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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2004

U.S. has 5 rookies, but they're not kids

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - Chris Riley was determined to play in his first Ryder Cup, even if it meant skipping the birth of his first child.

His wife Michelle, a former LPGA Tour player, had a due date of Sept. 17, the first day of competition.

Yet she urged her husband to be at Oakland Hills, no matter what.

Riley and his wife got a nice surprise two weeks ago, when daughter Taylor Lynn arrived ahead of schedule. She weighed 6 pounds, 10 ounces and was 18 inches long.

"I can't stop kissing my baby - it's unbelievable," Riley said yesterday. "My wife tells me I stick my face in the baby's face too much, and I'm suffocating her, but it's better than any feeling I've ever had."

Riley has only one regret - that his wife isn't here with him. Not yet anyway.

"She is a trouper," he said. "She said she'll be here Sunday for the singles matches. That will be good. I miss her a lot, because of all the functions with your wives. But captain Hal [Sutton] always says, 'Chris, I'm your date tonight.' He's been my date for two nights in a row."

Sutton said he's never seen Riley so fired up.

"Chris Riley may bounce off a few trees out there," he said. "He's pretty excited, so we may have to be helping him tone down just a little bit."

Riley, 30, is one of five rookies on the 12-man United States Ryder Cup team. Europe also has five first-time players.

They may lack Ryder Cup experience, but the American rookies are hardly young kids. The roster includes 48-year-old Fred Funk - who is two years older than Sutton - and 44-year-old Kenny Perry, both of whom played in the Presidents Cup in South Africa last year against an international team comprised of players from everywhere in the world except Europe.

Funk, the former University of Maryland golf coach, has not won a PGA Tour event since 1998, and Perry is winless since capturing three tournaments in 2003. Perry, though, finished fifth in the Ryder Cup points standings; Funk ninth. The top 10 automatically qualified for the team.

Sutton has done his best to offer encouragement to Funk and Perry.

"I told [Fred] that he should be proud of himself at his age, making the team. He earned every right to be here. And the same is true of Kenny Perry. I think both of those guys are very excited to be here."

Riley's former roommate at Nevada-Las Vegas, Chad Campbell, also is a Ryder Cup rookie, along with Chris DiMarco. Campbell is 30, DiMarco 36.

"Chris Riley is a great guy and a great friend," Campbell said. "He definitely adds a few laughs to the team. We've really gotten back closer together and become really good friends. It's nice for both of us to make the team this year, and we're really looking forward to it."

Campbell is the only U.S. Ryder Cup rookie with a victory on the PGA Tour this season, capturing the Bay Hill Invitational in mid-March.

He played a practice round with Tiger Woods on Tuesday, and he has practiced and chatted regularly with teammates Phil Mickelson and Davis Love, trying to draw some knowledge from their previous Ryder Cup experiences.

"I'm just trying to get prepared for what to expect," Campbell said. "It's kind of hard to do, since it's something that you really can't compare to any other tournament. It's such a different atmosphere, and as far as preparation, it's kind of hard to know what to expect. You know it's going to be a tough week."

Riley tied for second after losing to John Daly in a three-way playoff at the Buick Invitational in February, and he tied for fourth at the PGA Championship in mid-August, which clinched his berth on the Ryder Cup team.

DiMarco was second at the FBR Open in early February and tied for second at the PGA, losing in a three-man playoff to Vijay Singh. Funk's best finish was a tie for second at the Greater Milwaukee Open in late July, while Perry tied for third at The Players Championship in late March.

Sutton expects his entire rookie contingent to be nervous when they step on the first tee tomorrow morning for the four-ball matches.

"Being a little bit apprehensive about what you're about to do means you care," Sutton said. "I think Chris [Riley] is a little nervous about what he's going to do. Fred's been nervous about it. Kenny Perry is too. It's kind of hard to tell with him; he has not said much. Chad Campbell, he's as smooth as silk. He may be boiling inside, but I can't tell it. And Chris DiMarco, he's just anxious and ready to go."

Contact Ron Musselman at:

mussel@theblade.com

or 419-724-6474



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