Rory McIlroy (below), the talented 20-year-old from Northern Ireland, has been a breath of fresh air with the press this year simply by being himself—honest, mature and fun to listen to. His comments last week about the Ryder Cup being an "exhibition" and "not that important to me," though, were surprising because Rory seems to have so many examples close at hand proving the opposite. For starters, there's the current European captain, Colin Montgomerie, who has focused his career on the Ryder Cup and elevated his status in the game through his play in the competition. Then there's the uproar caused by Hunter Mahan, the young American who expressed thoughts similar to McIlroy's before last year's matches at Valhalla. And there's the 2007 Walker Cup, during which McIlroy earned only 1½ of a possible four points as the Great Britain and Ireland team lost to the Americans at Royal County Down by one. It reminded me of the 1986 Curtis Cup, which we lost badly (13--5). Watching the American flag come down in defeat at Prairie Dunes was gut-wrenching, and it formed the basis of my passion for the Solheim Cup in later years. It would be a shock if Rory didn't qualify for next year's European team and equally eyebrow-raising if that experience didn't instill in young McIlroy the importance of the competition. As an added bonus, he'll also learn the value of bonding with his teammates and forming memories that last a lifetime.
Dottie Pepper is a 17-year LPGA veteran and an on-course analyst for NBC and Golf Channel.
ILLUSTRATION BY KAGAN MCLEOD (PEPPER)
JOHN BIEVER (MCILROY)