KOHLER, Wisconsin – Think of this as the Wisconsin version of a peace offering.
Before leaving for another day of practice at 43rd Ryder Cup, members of the European team made it to the first tee wearing not blue and yellow, but green and yellow – a nod to the nearby Green Bay Packers. They emerged from the ruby red tunnel wearing cheese-headed foam hats, which were then tossed at fans with their arms outstretched along the opening tee.
The atmosphere was jovial, the atmosphere relaxed. Fans cheered on the team away and the players cheered them on by posing for group photos.
But in two days, the emotions will move to the other end of the spectrum. It is, after all, a driving game.
There is no shortage of trends to examine in the final days leading up to the first game: who pairs well with whom, which team has the advantage on paper, which format is more suitable for one side than the other. But a dominant theme in recent years is that it has become quite difficult to win the Cup away from home.
If it hadn’t been for a moving Europeans’ comeback in singles nine years ago at Medinah, the home side would have won every Ryder Cup since 2006. The last three meetings have ended with a big win for the l home team – five points or more. It’s a trend the US team hope to continue this week as fans line the fairways and greens for a three-year showdown.
“It’s a huge advantage to play in front of your home crowd, and that’s also what makes this event so special,” said Justin Thomas. “I think they did the right thing by stepping back a year to make sure that not only us the players but everyone can experience it for what it’s worth.”
“Every tag team event I’ve played in has been outside the United States,” added Bryson DeChambeau. “It’s going to be fun to see what we can do to piss off the crowd in the right way and put them behind our backs and move in the direction we all want to be, which will bring us home this Cup.”
The buzz that is already enveloping the Whistling Strait will only develop as Friday morning approaches, and it has a decidedly red tint. Europeans know their fans’ attendance will be even more limited due to international travel restrictions, and they expect to face an uphill battle. But it’s the one they’ve faced (and conquered) before, with players like Ian Poulter playing a pivotal role in that road victory at Medinah in 2012.
“Even though we have a thousand, two, three, four thousand, yeah, we’re going to be outnumbered. But it’s about using that energy, ”Poulter said. “They’re going to be loud. They’re going to want to help the American team cross the line. This is how we use this energy to fuel us at the right time. Use that to build momentum, and hopefully we’ll bring this home. “
“Most of the attention is on the fact that it will be 90/10, 80/20 (in favor of the United States),” added European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington. “As I have always said, Europe prefers to play in front of 40,000 Americans rather than zero fans. But maybe when we got here it changed a bit. You can see that there are expectations and pressure from fans going the other way.
Maybe Europeans can take some of that pressure off with some Wisconsin-themed headgear on Wednesday. But once the hits and points start counting, there won’t be much to stop Whistling Straits fans from making their (largely American) voices heard. This is part of what makes the Ryder Cup special, an inherent advantage of the home team that must then be overcome the next time the two teams meet.
“I think winning a Ryder Cup is huge, and it’s a monumental achievement for everyone involved, but I think over the years winning a Ryder Cup on the road has become more meaningful for some reason. “said Rory McIlroy. “We experienced it in 2012, which from a European perspective is probably one of the best Ryder Cup days we’ve ever had in history. I would certainly like to have that feeling again.
Unfortunately for McIlroy, there are a dozen Americans (and thousands of enthusiastic fans) willing to turn down the opportunity. The USA team have not tasted victory on European soil since 1993, but they have since won three home games. Captain Steve Stricker’s team understands both the importance of defending home ground and using home crowd to their advantage in the 14.5-point race.
“I expect some good rowdy fans,” Stricker said. “It’s going to be rowdy. It’s going to be loud, especially on the first tee, and pro-USA, of course. So we look forward to it. We need this. We need this support. This is our home territory.
Another day closer to the Ryder Cup opener, and the sense of anticipation continues to mount at Whistling Straits. The outcome remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: Europeans will need more than a handful of foam caps to overcome what has become a decisive advantage for the home side in recent Ryder Cups.