flipIt started at Valhalla in 2008 — incidentally, the last Ryder Cup won by the United States, with three defeats coming between then and this weekend’s event at Hazeltine.

There were a few different masterminds of the fan group that would become known as the “American Marshals,” but chief among them was Flip Saunders. Flip was between coaching jobs at that point, having been fired by the Pistons in June of 2008 and not yet with the Wizards, who hired him in 2009.

Never one to sit still, Saunders and some buddies conceived of a group that would out-cheer their European counterparts. They incorporated Vikings garb into their outfits (which later evolved into red, white and blue gear even though they kept the horns). They roared. They came up with chants (including a variation of “Skol Vikings”). They generally had a great time.

Jim Kopp, of the members of the 13-man group, said, “(Flip) was the one that came up and said, ‘this is ridiculous. We have to help the U.S. win this thing.’”

None of them would have imagined the turn Saunders’ life would take in the two years since the last Ryder Cup — from the highs of rejoining the Timberwolves as President and then head coach, to the extreme low of his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and ultimately his death from complications stemming from the disease on Oct. 25, 2015 — almost a year ago now.

All of it seemed particularly cruel and unfair — emotions stirred up again now that the Ryder Cup is in the state that became his home.

“It’s very bittersweet,” Kopp said. “We miss him dearly.”

Everyone else in the group agreed, and several added some form of this: “Flip is with us, just in a different way.”

For sure, the group is honoring the legacy and spirit of Flip at this year’s Ryder Cup. They were front-and-center Friday in the grandstand of the first tee, decked out head-to-toe in American colors in what is now the group’s fifth consecutive Ryder Cup.

flip2One imagines it’s just as Saunders would have wanted it.

On the backs of their jerseys were identical “We are 13″ lettering. On the fronts, among other things, there was the now-familiar patch that reads, simply, “Flip” with the Wolves logo in the background.

The significance of “13″ is that the Marshals consider themselves the U.S. Team’s “13th man,” so to speak, since there are 12 golfers per team.

I’ll leave if for you to decide what role these fellows — and their dearly departed friend — are playing in this year’s cup, but the U.S. squad was a perfect 4-0 in the Friday morning matches.

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