The opening press conference of this year’s Ryder Cup was a friendly affair between Captains Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker at Whistling Straits. Far from trading blows, the opposing skippers batted away questions with relative ease, rightly refusing to create headlines on tournament week in Wisconsin.
It was very much a case of both Captains delivering prepared stock answers to the media in attendance on Monday until Harrington was asked what the common rallying point was for Europe to get behind, given it was obvious that Team USA were all playing for their country.
“Seve,” Harrington said without hesitation. “Pretty straightforward. Seve.”
Indeed, the driving force behind Europe bridging the gap on the Americans had always been Seve. It all started in 1979 when GB&I became the Continent of Europe in a bid to level the playing field against the Americans. It was a debut to forget in many ways for the Spaniard, winning one point from five matches as he bemoaned the bias with which the course had been set up to favour the Americans who ran out easy winners.
A sore loser? The Americans sure thought so, but Seve’s hatred, at least competitively, for the Americans fuelled a passion that captured the imagination of golf fans the world over, and Team Europe, too. In 1985, after 13 failed attempts to beat them, it was a Seve inspired Europe that would finally taste victory at The Belfry, while the Americans would at long last taste the bitter pill of defeat after some 28 years.
During the next six stagings, Europe would win three and retain the cup in another. In each of those six, two points or less was the victory margin. Seve would play in five and, in an emotional homecoming, be a winning captain at Valderrama in the sixth. His partnership with Jose Maria Olazabal is the most successful in the history of the Ryder Cup, winning seven out of a possible eight points in the tied championship in ’89 and at the notorious Kiawah Island War on the Shore in 1991, and 12 of a possible 15 across four Ryder Cups. No wonder then that Harrington didn’t have to think twice before singling out Europe’s common denominator.
“It started with Seve in the ’80s,” Harrington continued. “He pushed for this to become continental Europe rather than Great Britain and Ireland and it was a way for Seve to legitimise The European Tour. It was a way to give The European Tour a standing.
“The great players in Europe at the time didn’t get great access to play in all the best events in the world. Seve was always fighting against that, the tide in that. And playing and winning in The Ryder Cup was the way to say that Europe deserved a seat at the table.
“You look at the great players we had in the ’80s and a lot came from Seve and those players to drive Europe into a much stronger position in world golf, and you know, without a doubt we rely on Seve for that. We are here to very much play for the European Tour.
“When I’m playing in Europe at the moment for the last couple weeks, South African players, Australian players and Asian players play come up to me and wish me luck and are rooting for us because they know it’s a big part of our Tour, how we do in The Ryder Cup. So yes, the technicality of qualifying has been born in Continental Europe but the reality is we are playing for The European Tour.”
There’s no doubt that Seve would’ve relished the European invasion this week at Whistling Straits. Behind enemy lines, this year’s travel restrictions on flights from Europe to America means it’s very much a case of entering the lion’s den for Team Europe. It’s always lopsided when it comes to an away assignment at the Ryder Cup anyway but this year it’s even more so – not that Harrington’s complaining given at one point during this Ryder Cup cycle the talk had been around playing the event without fans altogether.
“From our perspective, our players play for the glory of this event,” Harrington added. “If there was 40,000 U.S. fans and no Europeans, we’d prefer that than having no fans. That’s just the reality.
“We want the noise. We want the excitement. We want the buzz of it all. Yes, the players will have to deal with it and yes, they will have to embrace it. But they wouldn’t want the alternative. Having no fans is no fun. They will enjoy it.
“We expect a loud crowd. We expect excitement, and the players should be well-prepared for it. It’s not like they haven’t seen it before. After all, it is only golf. It’s pretty safe inside the ropes. I don’t think they need to worry about too much.”
Listen to our Ryder Cup preview with Paul McGinley below
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