An idea suggested eight years ago by a friend named Flip: 13 grown men will roam Hazeltine National Golf Club next week sporting Helga horns and braids, singing their hearts out in support of an American team that has won only two of the past 10 Ryder Cups.
Former neighbors and fellow Medina Golf and Country Club members Cal Franklin and Flip Saunders attended the Ryder Cup in Louisville, Ky., with several other friends in 2008, the last time the U.S. team beat Europe in a biennial event that is as much about nationalistic pride as it is golf.
They looked around at what would become such a festive setting for the home team and saw European fans dressed in their colors, singing, chanting and generally having a jolly good time.
“The Americans were sitting there, not doing anything,” Franklin said. “It was Flip’s idea to get outfits and sing songs.”
Two years later, Franklin and a traveling group of 12 flew to Wales for the 2010 Ryder Cup, about the same time Saunders reported to NBA training camp as Washington Wizards coach. While there, they borrowed liberally from their beloved Vikings football team back home.
These grown men — many of them business owners and corporate executives — adapted the NFL team’s “Skol Vikings” fight song and they wore Vikings jerseys and the Helga horns and braids, mostly so they could find each other in a crowd.
“We decided we needed to have a ‘look,’ ” said Franklin, whose TN Marketing company produces video for enthusiast groups ranging from motorcyclists to golfers and counts the PGA of America as a longtime client.
Along the way, they invented chants and rewrote song lyrics — one of them, with apologies to the late John Denver and his country roads, “Take Me Home, Ryder Cup” — to fit their needs.
Six years and four Ryder Cups later, they have rebranded themselves in their own backyard as “The American Marshals,” unofficial ambassadors for the PGA of America’s U.S. team at Hazeltine. The horns and braids and songs remain, but Vikings purple has been replaced by red, white and blue headwear and hockey jerseys.
Their group numbers 13 — fitting, because they consider themselves the American 12-man team’s 13th man. They have made pals with U.S. captain Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson’s wife, Amy. They will “deputize” thousands of fans at Hazeltine with stickers that say they have done so, and Monday, the American Marshals were part of a Minnesota Office of Tourism commercial shoot that airs this winter.
Loud and proud for their team, they vow to always treat the Europeans sportingly. That doesn’t mean, though, they couldn’t hoot fierce European Ryder Cup competitor Ian Poulter when he emerged from the trees one day after nature suddenly called.
“Ian Poulter is not a huge fan of ours,” Medina head pro Jeff Drimel said of Europe’s vice captain this time around, “but that’s OK.”
Vikings in Minnesota, too
Six years and four Ryder Cups later, others now have found them, too.
“I think I saw those guys four or five times a day,” said young U.S. star Patrick Reed, who was his team’s most patriotic player during a 2014 Ryder Cup debut in Scotland. “That was pretty cool because when you’re away from home like that, you need to have some of that support. Being from Minnesota, they’re going to love it this time. Perfect.”
Their presence overseas in 2010 and 2014 caused some confusion among Europeans, who well know Vikings were Scandinavian seafarers from the Middle Ages and wondered just which side these loud men supported.
“Well, there are Minnesota Vikings, too,” longtime Team Europe star Sergio Garcia said. “I knew.”
Saunders attended the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah Golf Club near Chicago as well as the one in Louisville in 2008. In Chicago, he wore an Adrian Peterson No. 28 jersey and white ball cap instead of horns and braids, an attempt to keep a low profile.
In 2016, the American Marshals wear on their shoulders the same Flip patch the Timberwolves wore last season. They will do so to remember their friend who died way too soon last fall at age 60.
There were reports, unconfirmed, that Saunders was briefly spotted once or twice wearing braids in 2012.
“I don’t know that, but I do know he loved the Ryder Cup,” said Wolves assistant coach Ryan Saunders, Flip’s son. “Absolutely loved it. He loved the competition. That was just his group of friends, the guys he did things with. If they end up going to the Cup this year, I may have to try to join ’em, even if it’s just for a day, just to keep that going.”