GEORGE, South Africa -- The Presidents Cup requires everyone
to play on the first day of matches. That's good news for Jerry
Kelly, Fred Funk and the other American newcomers who have waited
long enough for a taste of team competition.
South African president Thabo Mbeki officially opened the
matches Thursday morning.
The spirited ceremony included appearances by Nelson Mandela and
former President Bush, along with wild ovations by a large crowd
anxious to see the biggest golf event ever in South Africa.
Six alternate-shot matches were scheduled Thursday afternoon.
By the look of the final practice round, some Americans couldn't
wait to get going.
Funk, 47, was jogging off the tee boxes and up to the greens
Wednesday. His energy level was as high as ever. His mouth was
Kelly, a much younger man at 36, had the swagger of a football
player coming out of the tunnel at the start of the game. And that
was on Tuesday.
Kelly and Chris DiMarco, another American playing in his first
cup competition, were the second of six matches during the opening
round of alternate shot. That was no accident.
''I wanted to get Jerry and Chris out early,'' said assistant
captain Jeff Sluman, who filled out the pairing when captain Jack Nicklaus got sick. ''Jerry was thinking if this was the old format
where you didn't play until Friday, he'd go crazy.
''This guy is so wired to go.''
Jay Haas, 49, and Funk played the final three holes of practice
in the alternate-shot format against Kelly and DiMarco for 8 rand
per hole -- a little more than $1.
''I thought Fred was going to jump out of his shirt there on the
last hole, he was getting so fired up about it,'' Jay Haas said.
''I need to hose him down a little bit tomorrow.''
''I'm the youngest guy on the team,'' the 24-year-old Howell
said. ''A lot of these guys have been out here a whole lot longer
than I have and accomplished a lot more, stuff that I hope to
accomplish one day. Playing as a team, it's pretty cool.''
The United States plays team competition every year -- the Ryder
Cup in even-numbered years, the Presidents Cup in odd-numbered
Some of the Americans have complained that it's too much to
maintain high enthusiasm. But for Funk, Kelly, DiMarco and Howell,
that has hardly been a problem.
''Just stepping off the plane with some of them, being in the
first meeting, just being around them, it was a great experience
and a great feeling,'' Kelly said.
Funk, a captain's choice for the Presidents Cup, was so excited
about the prospect of playing that he offered to row across the
oceans to get to the Southern Cape.
Was the Presidents Cup everything he expected?
''Yeah, but I'm a little sore from rowing,'' Funk said. ''I know
when the gun sounds and it's time for us to go, the nerves are
going to be there. We've just got to take a deep breath and go out
there and perform the way we know how.''
The two Americans are a combined 96 years old -- the oldest
pairing ever in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup -- but they walk and
talk like PGA Tour rookies.
''It's a real good fit. We've got canes,'' Funk said.
Funk is one of the straightest drivers in golf, and Haas was
egging him on during the practice round. He told Funk the best line
off the tee at No. 16, stepped away and said, ''C'mon, hit a
fairway for once, will you?''
DiMarco, 35, appeared to be all set to make the Ryder Cup team
until David Toms bumped him out by winning the 2001 PGA
Championship. He was passed over a captain's pick, and blamed only
''It really put a fire in me, not making that team,'' DiMarco
said. ''Coming that close, I wanted to make the (Presidents Cup)
team so there not be a choice again. It certainly exceeded my
expectations about how awesome it is to be part of this.''
Howell should get an eye-opening experience. Not only is the
Presidents Cup his first cup, he will play in the sixth and final
alternate-shot match Thursday with Woods.
Woods requested Howell as a partner, and how long they stick
together might depend on their performance over the first few days.
Like the rest of the Americans, Howell and Woods played a few
holes of alternate shot, a format he had never played.
''With another professional,'' Howell clarified. ''We played
four holes yesterday, and that was the first time. But I played
with Tiger, so that's not really professional. That's a god. I
played alternate shot with a god.''