CHASKA (United States), Sept 23 ― A veteran American team yearning for vengeance plays host to a European squad with six newcomers when the 41st Ryder Cup tees off next Friday at Hazeltine.
US captain Davis Love and eight others among his players and assistants were part of the 2012 lineup that fell victim to the greatest last-day fightback in Ryder Cup history, Europe's 14 1/2-13 1/2 win in the “Miracle at Medinah.”
Others recall the sting of a 16 1/2-11 1/2 loss at Gleneagles in 2014 that caused the Americans to form a task force to revamp the Ryder Cup programme.
Despite all the US changes, there's nothing like defeat to motivate and the Americans have lost the Ryder Cup three times in a row, six of the past seven and eight of the last 10 entering this year's event.
“I want sweet revenge just like our whole team does,” said Patrick Reed, whose shush of European fans at Gleneagles after a big putt is well remembered.
“Unfortunately the Cup didn't come back with us. Hopefully our team gets fired up to go out and keep that Cup home.”
Two-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who paired well with Reed in 2014, likes the blend of young talent with such veterans as 46-year-old left-hander Phil Mickelson, US Opener champion Dustin Johnson and PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker.
“The combination of experience, a little bit of scar tissue or red ass some of these older guys have of really wanting to right the wrong of Ryder Cups past, with some new blood ― I think that's a successful formula,” Spieth said.
“That's nothing you necessarily have to search out for because it's already falling in place that way.”
While Europe has dominated lately, the US team owns a 25-13 with two drawn lead in the overall rivalry, winning 18 while losing only three with one drawn from 1927 to 1977 when facing only a British-Irish squad.
“Having that underdog mentality, that's very important,” four-time major winner Rory McIlroy said. “If you look at the overall record of the Ryder Cup, we are still a long way behind. So we can be quite comfortable with that underdog role.
“Obviously it will be harder. It's a very young, hungry US team. Guys have made it a priority to win the Ryder Cup this year. It's going to be tough for Europe away from home, but we're going to give it our best shot.”
Europe's 'monumental task'
As European captain Darren Clarke put it: “To take the trophy home is going to be a monumental task, but I have full confidence in my team.”
Joining Northern Ireland star McIlroy as Europe veterans are Sweden's Henrik Stenson, the British Open champion; England's Justin Rose, the Olympic gold medalist; Spain's Sergio Garcia, England's Lee Westwood and Germany's Martin Kaymer, twice a major winner.
“I expect a lot from myself golf-wise,” Stenson said. “I feel like I need to play well.”
But Europe also features six Cup rookies ― Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello, Belgian Thomas Pieters and an English quartet ― Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood and Masters winner Danny Willett.
“This is my fourth Ryder Cup and I feel like I've gained a lot of experience over the past three so hopefully I can impart some of that knowledge to some of the guys that haven't played,” McIlroy said.
“Ryder Cups at the end of the day come down to who keeps their nerve the best and who holes the most putts under the pressure.”
McIlroy says every Ryder Cup hole is like the last round of a major, so he must tell Willett ― who in April won the green jacket McIlroy needs to complete a career Grand Slam ― how much he needs to learn.
“I'm going to say, 'Danny, look, that final round was great, but you were playing with Lee Westwood, who is a buddy of yours, you weren't really in contention until the last sort of five or six holes,'“ McIlroy said.
“When he stands on the first tee Friday morning at Hazeltine, it does feel different.”
Bonds for a lifetime
Fine details such as pairings for four-ball and foursomes matches the first two days and course setup are already sorted.
“I don't think course setup is that much of an issue,” McIlroy said. “I think (Love) wanted it long and little rough at Medinah as well. Can't remember how that turned out.”
All that remains now is the tension and drama.
“The relationships you form the week of these team events, because you're dealing with such emotional highs and lows and challenges and excitement, you create bonds that last a lifetime,” Mickelson said. ― AFP