So now the games can finally begin.
It has been the strangest of Ryder Cup weeks, beginning under a cloud with the death of Arnold Palmer and moving swiftly on to Americans being rude about Europe’s chances, Phil Mickelson dismantling another former captain’s reputation and Danny Willett’s brother offending everybody.
Thank goodness there is some golf coming our way at last, the moment’s silence for Palmer at last night’s opening ceremony serving as a poignant symbol that the time to stop talking had arrived. Rory McIlroy, for one, is relishing the opportunity of standing on that first tee.
“It’s an experience we don’t get any other time of the golfing year. You know, we sort of wait once every two years for a moment like that where you get on the first tee.
“It’s going to be a little bit different than last time. It’s going to be a sea of red out there and we’re obviously the away team, the underdog. So it will be a little bit of a different vibe for us, but at the same time, it’s a great rush.
“For me, being over that first tee shot on Friday morning, even with everything that goes on around you, everything when you’re over that ball becomes so quiet, and you can hear a pin drop. I mean, from then, you just have to clear your mind and focus on what you’re here to do, which is to play golf and play great golf to help your team win.”
European rookie Willett, the Masters champion, is relieved to be getting down to the business of trying to defeat the US for the fourth time in succession. Having spent most of the last 48 hours apologising for his brother Peter’s inflammatory magazine article that had nothing to do with him, no-one will feel more elated at the chance to get this competition going.
“There’s a few things that have been said, but you know, we’re here to do one job, we’re here as a team. And yeah, I think we’re all looking forward to kind of getting it underway,” Willett said.
“We went to a gala dinner (on Wednesday) night with the American guys and I think they feel the same way. I just think we’re 24 guys just wanting to play some golf.”
Amid the hullabaloo and razzamatazz, the hype and the hoopla, that permeates every aspect of this biennial contest, it is difficult to imagine a Ryder Cup played in those most simple of terms. Superficially the Ryder Cup has become so much more than its essence and yet the secret to European success in eight of the last 10 meetings between them and the US has been its ability to keep things at the elemental level. Twelve guys wanting to play some golf and enjoy each other’s company in the process.
As McIlroy pointed out this week amidst talk of American task forces formed to stop the rot, it’s not rocket science. Yet European captain Darren Clarke has a big challenge on his hands to make it his side’s record fourth victory in a row and he has dismissed the previous three wins in 2010, 12 and 14 as “irrelevant”.
The US under Davis Love are favourites going into today’s opening foursomes. They have home advantage for one thing and the PGA of America has left no stone unturned in trying to ram that point home, Hazeltine National bedecked in USA red wherever there is opportunity. They also have fewer rookies, Love making Ryan Moore his final captain’s pick last Sunday to bring his total of debutants to two while Clarke has to deploy six first-timers, even if that number includes a Masters champion in Willett.
Captain’s pick Lee Westwood, embarking on his 10th Ryder Cup campaign just two points shy of matching Nick Faldo’s European all-time record of 25, certainly has no fear for them.
“They are certainly not rookies like I was a rookie when I teed it up in ‘97 with Faldo,” Westwood said last night. “I hadn’t played that much in the States and that much in the big tournaments around the world.
“These rookies nowadays, they are major champions and they are players that have played regularly in the States and regularly on the big stage and performed well.
“So yes, this is their first Ryder Cup, but they are not anywhere near the same kind of rookie that I was when I teed it up in ‘97. They seem a lot more worldly and knowledgeable.”
The rookies are beneficiaries of Clarke’s theme for the week, embracing that line from the rugby anthem Ireland’s Call, “shoulder to shoulder”, and enlisting Munster, Ireland, and Lions legend Paul O’Connell to reinforce the message about standing tall, together as one.
They are clearly a close-knit crew and those six rookies will bring an element of the unknown to American shores this weekend that could turn their lack of prominence to Europe’s advantage.
It is that kind of chemistry no taskforce can manufacture, a team spirit that clouds the oddsmakers’ calculations.
It has done over much of the last 20 years when the Americans have lost eight of the last 10 renewals.
And for all Clarke’s smokescreen about the last three wins being irrelevant, those victories will still be in the minds of both sides on that first tee today.
It is a tall order for Europe but as Medinah proved four years ago, it is not an insurmountable one.
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