Golf: Ryder and FedEx need separation for players' sake

September 30, 2010|By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

It's not the question one wants to hear hours before boarding a trans-Atlantic charter for one of golf's biggest weeks.

Are you gassed?

Matt Kuchar paused a beat but made no attempt to dodge.

"I could use a couple of down days," the FedEx Cup runner-up admitted Sunday. "But I don't get a couple of down days for a couple weeks. I've understood that."

Ryder Cup vs. FedEx Cup. It's a delicate balance.

Four years ago, one of the prime reasons offered for the United States' back-to-back Ryder Cup wipeouts was that the PGA Tour's best couldn't get back to high gear after essentially shutting it down after the PGA Championship.

"It's very difficult to turn it off and try to turn it back on six weeks later," Phil Mickelson said at last week's outset.

Now, though, some appear to be running on fumes.

Check the Tour Championship's final leaderboard. Five of the nine U.S. Ryder Cup players entered finished in the bottom third of a 30-man field.

Kuchar and Jeff Overton never broke par at East Lake. Dustin Johnson didn't either until a Sunday 66 that was five shots better than he had posted all week.

Mickelson closed with a 74. Even steady Steve Stricker, who owns 10 top-10 finishes in 16 FedEx Cup starts, fell to a rain-pelted 75.

Then they all got on an evening flight for Wales, where potential 36-hole assignments beckon Friday and Saturday.

As Sunday's storms drenched East Lake and triggered talk of a Monday finish, the U.S. team's charter even became an issue.

How long could the plane hold for stragglers, considering the other hundred or so passengers who bought Ryder Cup travel packages? How would any players left behind get to Celtic Manor?

As it turned out, the plane was only an hour late getting off the ground. Considering Atlanta's airport congestion, that's not bad.

But it still should raise a red flag at PGA Tour and PGA of America headquarters — if not in time for the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, certainly for the 2014 edition at Gleneagles in Scotland. These two events need separation.

While there's something enthralling about the FedEx Cup being a survival test, the Ryder Cup needs players in top form.

Most PGA Tour members are playing their seventh event in nine weeks. In Kuchar's case, it's his eighth in 10, compounded by illness and an unplanned early move after selling his Atlanta home.

"That's been kind of hard to bounce back from," he said.

Meanwhile, the Tour Championship doesn't necessarily get full attention from its top draws. Stricker admitted as much after his opening 74 — and if that's a veteran's psyche, what about Ryder Cup rookies such as Kuchar, Johnson and Bubba Watson?

jshain@tribune.com

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