The classic Beach Boys hit Good Vibrations seemed entirely appropriate to be blaring out of a speaker close to where the 41st Ryder Cup will get underway shortly after dawn here today. It sums up, after all, the feeling in both team rooms heading into a contest that, let’s face it, has been keenly anticipated from the moment Europe’s third victory in a row at Gleneagles two years ago was followed immediately by Phil Mickelson’s stinging attack on Tom Watson and Team USA’s subsequent setting up of a “task force”.
Based purely on what we’ve heard from home captain Davis Love III and his players, including Mickelson, there seems little doubt that its recommendations have resulted in a new and much-needed fresh approach in the Team USA camp for an event they once dominated but have become second best over the past couple of decades. Eight defeats in the last 10 matches clearly show that the power pendulum has swung Europe’s way, to the extent this is an opportunity for them to record an unprecedented fourth triumph in succession in the biennial bout.
It’s no surprise, of course, to have heard Love, whose first taste of Ryder Cup captaincy ended in a painful defeat as the visitors equalled the biggest fightback in the event’s history to pull off the “Miracle at Medinah” four years ago but has now been given a deserved second chance, constantly beating the drum up about how his players are signing from the same hymn sheet for this battle. And you only need to listen to the likes of the new generation of US players – Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed – to hear a different war cry than some of their predecessors on this particular stage.
What remains to be seen, though, and we’ll only find out after the guns goes off at the Chaska venue this morning, is if those Team USA players can back up all that positive taking where it matters – on the golf course. They’ve actually put themselves under pressure to deliver, which makes the opening two sessions very important indeed. If they get off to a flying start, then all the preparation that has been put in place will feel as though it can come to fruition. Come sluggishly out of the blocks, however, and seeds of doubt might start creeping in straight away and that will surely play into Europe’s hands.
There’s a big difference – a very significant one – between the two teams, after all, coming into this three-day tussle. Europe already have that magic formula. It’s been handed down from captain to captain (apart from Nick Faldo, of course, who tried to do it his own way and paid the price at Valhalla in 2008) and, contrary to what we might have feared when he was appointed as Paul McGinley’s successor, the big Ulsterman is at the helm of another seamless transition in the European team room on this occasion.
Imagine how it must feel to lead a team that includes the likes of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer into the heat of battle in a Ryder Cup. All six have are old hands when it comes to this event and that’s why having the remainder of the 12-strong side made up of rookies on this occasion shouldn’t necessarily be a big hurdle for the visitors.
Like others before them over the past 20 years, Danny Willett, Matt Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Thomas Pieters will have walked into the European team room here this week and immediately felt something special. Something the Americans are trying to replicate but can it really happen overnight? I suspect “no” is the answer to that, though, for starters, it is great for the event that the likes of Spieth, Fowler and Reed are showing such a hunger for it as that, after all, is exactly why the Europeans look forward to Ryder Cup week with such relish every time it comes around.
So, who will come out on top on Sunday night? The Americans are slight favourites but that, in truth, is based predominantly on the fact they are the home side. The fact they have two rookies compared to that European sextet could also be a factor. There’s absolutely no doubt that the event could do with a Team USA triumph before too long – one-sided contests, after all, can quickly lose their appeal – and Love, in fairness, appears to have laid a solid foundation, even if it is a bit disconcerting to hear how loosely he is holding the reins at the expense of allowing the likes of Mickelson and Tiger Woods, one of his vice-captains, have big says in all the key decisions.
Hazeltine has been turned into a sea of red this week and Love will be looking for the home fans to play their part in making it even more of a cauldron for those European newcomers. How they handle it could be key but so, too, could the ability of the entire American team to deliver a result after more time and effort than ever before has been put into this particular encounter. As Westwood, the most experienced campaigner on the European side pointed out, lose again and what does Team USA do for the 2018 match in France. Therefore, they are really under pressure right from the off.
In summary, the 41st Ryder Cup is probably the most fascinating for many a year and let’s hope it’s an occasion that does the game proud in a week that started on such a sad note with the passing of Arnold Palmer. The stupid comments by Danny Willett’s brother in an article about US golf fans has created the possibility of someone outside the ropes crossing that fine line between pulling for your team and showing a nastiness towards the opposition that we don’t want to see in this sporting stage.