Americans eager to defend ‘home turf’ advantage
KOHLER, Wis. – Consider it the Wisconsin version of a peace offering.
Before heading out for another day of practice at the 43rd Ryder Cup, members of the European Team stepped to the first tee clad not in blue and yellow, but green and yellow – a nod to the nearby Green Bay Packers. They emerged from the ruby-red tunnel wearing cheesehead foam hats, which then were tossed to fans with outstretched arms lining the opening tee box.
The mood was jovial, the atmosphere relaxed. Fans cheered for the away team, and players egged it on by posing for group photos.
But two days from now, emotions will shift to the opposite end of the spectrum. This is, after all, a road game.
There’s no shortage of trends to examine in the final days before the first match: who pairs well with whom, which team has the edge on paper, which format suits one side more than the other. But an overarching theme in recent years is that it has become quite difficult to win the Cup away from home.
Were it not for a stirring Singles comeback from the Europeans nine years ago at Medinah, the home side would have won every Ryder Cup since 2006. The last three meetings have ended with the home team winning by a wide margin – five points or more. It’s a trend the U.S. Team hopes will continue this week as fans line the fairways and greens for a showdown three years in the making.
“It’s a huge advantage to play in front of your home crowd, and it’s also what makes this event so special,” said Justin Thomas. “I think they did the right thing in pushing it back a year to make sure that not only us players, but everybody could experience this for what it’s worth.”
“Every team event I’ve played in, it’s been outside the States,” added Bryson DeChambeau. “It’s going to be fun to see what we can do to rile up the crowd in the right way and get them behind our backs and moving us in the direction we all want to be in, which is taking home that Cup.”
The buzz already enveloping Whistling Straits will only build as Friday morning nears, and it has a decidedly red hue. The Europeans know that their fan presence will be even more limited because of international travel restrictions, and they fully expect to face an uphill battle. But it’s one they have faced (and conquered) before, with players like Ian Poulter playing an instrumental role in that road win at Medinah in 2012.
“Even if we have a thousand, two, three, four thousand, yes, we are going to be outnumbered. But it’s about using that energy,” Poulter said. “They are going to be loud. They are going to be wanting to help the U.S. Team get over the line. So it’s how we go about using that energy to fuel us at the right time. Use that for momentum, and hopefully we’ll be bringing this back home.”
“Most of the focus coming in is the fact that it is going to be 90/10, 80/20 (in favor of the U.S.),” added European Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington. “As I’ve said all along, Europe would rather play in front of 40,000 Americans than zero fans. But maybe when we got here it has changed a little bit. You can see that there’s expectation and pressure from the fans going the other way.”
Perhaps the Europeans can diffuse some of that pressure with Wisconsin-themed headgear on Wednesday. But once the shots and points begin to count, there will be little to slow the fans at Whistling Straits from making their (largely American) voices heard. It’s part of what makes the Ryder Cup special, an inherent advantage baked in for the home squad that then must be overcome the next time the two sides meet.
“I think winning any Ryder Cup is huge, and it’s a monumental achievement for all that are involved, but I think over the years winning a Ryder Cup on the road has just become more meaningful for some reason,” said Rory McIlroy. “We experienced it in 2012, which from a European perspective is probably one of the best days in the Ryder Cup that we’ve ever had in history. I’d certainly love to have that feeling again.”
Unfortunately for McIlroy, there are a dozen Americans (and thousands of eager fans) ready to deny just that opportunity. The U.S. Team hasn’t tasted victory on European soil since 1993, but they have won three home games since. Captain Steve Stricker’s squad understands both the importance of defending their home soil and using the partisan crowds to their advantage in the race to 14.5 points.
“I expect good, rowdy fans,” Stricker said. “It’s going to be rowdy. It’s going to be loud, especially on the first tee, and pro-USA, obviously. So we’re looking forward to that. We need that. We need that backing. It is our home turf.”
Another day closer to the opening match of the Ryder Cup, and the sense of anticipation continues to build at Whistling Straits. The outcome remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: the Europeans will need more than a handful of foam hats to overcome what has become a decided advantage for the home side in recent Ryder Cups.