The memories will come flooding back when Rich Beem pitches up at Hazeltine National as part of the Sky Sports commentary team. The straight-talking American knows the course intimately having seen off Tiger Woods in his prime to clinch a memorable 2002 US PGA Championship victory, the highlight of his career.
Strangely, it will be Beem’s first-ever Ryder Cup appearance as his unexpected PGA triumph was in vain; the 9/11 terrorist attacks meant the two teams were unchanged in 2002 from The Belfry’s postponed line-up of 2001. He was gutted, but the passing of time has clearly eased his pain. “It’s just the way it is,” he reflects. “It would have been great to have been part of one, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Sure, the spate of recent Ryder Cup losses have hurt. We want to win, though I don’t think it hurts as much for the Americans as it does the European side. The Ryder Cup is held in such high regard and esteem by the American players, but I don’t think our fans are quite as much into it. Having said that, I think they’ll come out in their droves at Hazeltine. They’ll be respectful, but there will be a lot of red, white and blue on show. It’s going to be a great spectacle.
The reason it’s become such a big deal is that the Europeans kept kicking American ass and all of a sudden we started paying attention to that. We dominated it for so long, but now every two years we’ve got our work cut out.
The pride in me would see me put my money on the USA, but looking at the teams and seeing how the guys are playing, the Europeans are stacking up pretty healthily. Both teams are going through a dramatic change in make-up. Captain Love has to be happy about that. At the end of the day, I think it’s going to come down to the Sunday singles as always. The fourballs and foursomes always seem to favour the Europeans, for whatever reason, and we usually take the upper hand in the singles. It’s anybody’s ball game really.
Playing on home soil gives us a little bit more of a nod than anything else. We’ve home advantage and we’re kind of due one. But it comes down to whether we can make the putts at crucial times and we just haven’t done that. If you look at what happened at Medinah, that’s the story right there – Europe took it to us with the flatstick.
Hazeltine is a good track, a classic American course on rolling hills and of course has great memories for me following my PGA win there. But it’s a much-changed layout – they’ve lengthened it since then, and have re-routed a number of holes for the Ryder Cup. The fairways are fairly wide, the rough will be fairly thick and it’s going to be in great shape.
Nobody – captain or otherwise – in the US camp has approached me asking for advice and it’s not for me to impose myself on those guys. But would I be happy to help? You bet I would.
I’m hoping I won’t get fired from my job when it’s obvious I’m commentating for Sky Sports as an American. We have some fun and banter, but in the past I’ve had to take it like a man –
I haven’t had any legs to stand on! It’s a great team and we just talk golf without getting too serious, though we understand when it’s time to call the key shots.