Chris Riley flew in the no-yawning section from Ireland to Las Vegas
last week, delighted the Michelin Championship had been reduced from 90
holes to 72.
"A good change for me from last year," Riley said. "This is
where I live, my wife and baby and lots of friends are here, and after
all that time on the plane, if I had to tee it up Wednesday in my
hometown tournament instead of Thursday, I'd probably be tired. Oops!"
Riley laughed, then turned serious, at least for him. "Most of it's been
funny," he went on. "I mean, Scott Verplank is killing me. Every time I
see him now, he asks me if I need a nap. Otherwise, I haven't been
reading a lot, but I hear I've been getting buried. You tell me. Does
everybody in the country think I'm a wimp?"
Well, Riley's probably not going to get a car from Oprah. Since Europe's
walkover at last month's Ryder Cup, a number of reasons have been
advanced as to why the United States failed so comprehensively.
Explanations and excuses abound for lagged putts, fairways avoided and
communication failures, but few can deduce how a 30-year-old bundle of
energy on the PGA Tour would cite fatigue during a week even he admits
was "the greatest golf experience of my life." This is why Riley has
become the poster boy for America's misadventure in Detroit, although it
was a team effort in reverse. "He isn't why we lost," says Steve Jones,
assistant to U.S. captain Hal Sutton. "We lost because not one guy
played any good."
Jones, it turns out, was a point man in a series of events that Saturday
morning at Oakland Hills CC, where Riley and his boyhood chum, Tiger
Woods, were having a nice time in the four-balls. Jones was observing
their match against Darren Clarke and Ian Poulter at the 12th hole.
"Steve Williams [Woods' caddie] pulled me over to talk about the
afternoon pairings," Jones recalled. "We discussed how Chris was hitting
it and how he was feeling. Then I radioed Hal." Sutton arrived at the
13th, a par-3 where Riley stiffed his tee shot. Still, if Woods and
Riley were tentatively pegged for afternoon foursomes together, that
idea was promptly shelved.
One theory involved the ball. Could Riley,
who uses a Titleist, adjust to the Nike brand favored by Woods?
didn't hear that one," said Riley. "All I know is that at the 13th, Hal
asked how I was doing. I told him I was having a blast but was also a
little drained. That's when he told me about how he was a fat man who
went five matches in 1999 and I was a flat belly and so on. That was
pretty much it. The conversation went fast, maybe 30 seconds. I didn't
mean I didn't want to play the afternoon. With Tiger or whoever."
But Riley didn't play, even though his three-footer on No. 18 that
morning secured a victory, and all you-know-what broke loose. Sutton
publicly aired Riley's situation. The media thanked Hal for the candor,
then pounded him for not being more assertive and Riley for being such a
softie. He has all winter to sleep, for goodness sakes.
Jones. "If you're a football coach and one of your guys needs a breather
in the third quarter, you do it to save him for the fourth quarter,
right? Hal did the perfect thing. Why force Chris?"
coach, Dwaine Knight at UNLV, has a different take. "Chris had just
become a father for the first time," Knight says. "He was emotionally
whipped, and he just admitted as much. He was just being honest. He
didn't say he wouldn't or couldn't play anymore."
Riley says Knight can
say that again. "I thought I was just doing what was best for the team,"
says Riley. "If they had a fresh guy ready for alternate shot, a format
I didn't feel real comfortable with and hadn't practiced at Detroit,
great. I wasn't that tired. I walked around all afternoon, watching our
Among them were Woods and Davis Love III. Yes, as much as Woods
and Riley are pals, Sutton did get the impression from Tiger and
Williams that Love's ball flight would be a better fit.
Riley's supporters maintain that while he was ecstatic about making the
Ryder Cup roster, he realized he was the least decorated of the 12
Americans. Thus, out of either humility or naivete, he imagined he would
be used sparingly. "Truth is," Riley admitted last week, "I really
thought I'd play only twice in Detroit." When Sutton heard that in Las
Vegas, where he was commentating for ABC while still licking his Ryder
Cup wounds, he bit his lip.
"What we need in the future, if we hope to
win the Cup back," Sutton said after a pause to deliberate, "is guys who
are prepared to play five matches in three days. Prepared mentally,
physically, spiritually, whatever it takes. Five matches. Not two. Not
three. Not four. Is that clear?"
Whoever the next U.S. captain is -- Mark O'Meara, Jay Haas, Hale Irwin,
Larry Nelson, Larry King -- will have to create a viable unit out of
individual parts while remembering those dreaded words we hear every
Some assembly required.