NEWPORT, WALES (AP) - Call it Water(proof)gate.
The dozen golfers on the U.S. Ryder Cup team got a soggy surprise on the opening day of competition when the rain gear they brought from the States didn’t work any better than it looked.
Caught in a morning downpour at the Celtic Manor course that forced a seven-hour, 18-minute delay Friday, the players huddled in the clubhouse to dry off while PGA of America officials scrambled for a solution.
Eventually, those officials tramped over to the merchandise tent and bought 20 new suits with Ryder Cup logos on them _ tan for the players and red for the caddies, all of them indistinguishable from the gear any fan could buy. The supplier was ProQuip, a Scottish company that has been outfitting the European teams since 1983 and charges about $350 per suit at retail.
“And we back ours up with a three-year guarantee,” chuckled Richard Head, managing director of the Edinburgh-based company.
U.S. captain Corey Pavin was already on the defensive for a gaffe during Thursday’s opening ceremonies when he forgot to mention Stewart Cink during player introductions. A day later, he found himself in the embarrassing position of explaining his choice of outerwear that had several of his players and their caddies grousing.
Pavin couldn’t say whether the complaints were that the suits leaked or held too much water, making them heavy and uncomfortable to play in. He and his wife, Lisa, designed the team’s clothing and selected the vendors _ in the case of the rain gear, from Sun Mountain, an outerwear manufacturer based in Missoula, Mon.
“I had no problems, but I wasn’t playing,” Pavin said, still wearing the original U.S. rain suit. It was navy blue, set off by white stripes around the arms and left leg, with team members’ names stitched on the back above “USA.” The style was reminiscent of college basketball warmups.
It might have been the worst sartorial choice since Ben Crenshaw had his team don golf shirts at Brookline, Mass., in 1999 that depicted every winning American Ryder Cup team since the start of the competition. A BBC commentator described them as looking like “pepperoni pizzas.”
Pavin said of the rain suits: “They just didn’t perform the way they were supposed to perform, so we just went out and bought some more. Simple as that.”
Whatever the case, the replacements apparently had the desired effect.
The U.S. team walked off the course when play was suspended down 3-1 in the four better-ball matches on the course. By the time play resumed in late afternoon, then was suspended a second time due to darkness, the Americans had surged to a 2-1 lead, with the fourth match tied.
U.S. golfer Dustin Johnson called the new suits “great,” but said better weather had more to do with the U.S. rally.
“The first few holes, the wind was out there howling and it was really rainy, very tough,” he said. “Coming back out, no wind, no rain. It was nice.”
Tiger Woods, one of golf’s more finicky players, shed his “USA” jacket before teeing off in the morning. Despite the downpour, he played in a sweater vest. He and teammate Steve Stricker had leveled their match against Englishmen Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher when it was halted at the 10th hole.
Still, Rory McIlroy, who needled Woods in August by saying the entire European team wanted to play him, couldn’t resist another jab.
“Just have to say our waterproofs are performing very well!” McIlroy wrote on Twitter.
As if that wasn’t endorsement enough, ProQuip’s small corner of the merchandise tent was nearly empty _ no more than a few pairs of pants and several sweaters and jackets remained by late afternoon. Earlier in the day, the display had been packed with about four dozen waterproof jackets and three dozen pairs of rain pants.
The company has also supplied the U.S. team with rain gear on several occasions, the first time in 1983 and the last in 2004. But unlike the European Tour, which signed a long-term licensing agreement with the company, the PGA of America signs one-time deals with whatever company the U.S. captain picks.
Sun Mountain said in a statement that it has been “designing and selling outerwear for more than two decades. We have provided rainwear to 3,000 plus PGA of America professionals and over 150 tour players, and supplied outerwear to numerous U.S. teams … Sun Mountain has staff on the ground at the Ryder Cup working in conjunction with the PGA of America on this issue.”
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