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Ryder Cup 2021: Team Europe face their Everest against highest-ranked team ever assembled

·4-min read
Ryder Cup 2021: Team Europe face their Everest against highest-ranked team ever assembled

When the billionaire owner of Whistling Straits first looked at converting a former military base into one of the world’s best golf courses, his request was to turn it into a pocket of Ireland.

As Herb Kohler put it to course designer Pete Dye: “The next time I see this land, I want it to look like Ballybunion.”

An Irish flag flies over the entrance all year round and signs are dotted around the course pointing in the direction and mileage of some of the Emerald Isle’s most notorious golf courses.

That Europe finds itself led by an Irishman in Padraig Harrington is no coincidence, while the two Irish players in his ranks – Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry – have talked favourably about a course being a bit like home from home.

In effect, it is manufactured links golf and, with an uncertain wind which is likely to be central to the outcome of the Ryder Cup. Lowry likened it to playing on an Irish summer’s day after practice earlier in the week.

The Irish tie-in is one of arguably few factors on the side of Team Europe as they bid for a third away win in the past 11 Ryder Cups. Almost everything else points against them.

The American team is the highest ranked ever assembled in Ryder Cup history with an average world ranking of nine to Europe’s 31. Eight of their players are in the world’s top 10 – Europe has just one. And ahead of the 43rd Ryder Cup, they have 13 Major wins to their rivals’ seven.

But even before a ball has been struck, Harrington already looks to have played a masterstroke. He has focused on his team’s vast experience – 38 Ryder Cup appearances between them to America’s seven – as well as fed off the history and long-established camaraderie.

Inside the team room, the biggest picture is reserved for Seve Ballesteros, whose gung-ho approach to Ryder Cup golf paved the way for a famous away win in 1987 and set the format for how Europe approaches the biennial event which, because of Covid, has been three years in the making on this occasion.

And the hope for Europe is that world No1 Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia, the first foursomes pair out today, can form a partnership even half as successful as Seve’s with Jose Maria Olazabal.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Harrington’s players appeared genuinely wowed by a video in which it was pointed out that Bernd Wiesberger, one of three rookies in the side, would be only the 164th player in history to take on the United States at the Ryder Cup. In addition, he pointed out more than three times had been into space while 5,780 had climbed Mount Everest.

Europe’s 12-man team, their caddies, Harrington and his vice-captains have been all smiles this week, even trying to endear them to the 40,000 locals expected by becoming Cheeseheads, a nod to supporters of the NFL franchise the Green Bay Packers.

But there is only so far that foam hats can endear you into a Ryder Cup crowd which will never have been more partisan, with no travelling spectators allowed from Europe under Covid protocols.

And Europe have their own Everest to climb on a course of wide fairways for American bombers like Bryson DeChambeau and fast greens for a home side with some of the best putters of all time.

And yet the Ryder Cup has the ability to turn form and statistics on their head. One only has to look at the records of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, America’s two great players of recent decades whose form in the team event has been in stark contrast to theirs in the Majors.

Plus, there is a unity within Team Europe that has generally been missing in the American camp. One only has to look at the unconvincing answers yesterday from Brooks Koepka over his relationship with Bryson DeChambeau to realise that life is not entirely at ease inside the American camp.

Captain Steve Stricker is among the many players to have struggled in past Ryder Cups joking his form in 2012 was so bad he would have put himself and Woods in an envelope.

The envelope purports to the Covid protocol whereby each captain will put a player in an envelope in case of a Covid withdrawal from the other team. Should a player pull out, the opposition effectively sacrifices a player and that respective singles match is simply halved.

While Harrington might feel at home on an Irish-themed course, for Stricker this truly is home for the Wisconsin native.

Both rival captains have been talked about as gentlemen of the game and, in the evidence of the week so far, it’s highly unlikely that tempers will flare between the skippers even if it might with their players.

But both will be all too aware that one will go down in Ryder Cup folklore, the other a mere footnote to one of sport’s great events.

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