HAVEN, WISCONSIN | Stand atop the red-cloaked stadium set around the first tee at Whistling Straits, the crisp fall wind blowing off Lake Michigan in the distance and, even with the silver aluminum seats empty, the place feels full.
There is a magnitude to the Ryder Cup that’s bigger than the structures that dot the rolling landscape, bigger than the emotions that churn inside the players until they erupt, bigger than the steadily increasing thrum of anticipation that has percolated for three years.
Like an 18-wheeler filling your rearview mirror, the closer it gets, the bigger it feels.
The Ryder Cup stands apart because it matters like nothing else.
As much as ever, it matters to the American team that they win this week.
“We have a whole new team. We have a team with no scar tissue. There’s only a handful of us that have even played in a Ryder Cup. And the few of those, we have winning records,” said Tony Finau, who watched the Europeans celebrate in Paris three years ago. “So we actually don’t have guys on our team that have lost a lot in Ryder Cups.
“So, what I mean by this, a big one is we’ve got a whole new team. We’ve got a whole different group of young guys that are hungry. You guys see six rookies. Man, in this team room, I don’t see any rookies. I see 12 guys that are confident and none of us are wide-eyed. We want to win. At the end of the day that’s what I see. When I’m in the locker room, I see guys beaming with confidence and really hungry to win. That’s refreshing.”
“I think the Americans have figured out a lot of things.” – Paul McGinley
This is not the first time the American side has pronounced itself ready to change the results and the direction of what has been a European-centric event. It happened a few years ago in the scorched-earth task force aftermath of the Tom Watson/Gleneagles debacle and the Americans responded with a lopsided win two years later at Hazeltine.
Until then, the U.S. had lost three of the last five matches played on home soil.
A cultural change, which Finau suggested is happening, can’t be talked into existence. It has to happen organically. What has changed is that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are no longer the center of the team.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas have become the emotional leaders. It’s past time for that to happen.
“I think the Americans have figured out a lot of things,” said Paul McGinley, who captained a victorious European Ryder Cup team in 2014 and cited U.S. captain Steve Stricker’s preparation and reliance on “horses-for-courses” approach at Whistling Straits as critical developments.
Shortly after 7 a.m. local time Friday, the conjecture turns to competition. To this point, it has been light, even playful at times.
The Europeans wore foam cheeseheads and Green Bay Packers colors during a practice session. Captain Pádraig Harrington has promised to get a tattoo if his team wins, following the precedent set by Thomas Bjørn after leading Europe’s win three years ago.
The Americans, who speak almost reverentially about their respect for captain Stricker, want to make him cry with joy Sunday evening.
“He’s a softie,” Brooks Koepka said.
Stricker has even hinted he would get a tattoo should the Americans win, saying he might have an ink artist on standby for the occasion.
Will Tiger Woods make an unannounced visit to the American team room? It’s a popular topic of discussion but Stricker has made it sound unlikely for obvious reasons.
The captain has tempered any potential tension in the team room, striking a balance between teamwork and personal space. Stricker knew days in advance which pairings he will send out when and there is a sense this American team is in a good place even if the blustery, cool weather conditions might tilt toward the Europeans’ advantage.
More than some Ryder Cup venues, Whistling Straits is a major character. It’s visually intimidating, nearly half of its holes perched on the edge of Lake Michigan. It offers opportunities for long hitters to use their advantage but it can be unforgiving.
In foursomes play, a notoriously troublesome format for the Americans, there is a science to picking which players tee off on the even-numbered holes and which on the odds, especially with three of the par-3 holes being odd-numbered.
The data has been crunched. The opinions have been voiced. The pairings have been finalized.
This was to have been played a year ago but organizers were right to wait a year. A Ryder Cup without fans would not have been a Ryder Cup at all.
Beyond the noise, there is all that merchandise to be sold, including official U.S. team underwear. Hats and sweatshirts seem to be more popular with the buying public than men’s briefs according to an informal study.
The Americans are favored but none of that matters once the first shots are played.
“This is going to be very, very difficult for us,” McGinley said.
To borrow a long-ago line from Ringo Starr, it don’t come easy.
“Someone’s got to lose, man. There’s two teams playing and there’s going to be a winner and there’s going to be a loser,” Koepka said.
“It just comes down to who plays better, and I think it’s as simple as that.”
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Tell us how we can improve this post?