NEWPORT, Wales – This could get uncomfortable, if not ugly.
At an event in which there has been far too much political posturing and nationalism over the years, portions of the U.K. media corps ran happily Wednesday with a story angle gleaned from U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin’s press briefing, when he noted that he had invited a decorated military fighter pilot to speak to his team.
Major Dan Rooney, a PGA of America member and a fighter pilot who has completed multiple tours of duty in Iraq, flew with his wife into London commercially on Monday and said had been asked to speak to the team about what it means to be an American. Spotted at the baggage carousel at Heathrow, Rooney said he hadn’t figured out what he was going to say.
“I am still working on that,” he said.
It eventually became the fodder for an otherwise slow news day.
The fact that the tabloids had no real specifics on the substance of Rooney’s address on Tuesday night didn’t stop them from quickly painting Pavin as some sort of war-monger. Pavin and several players were peppered with questions, including one about the appropriateness of using military metaphors at sports events.
Within two hours, unflattering stories were being posted (www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard-spo
-heros-talk.do) about Pavin and his decision to invite Rooney to the Ryder proceedings. Rooney, who has a longtime association with the PGA, played college golf against Tiger Woods and is the founder of national programs called Patriot Golf Day and the Folds of Honor Foundation, which raise college funds for the kids of soldiers killed in action.
Once Pavin noted that he had invited a military man into the equation, it didn’t take long before he was asked about any symbolic ties to the so-called War on the Shore at Kiawah Island in 1991, when the U.S. team wore camouflage hats at the Ryder Cup in tribute to those fighting in the first Iraq war. The competition that year probably represented the low point of Ryder hostilities.
"I think the military awareness in the United States is probably at an all-time high," the captain said. "And I think people, certainly in the States, and over here, appreciate the military and what they do for our freedoms.
“That's what it was about at Kiawah, it was about supporting the troops in Desert Storm. Not only the U.S. troops but the troops from Great Britain and around the world. What the military does is amazing. To put your life on the line for what you believe, and for the freedoms of other people, is the ultimate sacrifice. It's very worthwhile to recognize that."
Apparently, that opinion is not universally held, even in a region that was bailed out by U.S. efforts in World War II.
Said Pavin of Rooney's address: "It wasn't so much a motivational speech, per se, but maybe a little more awareness of what's happening around the world and how, in a military sense, team unity and accountability to each other is very important. It was very quiet when he was talking. Everybody was pretty riveted."
In other words, Rooney certainly wasn't talking about storming the Welsh seashore and kicking European butt.
Though he had nothing to do with putting Rooney before the team, Phil Mickelson was asked about the content of the speech and shed little light, other than to explain that the audience was completely silent as Rooney spoke.
“I'd rather not discuss what was said, but I will say that it was like the quietest that I had ever seen an audience,” Mickelson said. “It was fascinating.”
Mickelson was bluntly asked by a British reporter why Americans seem to have "a fondness for associating sport with war."
"I haven't noticed that to be the case, but I do feel proud to be part of a country that cares about the civil rights of people all throughout the world and not just in our own country," Mickelson said.
Bubba Watson, whose father is a Vietnam veteran, was the one U.S. team member who offered some insight into the address.
"We all want to win, but at the same time, we are representing our country," Watson said. "We are representing golf, all of golf, both teams are representing golf and trying to get young people into this game...
"He just talked about the Stars and Stripes and what a big honor it is to put that on, and how we should be thankful for what we do. But all of us were emotional for what he does that lets us play golf and play in the Ryder Cup."
Whatever some might think, Watson was obviously affected by what he heard.
“My dad was a military man, he was in Vietnam,” Watson said. “[Rooney] gave us a special present last night. It meant a lot. My dad is dying of cancer, the doctor says three months to live. I'm playing this for him and representing the United States, and I am never going to be in the military, unless they ask for our help.
“So more than likely, I am never going to be in the military. So this is the chance to be like my dad.”
According to a source, Rooney gave each U.S. player a bombers flight jacket -- not grenades or other live ammo.
When stuff like this gets blown out of proportion, it's pretty clear to see how the Ryder has occasionally become a jingoistic affair.