Europe relish underdog status in front of U.S. fans
Nobody ever said it was easy to play away from home in the Ryder Cup.
Since 1979, Europe has won on U.S soil four times out of a possible ten: at Muirfield Village in 1987, Oak Hill CC in 1995, Oakland Hills CC in 2004, and the memorable defence named the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ in 2012. In contrast, Team USA have won in Europe just twice in that same time frame.
A big part of that is easy to explain away through an added sense of pressure for the visiting team, which is exacerbated through their opponent’s advantage of playing in front of a partisan crowd, on a course set-up by that same team.
It’s something that the experienced European side playing in Whistling Straits this week are well aware of, with half of the team having made at least one Ryder Cup appearance in the United States.
But this year, that sense of home advantage is set to be even more starkly imbalanced, with the task of spotting a European fan in the sea of red, white and blue guaranteed to be a difficult one this week due to the impact of Covid-19 on travel restrictions.
Yet, despite the knowledge that there will be sparse support for Team Europe, Captain Pádraig Harrington says that his team are relishing the opportunity to play in front of fans at all.
“It is an interesting one, there's no doubt,” said Harrington.
“Most of the focus for us coming in is the fact that it is going to be 90/10, 80/20. As I've said all along, Europe would rather play in front of 40,000 Americans than zero fans.”
Asked about the pressure of playing away, Harrington insisted that there is as much pressure and expectation from those home fans on their own team.
“You can see that there's expectation and pressure from the fans going the other way. They have a new strategy.
“There's no doubt the home captain has to deal with pressure and stress. But it's not like we don't have to deal with it -- little bit added, no doubt about it, and I suppose we just have to wait and see.”
For seasoned Ryder Cup players Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy though, who were part of the winning side in 2012, that challenge of playing in front of American fans has created an atmosphere that evokes even more satisfaction when they do win.
Add in a narrative of being underdogs – certainly when you compare the Official World Golf Rankings between both sides at least – Poulter stated that while winning any Ryder Cup is special, winning away from home means a little more.
“I guess it's a lot more difficult, and it doesn't happen that often, even though we've had the upper hand of that,” said Poulter, who relishes the opportunity of riling up the home crowd.
“I guess it's just more enjoyable.
“Course setup is obviously this week heavily weighted in the U.S. as opposed to how we set things up back in Europe, so I guess everything is stacked against us. When you have that, when you can go in as underdogs, when you can turn the tide and actually come out victorious, it means a little bit more.
“It's a great buzz. You only have to look around and all the grandstands are red. Everything that you look at, the fans, 98 percent are obviously going to be U.S. fans this week. It's difficult from start to finish. It's hard. It's not easy to play away from home.
“As much as we feel comfortable as a team, to know we're underdogs, to know that, we have to play extra special this week to get the job done. It feels pretty rewarding at the end of the week if we can get it done.”
McIlroy, who partnered Poulter during the infamous momentum changing Saturday afternoon fourballs match at Medinah, added that he would love to have that feeling again.
Like Poulter, McIlroy’s desire to win in the United States is fuelled by a hunger to excel as an underdog, and he said because of the odds stacked against them this year – including the lack of fan support - retaining the Cup in America would be even more of an achievement.
“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 the four-time Major Champion “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.
“I think it would be a huge achievement, especially you look at obviously this tournament isn't played on paper, it's played on grass, but on paper you would -- you look at the World Rankings and everything, we're coming in here as underdogs with a lot of things stacked against us, so I think that would make it even more of an achievement.”