This week, Hazeltine National is playing host to one of the most emotional Ryder Cups ever. The golf should be good, too.
We’ve already had the brother of a key European player rip American fans, some of whom resemble his remarks, and American star Phil Mickelson criticize a captain’s decision old enough to be more mature than the person who dredged it up.
Euro star Rory McIlroy has needled the American task force and record, Euro captain Darren Clarke has accurately noted that his players have won more worldwide events this year than the American roster, the Americans have tossed out every new-age feel-good buzzword other than “synergy,” both sides have brought in champion athletes to rally their squads, and everyone involved has honored the memory of Arnold Palmer.
Thursday, during practice rounds before the opening ceremony, you could hear Barry Manilow and the Red Hot Chili Peppers over speakers near the first tee, and the Euros invited a heckler onto the green and he won $100 by making a putt, then high-fived and hugged him. This was not golf as usual, nor will it be this weekend.
Friday begins what actually is a once-in-a-lifetime event for Minnesotans: a Ryder Cup that is a home game, giving locals a taste of the event’s psychological stew and emotional bouillabaisse.
“Being a band of brothers, a team, and hearing those roars, it’s special,” said American and Iowegian Zach Johnson. “It’s two or three octaves louder — whatever — decibel points louder. Everything is just deeper, louder.”
At the Ryder Cup, 7:30 Friday morning feels like the back nine on Sunday. “I guess the only other place I can think of is Augusta National on a Sunday afternoon, when you hear the roars,” Brandt Snedeker said. “This place is like that from the word go.”
Match play and patriotism mixes like flame and kerosene, and the Americans are feeling charred.
They have lost six of the past seven Cups. They wilted on a Sunday afternoon at Medinah in 2012 and were crushed all weekend at Gleneagles in 2014. They are facing a team with six rookies and without the galvanizing Ian Poulter. Their infamous task force has supplied deep analytical data that should help captain Davis Love III with pairings and tee placements, even if the Euros think it’s a punchline.
If psychology was all that mattered, the Americans might want to spend the weekend hanging out at Lake Calhoun. The Euros are the rare team in any sport that dominates yet is considered an underdog. Imagine if Vegas expected Alabama football to lose every game.
While Vegas lists the Americans as heavy favorites, McIlroy and European captain Darren Clarke point out that Euro players have won four of the world’s six biggest tournaments this year. Henrik Stenson won the British; Danny Willett won the Masters; Justin Rose won the Olympics, and McIlroy won the Tour Championship. Dustin Johnson (U.S. Open) and Jimmy Walker (PGA) were the lone Americans to win majors this year.
While the Europeans wielded every sentence as a needle, the Americans were celebrating their team-room leadership.
The leaders they most often cited: Mickelson and vice captain Tiger Woods.
Mickelson’s Ryder Cup record is 16-19-7, and he has scapegoated two of his captains, Tom Watson and Hal Sutton. Woods’ Ryder Cup record is 13-17-3, and during his last competition at Hazeltine at the 2009 PGA, he lost to Y.E. Yang in his last top-two finish at a major championship.
If Woods and Mickelson had performed to their capabilities in past Ryder Cups, the Americans never would have thought to form a task force and the Euros might not have spent the past three days at Hazeltine eyeing the best places to spray champagne.
“You form a task force and it doesn’t go right this week, where do you go from there?” Euro golfer Lee Westwood said. “You’ve done pretty much all you can do.”
Hazeltine National has brought golf’s greatest psycho-thriller to Minnesota, and the Americans are trying to write an alternate ending.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. email@example.com