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Mentors can be key at Ryder Cup

Life on the PGA Tour is more cliquish than in most sports. It's an individualistic game, where players don't have the luxury of an offense or defense to orient them to the company they keep on tour. Bonds are often formed through agents, sponsors, swing coaches, nationalities, faith, friendships formed through junior and amateur events, and where players live and practice off the tour.

It's usually through one of these pathways that a player finds a mentor, a veteran player with some unique insight to the intricacies of how to go about conducting business on tour.

Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson are represented by the same agency. And since joining the tour last year, Bradley has often sought out Mickelson for advice. As the former St. John's star has developed into one of the best young players in the game, the 42-year-old four-time major champion has been a constant source of support and guidance.

As Bradley prepares for his first Ryder Cup this week at Medinah, Lefty's impact on him will get a full examination.

"Phil's always been a big help to me," Bradley told ESPN.com at the Deutsche Bank Championship. "I'm sure I'll talk to him a lot about everything that goes into that week. I'm going to lean on him a lot."

No other event in golf begs for mentorship like the Ryder Cup. Despite his three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles, Tiger Woods still needed Mark O'Meara's guidance at his first Ryder Cup in 1997 at Valderrama. And for years, he still struggled with the team concept through some mixed results in the matches.

Seve Ballesteros famously tutored his countryman Jose Maria Olazabal. The "Spanish Armada," as they were known, owned an 11-2-2 record as partners in five Ryder Cup appearances together. Now Olazabal, as the captain of the European team in 2012, can draw from his late mentor's deep reservoir of gamesmanship tactics.

In team matches, players lean on each other in ways that are never called for in a typical stroke-play event. They help each other on the greens and with yardages. They sometimes talk each other through each shot. They laugh and cry, sometimes in unison.

Even the captains will have mentors. Davis Love III will look to his assistant captains, particularly Fred Couples, for pairing decisions and how to deal with certain players.

Mickelson, who will be making his record ninth Ryder Cup appearance at Medinah, could make a great partner for Bradley, who could use a calming and assured presence like Lefty to help cull his sometimes nervous tendencies.

When Hunter Mahan broke down in tears at the news conference following the U.S. loss to the Europeans at the 2010 Ryder Cup matches, it was Mickelson who tried to comfort him with an arm on the shoulder. Lefty knew what to do in that moment because it represented his sixth time on the losing side of the matches.

There are four rookies on the U.S. team. Two of them, Bradley and Webb Simpson, own major championships. Jason Dufner has won twice on tour this year and Brandt Snedeker has two wins, including the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup title he claimed Sunday.

Love has been a mentor to Snedeker since the Nashville native bought a place in Sea Island, Ga., where the U.S. Ryder Cup captain is the senior statesman of an ever-growing contingency of tour players.

This Ryder Cup rookie class is one of the most heralded on the American side in many years, but none of them have ever faced this kind of pressure.

Prior to the start of the Tour Championship, Jim Furyk used the example of Woods to make the case for mentors and veterans at the Ryder Cup. Though he was the best player in the world in 1997, at 21, Tiger was not prepared to be a leader on that Valderrama team or to provide much leadership to the other players.

"I think even early in his career, the first couple Ryder Cups, Tiger was one of the best or the best player in the world," Furyk said. "But it's hard to maybe take a leadership role when you're 25 years old and you've got guys that are 40 years old on the team."

Bradley and the other rookies will look to stalwarts such as Woods, Mickelson, Furyk and Stricker for mentorship and guidance. These veterans will tell them to pace themselves in the days leading up to the start of the matches on Friday. Try to get as much rest as possible between the practice rounds, interviews, meetings, dinners and galas. Try not to hold the club too tightly on the first hole. Play some table tennis to relax.

These players know all the time-honored rules and practices of getting through Ryder Cup week that have been passed down over the years. Yet no bit of advice, mentoring or hand holding can adequately prepare a player for what they will encounter. But it doesn't hurt to have someone to lean on. That support might help you win a point for your team.