The Wanamaker Trophy may be this week's prize but at the PGA Championship, all eyes seem fixed on the Ryder Cup. Column: Ian Poulter's texting obsession with Nick Faldo shows

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - Forget motivational speeches from some dusty relic of sporting championships past that none of today's players can relate to.

Also, challenging your guys' manhood in some testosterone-rage rant is so yesterday. Especially with the high-powered agents serving as the new-age overprotective mothers in sports so sure to call you on it.

No, the best way today for a coach to know he has an athlete is to have "hand" in the text message relationship. When the athlete's the one desperately trying to get the coach by text message, when the supposed mega-star is chasing the coach like a love-struck tween, frantically thumb-punching in everything but one of those kissy-face symbols, you know that's a coach with control.

Which makes European Ryder Cup Captain Nick Faldo not only the Master of His Domain, but the vision of U.S. Ryder Cup Team nightmares as well. Faldo is no George Costanza; he would never be caught without hand in a relationship. That much quickly became apparent as Ian Poulter - the man with the loud pants and the louder opinions about his status as being No. 2 in the world (in his heart) - tried to dance around explaining his near-groveling text message relationship with Faldo at the PGA Championship.

"I text him," Poulter said, growing increasingly frazzled by all the questions about his contact with Faldo.

When someone asked if Faldo was "evasive" in being reached, Poulter suddenly looked like he wanted to disappear inside a pair of his garish pants. "I don't know," he sighed. "Right now, obviously I'm close enough to the picture where I think I should be keeping in contact with him."

So Poulter texts. And hopes. Remember, this is a multi-millionaire, high-profile athlete, one of the top 25 golfers in the world. And he's madly texting Faldo to try to keep himself on the front burner for one of Faldo's two wildcard picks for a poor-paying ($200,000 to your favorite charity is poor pay for these guys) grind of an event.

Poulter desperately wants to make the Ryder Cup team. So much so that when he finished second in the British Open at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, when he did the most important thing he's done in golf so far, one of the first things Poulter did was hit Faldo with a "Did you see that?" text.

As if the European Ryder Cup captain might miss the results of the British Open. (Though with Faldo, you could almost see him being off racing a Ferrari or jamming to Iron Maiden instead). That's how overeager Poulter is to show he wants in at Valhalla Golf Club.

This in an age when the Green Bay Packers coach could not get Brett Favre on the phone for months, a time when the average pro coach is lucky to be told by a third party twice removed if his star player's going on "Dancing With The Stars." Poulter's chasing Faldo, though.

He's not the only European who's suddenly remembering how much he enjoyed watching Nick Faldo play growing up, either. Justin Rose, another guy hovering right at the cut-off line of the Top 10 automatic European qualifiers who might need to be in Faldo's favor, hasn't just been reaching out to the coach. He's been jabbing Poulter in his own texts.

"(Rose) sent me a nice one the other day," Poulter said. "It's been friendly banter."

This is how obsessed the European players are with the Ryder Cup, how completely bonkers they are over it. At the same time all this Faldo love is going on, Hunter Mahan - one of the contenders for U.S. Captain Paul Azinger's four wild-card spots - is blasting the Ryder Cup Matches as weak - "You're just a slave," he said - and deriding it as nothing but a crazy money maker for the PGA of America.

Still wondering why the Euros kick American tail every Ryder Cup?

PGA Championship overshadowed by Ryder Cup

Why is everyone in Michigan again? Oh yeah, there's that PGA Championship, a major. Starts tomorrow at Oakland Hills Country Club. That's a big deal, right? Those snazzy PGA of America banners with the blaring slogans, "The Season's Last Major" and "Glory's last chance" scream as much, no?

Maybe, not so much. If a European on the Ryder Cup bubble wins the PGA Championship, he'd probably kiss Faldo before the Wanamaker Trophy. If it's Poulter, he might just break down and propose.

There's even a Ryder Cup cloud over on the largely who-really-gives-a-damn American side, too. Who's the biggest story at this PGA Championship? Who does everyone want to talk to? Kenny Perry. (Wow, a no-Tiger-Woods zone really can be a scary place.) Why is Perry all the buzz? Because of his staunch, unbowable Ryder Cup-only obsession that had him skipping both the U.S. Open and the British Open by choice - even as he enjoys what he himself brands "a storybook season" at age 47.

Perry's so wacky, he could be a European. Only with a much bigger gut and a whole lot less interest in clothes. Okay, Perry could be a German.

"I still couldn't win the Claret Jug where my game was at," Perry said, shrugging when asked for the millionth time why he went Milwaukee over windbreaker.

This is the most committed U.S. Ryder Cup player, the old fart who downgrades his own chances every chance he gets. With the PGA Championship unable to escape a Ryder Cup focus (it doesn't help that every day the Euros get to walk by all the clubhouse photos of them winning the Cup on this Oakland Hills course in 2004), it's not looking so good for the stars and stripes.

Faldo, who will do TV at the PGA Championship, hasn't even made his big appearance yet and still he has all these European stars desperate for some face time. Think Faldo's suite is going to receive some nice goodie baskets this week?

And what's Faldo to do? What any good coach with great hand would do. He's telling all his breathless suitors what they want to hear, letting them all know they still have a chance to play their way onto his roster. True or not, it's good strategy and great fun.

Text on. Romp again.

August 6, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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