Golf: Europeans aim to ‘make it count’ in Ryder Cup defence

KOHLER, UNITED STATES (AFP) – Padraig Harrington is hammering home the idea of European exceptionalism as his players prepare to defend golf’s Ryder Cup in hostile territory against a star-laden US team.

Upon arriving at Whistling Straits, Europe’s players learned where they line up in the history of just 164 players who have represented the continent.

Despite their wealth of experience and depth of enthusiasm for the biennial match play showdown, Europe’s players were clearly moved to learn what rare company they’re in.

“It was very powerful,” Spain’s Sergio Garcia said of the video that featured such past Ryder Cup greats as Jose Maria Olazabal and Tony Jacklin.

Every player to represent Europe – Great Britain and Ireland before the format changed in 1979 – was assigned a number, right through the members of this year’s team of 12, who were urged to “make it count.” Garcia will be playing in a 10th Ryder Cup when Europe launches its defense on Friday on the Wisconsin course hugging the shore of Lake Michigan.

England’s Lee Westwood will be playing in his 11th – but he too was struck by the video that contrasted the 164 to the 5,780 people who have climbed Mount Everest, 570 people who have been in outer space and 225 men who have won a major golf championship.

“You have a far greater chance of going into space or climbing Mount Everest than you have representing Europe in the Ryder Cup,” Westwood said.

“It’s something to be proud of, being able to pull on the clothing with the European team crest on it.”

European teams have won nine of the past 12 Ryder Cups, thrashing the United States 17.5-10.5 in France in 2018. That includes three of the past six held on US soil.

In harkening to history, Harrington boosted the spirit of camaraderie that Europe must have to maintain its dominance against a US team that features eight of the world’s top 10 players – the highest number for either team since the inception of the world rankings in 1986.

US captain Steve Stricker, aiming to make the most of all that talent, capitalised on the United States’ home advantage by convening his team for an early weekend of practice at Whistling Straits, before the hoopla of Ryder Cup week was in full swing.

Jordan Spieth, heading into his fourth Ryder Cup, wasn’t sure how helpful the days of light practice would be, but said Tuesday they had been beneficial.

Feet on the ground

“I thought the commitment of guys to get up here was cool,” Spieth said.

“We were messing around. We were hitting shots. We weren’t really like chipping and putting to all the pins. It was more let’s have some fun and play a match with each other and just kind of see – get our feet on the ground, see the grandstands, see the setting ahead of time so that when we arrive today, you’re not kind of taken aback.”

That could be especially useful for a US side featuring six Ryder Cup rookies, and it plays into Stricker’s goal of “out-preparing” Europe.

“Certainly I think things can adjust, but as far as how prepared you can be on Tuesday for a Friday start, I would say it’s probably the most that I’ve seen in the four Cups,” Spieth said.