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Ryder Cup: Former captains hope Palmer's legacy inspires U.S.

On Tuesday night, a group of former U.S. Ryder Cup captains visited this year's squad ahead of the biennial competition against Europe's best dozen golfers that starts Friday at Hazeltine National in Chaska.

When current captain Davis Love III walked the group into the "team room," where final preparations take place this week, the group was quieted by a large portrait of Arnold Palmer that Love hung to honor "the king of golf," who died Sunday at the age of 87.

"The team will see (it) every time they come into the room," said Lanny Wadkins, captain of the 1995 U.S. team. "If that picture doesn't get you going, I don't know what else will this week."

Eight former U.S. captains gathered at Minneapolis Golf Club on Wednesday for a charitable PGA event. Four of them will take on four former European captains in a just-for-fun match Thursday at Hazeltine.

The former American captains shared few thoughts on the current U.S. roster, still mourning, many said, the loss of a dear friend in Palmer.

"We owe him everything," said Ben Crenshaw, captain of the 1999 U.S. team.

That's why Crenshaw and fellow former captains were so pleased Tuesday when they saw the Palmer portrait hanging in the team hotel. They're well aware of recent U.S. struggles in the Ryder Cup -- six losses the past seven tournaments -- and believe the memory of Palmer can light a fire under U.S. golfers Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Ryan Moore, Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker.

"The team can use that for inspiration, and I think they will," said Crenshaw, who won the Masters in 1984 and 1995. "I really think our team can use the added impetus of Arnold's passing to lift us somehow. I firmly believe that. They'll be with his spirit all week."

Much has been made of the strength of the U.S. Ryder Cup roster, dubbed the "best golf team maybe ever assembled" last week by Love. But the former captains stressed that talent doesn't always win in team play.

"I'm looking to see if some guys can improve their records," said Tom Kite, a close friend of Love. "The records are not very good for the individuals on the U.S. side, and I hope that those guys are able to improve those records because the records right now are not very good."

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Dow Finsterwald, 87, captain of the 1977 U.S. team.

Finsterwald was one Palmer's closest friends and shared stories of his early days with Palmer, including head-to-head matchups the two had in college.

"He was a gentleman in every sense of the word," Finsterwald said. "The greatest compliment I ever received was being called Arnold's friend."

Several captains said Palmer's death overshadowed Love's completion of the U.S. roster with captain's pick Moore on Sunday.

"I haven't thought about it, honestly," Wadkins said. "With Arnold passing this week, it really has kind of taken a little of the luster off everything this week. I'll get back into it once Friday comes around probably. But it's been a bit of a down week."

The U.S. team has won just once since the turn of the century (a 16.5-11.5 victory in Kentucky in 2008). Still, Crenshaw lauded this year's roster.

"It's a hell of a team," he said. "I think we've got a really good mix of players -- power, finesse, guys that are playing well and are confident. We've just got to have the right things happen at the right time."

CAPTAINS MATCH

Thursday, four former U.S. captains will play four former European captains in a nine hole scramble at Hazeltine. Here are the matchups: 12:05 p.m.: Dave Stockton (1991 U.S. captain) and Lanny Wadkins (1995) vs. Colin Montgomerie (2010 European captain) and Tony Jacklin (1983, '85, '87, and '89). 12:20 p.m.: Hal Sutton (U.S., 2004) and Ben Crenshaw (1999) vs. Paul McGinley (Europe, 2014) and Ian Woosnam (2006).

This article was written by Chad Graff from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

WATCH: American Captain Davis Love III talks about preparation for the Ryder Cup.