Amid the portentous phrases that line the course and the promise of much tub-thumping to come, it is important to remember that some competitors and their caddies are waging private battles of their own at this Ryder Cup, as of course are many in the crowd.
This is no more apparent than in the case of Lance Bennett, caddie over the coming days for Matt Kuchar. Bennett lost his wife Angela only last month after the 39 year-old passed away from natural causes.
Despite this unforeseen trauma, Bennett is here in Gleneagles, after beginning his journey to Scotland at the weekend from the States. He travelled apart from the rest of the team but is now safely in their embrace as he continues to cope with the mourning process.
“Lance came over early,” explained Kuchar yesterday. “He didn’t come on the team charter. And so once everybody arrived, he and a couple of other guys that came early greeted us as we arrived at the front of the hotel. Everyone, one after one, kind of went up, gave him a big hug and got to spend time with him.”
The healing is continuing for Bennett. Kuchar hoped the event will help the process given that it tends to develop such strong bonds between team members. It is understandable if his own preparations were rocked by the news about Bennett’s wife, but one comment suggested that Kuchar’s groundwork has not been as thorough as might otherwise be expected. Having neither visited nor played at Gleneagles before, he confessed he had been anticipating a more “links style golf course than this”.
He described the course as a “little more Americanised” with reference to the thickness of the rough and the softness of the course. One person who is slightly more au fait with the area is Jordan Spieth, who US captain Tom Watson has already intimated will partner Kuchar in the foursomes. The 21 year-old might be a rookie in this particular competition but he has played in the Junior Ryder Cup before. Not only that, he participated when it was staged at Gleneagles, four years ago.
He is the one giving his teammates some pointers as to what to expect, while he is also delighted to find that so much is familiar to him. Although he admits his previous experience is of little consequence in terms of the actual course, since he is now playing from different locations, he feels there is some benefit from knowing his way about. Not that he expected to return so quickly in his career. He described being picked to play in the real version so soon after the Junior Ryder Cup as “a million-to-one chance”. “I remember when I was here four years ago, and thinking: is there a chance I could be here four years from now for the Ryder Cup?” he said.
He recalled concluding that things would have to go “pretty well” for him to be here. And so they have. Spieth finished in a tie for second at the Masters earlier this year, having led after 54 holes. He was also named PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2013.
“It’s pretty awesome to be here having stayed in the same place [in 2010],” he said. “Back then they showed us videos of past Junior Ryder Cups, and the guys who had gone on to become professional golfers since. To know that I am now one of those guys who is representing the United States of America, it is a really cool feeling.”
It will be a better one if the Americans can pull off a victory on a course that should not be treated as completely alien to them, given the conditions. But much will rest on overcoming the European team’s top stars.
While Rory McIlroy is the current World No 1, much of the attention remained firmly focused on Ian Poulter yesterday. Possibly in an attempt at mind games, Watson had identified the outspoken Englishman as a prize scalp when sitting alongside Paul McGinley at the captains’ press conference on Monday.
It has become very clear that some members of the American team will take great delight from being paired against Poulter, who has proved such an inspirational force in the Ryder Cup. Kuchar agreed that he is the one they want to take down.
Asked whether losing a match to Poulter is different from losing a match to anyone else in the Europe team, Kuchar replied: “I might say yes, there. I mean, losing stinks. But I think Poulter is a guy everybody wants to draw, everybody wants to get the best of. And on the flipside, you hate to get beaten by Poulter. You get beaten by anybody, it stings. With Poulter, I don’t know if the sting is worse, but he’s kind of a marked man that everybody wants a piece of.”