MEDINAH, Ill. — The U.S. players did not react in any way when Europe’s Ian Poulter said the other day, “Boy, do you want to kill them in the Ryder Cup.”
The Americans didn’t blink an eye because they know Poulter, they know his gift of gab, they know his flair for hyperbole. Everybody knows everybody in the Ryder Cup now, which makes it a different kind of event these days.
While the intensity level is way up from 30 years ago, the animosity level is way down. “That doesn’t make it any less competitive. It just makes it that we know each other a lot better,” U.S. captain Davis Love III said.
A generation ago, the sides had almost no contact other than major championships and the Ryder Cup, so it was easy to distill mutual dislike.
Now, many of the Europeans – Poulter included – play on the PGA Tour and live much of the year in the United States. England’s Luke Donald, a mainstay of the European team, lives in Chicago, a short drive from the course where he will be a mainstay for the visitors when matches start today.
“I’ll be the only guy from both teams that is more familiar with this town than probably anyone,” said the golfer who attended Northwestern. “The people are very welcoming and friendly. I just love the culture of Chicago. It is a sporting town, which appeals to me.”
With due respect to Donald, their neighbor, fans of the Bears and Bulls will be rooting hard for the U.S. this weekend. The tension in the Ryder Cup, at least since the U.S. victory at Kiawah Island in 1991, has come largely from the crowds. The players themselves are buddies, or “mates” as Poulter called them.
Matt Kuchar of the U.S. said, “We seem to see each other all the time, week in and week out. Justin Rose has kids similar in ages to mine, so we see a lot of Justin and Kate and their kids.”
Said Bubba Watson, perhaps the most emotionally patriotic U.S. player: “We’re friends with all of them. We know their families. It’s just that trophy. It’s just that little trophy that we want to win so bad. So it’s really not a dislike for the other team. It’s a dislike for any opponent, no matter who the opponent is.”
Maybe familiarity has helped the Europeans win four of the past five competitions. “That somehow boosts your confidence,” said captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
It can still get “spicy” on the course, said Graeme McDowell, who scored the deciding singles victory for Europe two years ago in Wales. But he added, “The days of hostility, I think, are gone. I think. Well, I say that. We’ll see.”