Pingpong passion stokes U.S. Ryder Cup team's competitive fires

Yahoo! Sports

MEDINAH, Ill. – Perhaps the fiercest competition during this weekend's Ryder Cup will not take place on the golf course, but rather in the United States' team room.

That's where three pingpong tables have been set up in what's become a Ryder Cup tradition amongst U.S. players. The original intent was to build camaraderie, and to that end it worked – if you are to believe Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods ironed out some of their differences over a game of table tennis.

Lately, though, the games have taken on a more serious tone, with Mickelson and Matt Kuchar bringing their own paddles packed away in special cases.

"The Ryder Cup is all about pingpong, everybody," Bubba Watson declared Thursday. "When you bring your own paddles in cases, a briefcase with a paddle in it, then obviously it's about pingpong. … It's nuts."

While tongue in cheek, there is some truth to Watson's claim that the Ryder Cup is all about pingpong. When asked about how his relationship with Woods has evolved over the course of the six Ryder Cup teams they've been on together, Mickelson announced to a packed press room that while they haven't had a lot of success on the course, "as partners on the pingpong table, he and I are delivering."

"We are serving it up, and there are not many guys that can match us on the pong table."

[Related: Can Rory keep up with Tiger's career arc?]

That may be true in doubles; singles, however, is another story.

Kuchar is the unquestioned king of the table-top court. He started playing when he was young with his father. In what became a nightly routine, they'd head out to the garage, unfold the table and play.

In golf terms, Kuchar rates himself a "1 or 2" handicap in pingpong.

"It's been fun bonding, because there is that ability to kind of go out and be boys and kind of feel like you're in the locker room while you're competing against each other," Kuchar said of the pingpong competitions inside the American's team room.

Fun for most, but maybe not so much for Mickelson. According to Watson, this week Kuchar and Mickelson played five points against one another, with Kuchar winning all five.

"So he quit," Watson explained. "Phil Mickelson pouts ever time we make him play Matt Kuchar. Love you, Phil."

[Related: Blame Tiger Woods for Team USA's recent run of failure at Ryder Cup]

Watson also says that he and Jason Dufner "dominated" Mickelson and Jeff Sluman in doubles.

"Mickelson is still mad about it," Watson said. "He hates anytime I beat him because I'm just this goofy left-handed kid named Bubba.

"So anytime I can beat Phil Mickelson, I like to rub it in his face. So on that one, I do disrespect my own teammates when it comes to pingpong."

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