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Ryder Cup: Shorter rough will play to Americans’ strengths

Updated: October 27, 2012 6:23AM

After his introductory news conference 20 months ago, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III immediately visited with Curtis Tyrrell, the director of golf course operations at Medinah Country Club.

Love explained to Tyrrell his vision for the course setup at the 2012 Ryder Cup and charged him with tailoring Medinah to his specifications.

“What we have is my interpretation of those statements,” Tyrrell said Tuesday.

The changes are dramatic.

To the layman, Love’s layout is more forgiving. He said it would encourage more birdies and eagles, making the action more riveting for fans.

“It’s still going to be tough; it’s a tough golf course,” Love said. “But without the deep rough, it saves us the chip-outs and the grinding-it-out style of golf.”

To avid golfers and observers, though, Love’s layout is designed to give his team the edge.

“He has players that aren’t that accurate off the tee, and he has all really good iron players, so the idea that you want guys to be able to play from the rough and not have it be so penal is really smart,” said Paul Azinger, the captain of the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team. “You want to play to your strength.”

The American team averages 293.6 yards off the tee, nearly two full yards more than the Europeans. Only two players (Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson) average fewer than 285 yards per drive. Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley all averaged more than 300 yards per drive last season. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson also are capable of unleashing monstrous tee shots.

For the Europeans, Ryder Cup rookie Nicolas Colsaerts is the only one to average more than 300 yards (his 317.7-yard average leads the European Tour). Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood can bomb the ball, as well. But Francesco Molinari drives the ball 275.9 yards, ranking 206th on the European Tour, and Graeme McDowell is only a few yards better.

“Historically, the U.S. team has been longer than the European team,” McDowell said. “I still think they are a little longer than us as a whole. But, you know, our four or five longest guys are very long.”

Azinger noted that the Europeans tend to set up their courses to neutralize the Americans’ prowess off the tee, growing long, thick rough to punish errant tee shots. Love added that European setups seem to taper inward past the 280-yard mark.

“I’m not real clever,” he said playfully, “but I would just do the opposite of them and have it go the other way.”

To an extreme.

For instance, when Medinah hosted the 2006 PGA Championship, the first cut of rough extended 2½ yards from the fairway. Outside of that, Tyrrell said, the grass was four to five inches long.

Tyrrell has, in essence, developed a second cut that will be 1½ to 2½ inches tall, providing a larger margin of error. All told, on many holes, the short grass will extend 10 to 20 yards from the fairway.

“The first cut is usually a couple acres total,” Tyrrell said of many championship-caliber courses. “We have 20 total.”

So Watson and Johnson can swing for the fences, and they’ll have a better chance of recovering if they miss the fairway.

“I think most of the players won’t be very intimidated by the risks,” Tyrrell said.

There might be another, more subtle reason for Love’s strategy.

“The only thing that Davis can do this week is to set the golf course up for scoring to get the crowds on their feet and to get them charged up from the word go,” McDowell said. “I really think that’s their tactic.”

McDowell pointed to Oakland Hills in Michigan in 2004, when the Europeans routed the Americans 18½-9½.

“The golf course was quite difficult, and the crowd didn’t really get behind their guys the way they would have liked them to,” McDowell said. “It was a real battle of attrition, really.”

One that the Americans have lost more often than not recently.

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