.

After a round with Vaughn Taylor and Chris DiMarco, Mickelson said: "We had a lot of fun learning the golf course, seeing it for the first time. It is so lush, green and beautiful. The greens are just in immaculate shape and we just can't wait to get out here and play this tournament for real. The Ryder Cup will be great here.

"We have lost four of the last five and the European team is very strong, one of the strongest that we have seen, too. That is why we are out here -- trying to give ourselves a chance."

Lehman's coup in convincing Mickelson and Tiger Woods to rearrange their schedules to make the trip has sent a clear message to European Captain Ian Woosnam, who will not get to finalize his own side until after Sunday's BMW International Open in Munich, Germany.

"Phil and Tiger went to some trouble and I take my hat off to them," Lehman said. "There are a lot of guys who have played three or four weeks in a row and haven't been home in a month. But they are here."

As for the kind of message his side's united front might have sent the Europeans, Lehman added: "I think they know we are serious. You still have to go play the tournament but they know we are serious about our effort.

"It was a fun trip. The bus ride to the airport together. Getting on the plane together. It was a pretty festive atmosphere and I think everybody enjoyed it."

Woods played with Jim Furyk and J.J. Henry in the final threeball, less than 24 hours after his playoff win over teammate Stewart Cink in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.

Woods' main focus in Ireland is to help the newcomers to the U.S. side feel right at home. But he also hopes that his close friend Darren Clarke, will be selected as a wild card by Woosnam on Sunday night and enjoy the warmth of the global golfing family and the camaraderie of his friends on both sides of the Atlantic.

Clarke's wife Heather, died recently after a long battle with breast cancer.

"I am close to Darren. He is one of my good friends, so I think it would be great for him to get involved in a team atmosphere," Woods said. "We really are one big family."

Woods has visited Ireland often in preparation for the British Open and he explained that it was important for the whole side to get together for the first time and get to know the course he has already played many times.

"We are here as a team," he said. "And we are trying to get everything organized so that when he come back we will be ready."

Woods is in the form of his life right now but he believes that the key to halting Europe's bid for a hat trick of titles lies in rediscovering some brilliance on the greens, especially the 18th green.

"If you look at all the cups we play, whether it is Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, it comes down to who putts the best. We all hit the ball pretty good," he said. "It is just a matter of making the right putts at the right time and also winning the 18th hole is key.

"At Oakland Hills we didn't do that. But last year at the President's Cup, we won the 18th hole most of the time. So that's why we ended up winning the Cup.

"All you do is try your best and all you can do is keep grinding and trying to win points for your team," he added. "Hopefully I can win points when I am placed out there."

Copyright 2006 The Irish Sun. All rights reserved.

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