Europe’s 2016 Ryder Cup Team is on its way to Minnesota ahead of this week’s 41st edition of the biennial contest against the United States.
The Official Party, led by Captain Darren Clarke, departed London’s Heathrow Airport, bound for Minneapolis and Hazeltine National where Team Europe will attempt to retain The Ryder Cup and claim a record fourth consecutive victory.
Clarke was in possession of Samuel Ryder’s iconic trophy and was accompanied by team members Rafa Cabrera Bello, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters, Andy Sullivan, Lee Westwood, Danny Willett, Chris Wood, as well as four of his five vice captains, Thomas Bjørn, Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie and Sam Torrance.
They will join up with the other five team members – Matt Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson – and the remaining vice captain, Ian Poulter, all of whom are already in America.
Excitement is building among fans for golf’s greatest team competition, and that sentiment is shared by Captain Darren Clarke and his team, but the start of the week was also marked by the sad passing of the legendary Arnold Palmer, a six-time US Ryder Cup player and two-time captain, and the Northern Irishman led the team’s tribute to “The King”.
“Like everyone in the golfing community we are saddened by the news about Arnold,” said Clarke. “He was a global superstar who transcended our sport and he will be sadly missed.”
The trans-Atlantic journey to a Ryder Cup is one Westwood knows particularly well, with the Englishman preparing to make his tenth consecutive appearance in the contest and his fifth outing on American soil. Already an iconic Ryder Cup player, Westwood requires just two points at Hazeltine National to match Sir Nick Faldo’s record haul of 25 points, and he admits the excitement at the start of Ryder Cup week never diminishes.
Westwood said: “It still feels as good as ever. It’s always great to be involved in the Ryder Cup. We are all going over there to be a unit, stand shoulder to shoulder, as Darren keeps saying, and win The Ryder Cup.”
German Kaymer, who famously holed the putt which retained The Ryder Cup for Europe in the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ four years ago, flew into London last night after finishing sixth in his homeland yesterday.
“It’s great to be part of another Ryder Cup team,” said Kaymer. “We are going into the week to enjoy it, to make the most of the atmosphere, and hopefully retain The Ryder Cup.”
Aside from Westwood and Kaymer, the other five players who joined Clarke on the official charter flight are all heading to their first Ryder Cup, and Masters Champion Danny Willett summed up the feeling of anticipation among the Minneapolis-bound rookies.
“It’s been a great year so far and this is right up there,” said Willett. “This is what you dream of. Getting ready in the morning, putting on the Ryder Cup outfit and joining the other guys. It’s what we all play for and work for. It’s very special.”
Clarke’s first official duty after landing in Minnesota will be a joint press conference at 3.30pm with his US counterpart Davis Love III, which takes place in the media centre at Hazeltine National.
Until then, simply savour the thought that Ryder Cup week has begun.