Saturday, March 28

Strange gets Ryder Cuppers together

CHASKA, Minn. -- The U.S. Ryder Cup team got a little bit of a head start Tuesday.

A estimated crowd of 40,000 turned out Tuesday, and nearly all of them wanted to see Tiger Woods.

U.S. captain Curtis Strange held a morning meeting and arranged 10 of the 12 players (minus Tiger Woods and Davis Love III) in groups as they practiced for the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National.

Scott Verplank played in a foursome with Phil Mickelson, Paul Azinger and Jim Furyk. They were followed by Mark Calcavecchia, Stewart Cink, David Toms and Scott Hoch. Then Strange tagged along with David Duval and Hal Sutton.

''Curtis just wanted to get some guys together,'' Verplank said. ''We hadn't thought much or done much about it, so we just wanted to get it going a little bit.''

But that's about as far as it went.

''I'm trying to get ready for the PGA,'' Verplank said.

Postponed last year because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 34th Ryder Cup will be played Sept. 27-29 at The Belfry in England.

Nothing -- the players, the site, the captains -- was changed from last year, but the mood certainly will be.

''I think there's a different feel from the players,'' Mickelson said, ''as well as the fans and the people who support the Ryder Cup at this year's event. We felt it last year. We felt how insignificant the event really was in the whole scheme of things.''

Verplank thankful for his Minnesota friends
A Minnesota company will see one of its products at work this week.

A subsidiary of Medtronic, based in the Minneapolis suburb of Fridley, manufactures the insulin pump used by Verplank to keep his diabetes under control.

Verplank has had a solid 2002 season. He's recorded four top-10 finishes and entering the PGA Championship ranked second on the tour in driving accuracy at 78.3 percent. He struggled with injuries during most of the 1990s, but he's improved since he started wearing the pump in 1999.

Before, Verplank had to take three or four insulin shots a day and being on tour made it difficult to regulate his dosages. Now, the disease is far less of a distraction.

''Trying to stay consistent with the same amount of insulin became almost a nightmare for him,'' said Dr. Ed Salko, Verplank's physician in Fort Myers, Fla. ''It's put more control back in his life.''

The pump is carried in a small holster that Verplank wears on his belt. Working like a human pancreas, the device pumps insulin into the skin periodically. It's changed every three days.

''It's made a big difference in my day-to-day life,'' Verplank said. ''That's translated into me being able to play better golf, because I feel consistently better.''

Tough crowd control
PGA Championship officials don't track attendance for the practice rounds, but the crowd Tuesday was estimated at well above 40,000.

It might have seemed like more than that to Mickelson, who was the main attraction in the early afternoon with Woods long gone from the course.

A huge throng of sun-drenched, autograph-seeking fans swarmed the alley where players leave the 18th hole on their way to the clubhouse.

Behind a screened, 10-foot high fence, a handful of kids sprawled out on their stomachs, sticking caps underneath the chain links. Ignoring warnings from security guards, others scaled the fence and dangled memorabilia over the top of it.

Security had its hands full when Mickelson stopped and signed his name for nearly 20 minutes. Several guards had to yell at fans to keep the pack from lurching forward and pinning the people at the front against an iron fence. A few children were crying when the crowd pushed behind them.

''I'm a little bit concerned this week,'' Mickelson said. ''After seeing it today, I think that we'll probably need to make some changes to make sure that we don't have injuries. Not just from the players, but from the people. There were some kids that might be getting hurt if we don't make a couple of changes.''

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