THERE’S little point in having a potentially-boisterous home support if you don’t give them anything to shout about. That’s what happened in the Ryder Cup eight years ago in Detroit. Hal Sutton, the ultimate captain cock-up, had Oakland Hills set up too difficult and the home momentum never got going.
Davis Love III, the American captain this time around, isn’t making the same mistake. He asked for little or no rough at Medinah and has got his wish. He wants the home team to come flying out of the traps on Friday morning and get some noise echoing around the Chicago course.
Graeme McDowell, the man who clinched the winning point for Europe at Celtic Manor two years ago, is as comfortable playing on this type of layout these days as he is at home at Royal Portrush. It’s the same for the majority of the players in Jose Maria Olazabal’s team, one of the odd exceptions probably being Paul Lawrie.
The Americans, in essence, have lost their home advantage in terms of the test for the biennial bout. The only thing left for Love is to try and make the most of being able to fire up the fans. Watching the US players make some early thrusts when the gun goes off is his thinking behind the course set-up.
“I think Davis wants to get the crowds on their feet and to get them charged up from the word go -– that’s their tactics,” observed McDowell. “At Oakland Hills, the golf course was quite difficult and the crowd didn’t get behind the Americans the way they would have liked them to.
“Scoring was tough and it wasn’t that exciting; it was a battle of attrition really, which Europe won very well (by a record margin of 18.5-9.5). Here, I think Davis wants his players to make birdies and eagles to get the crowd fizzed up and make sure they are 120 per cent behind the guys. It’s going to be exciting and it’s going to be loud.”
It was certainly loud when McDowell emerged as Europe’s hero in Wales two years ago, beating Hunter Mahan in the deciding singles match. According to the Ulsterman, that has earned him more recognition than winning his first major two years ago.
“After winning the US Open, the aftermath of the congratulations I received lasted a few weeks,” he said. “But the Ryder Cup was even longer due to the fact it was enjoyed by the European fans and the European Tour. I think I certainly got recognised more for the Ryder Cup than I did for my US Open. To be in the 12th match, the deciding one, on a Sunday afternoon was fun and when everyone swamped that 17th green was cool to be part of – I had never been part of that before. The Ryder Cup is such a big deal. I think people love it as a spectacle. Just getting together with the rest of the team got my juices flowing and I could barely sleep when I went to bed.”
According to Justin Rose, who is playing in his second Ryder Cup this week, it’s an event where players have to expect the unexpected. “Playing in this environment happens so rarely that you have to roll with it, feed off it and be resilient out there because there are going to be things that happen on the course that are very different from regular tournaments,” noted the Englishman. His only other appearance in the event also came on American soil – at Valhalla four years ago, when he won three times in a team that lost. Fresh from finishing second in the Tour Championship in Atlanta, the 32-year-old is looking relaxed coming into this match. If asked, he’s ready to accept the challenge of hitting the first shot – “It’s part of the deal,” he said – and is confident he’d do a better job than his opening blow in the 1997 Walker Cup at Quaker Ridge.
His partner that day was Michael Brooks, the Scottish Amateur champion the previous year who is now the pro at Malton & Norton in Yorkshire. “I’d prefer to remember my first Ryder Cup tee shot, which I striped down the middle. But I’ll tell you about the Walker Cup story,” said a smiling Rose.
“I hit it out of bounds, but I was a 17-year-old and, though I don’t want to throw him under a bus here, Michael Brooks was adamant that he didn’t want to hit the first tee shot. The irony, of course, was that after I’d hit it out of bounds he then had to hit it off the first tee, so I kind of enjoyed that.”
It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Rose also enjoys playing with Ian Poulter. The pair have been friends for a long time and now live close together in Florida. Asked if he’d learned anything new about Poulter when they were paired together by Nick Faldo four years ago, Rose replied: “No, I had seen the good, the bad and the ugly long before then!”