Rivalry lacks the bite it has had in past years
U.S. Ryder Cup rookie Keegan Bradley was astonished by the intensity of the fans Tuesday at Medinah Country Club for a practice round, comparing them to a "Sunday crowd at a major."
But while Chicago promises to be revved up for the international competition between the United States and Europe, there has been a decided drop in the temperature as the 39th edition is set to tee off Friday morning. Gone is the animosity that characterized the competition in previous decades.
"There's definitely less of a 'them and us' type of thing now," European veteran Lee Westwood told reporters Wednesday.
Westwood is among a contingent of Europeans, including Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald, that American fans and players find difficult to dislike. By contrast to their predecessors, today's European standouts are active members of the PGA Tour, and most make their homes in America.
Jose Maria Olazabal remembers when his teammates came to America to play in the Ryder Cup, they all arrived in one plane. When he flew to Chicago last weekend, Olazabal, now the European captain, was accompanied by only three of his players.
"Definitely the team dynamic has changed over the years," Rose said. "Quite a few of us live in the same communities in Florida. Myself, Ian Poulter, Peter Hanson, Graeme McDowell, we're pretty much neighbors."
None of the Europeans is as Americanized as Donald, a Northwestern graduate who married a Chicago native and lives year-round in Illinois.
There were no European players like Donald 21 years ago when perhaps the most contentious Ryder Cup was contested at Kiawah Island (S.C.) and dubbed the "War at the Shore." European leaders Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo and Olazabal were much less familiar to American golf fans.
On Wednesday, American tormentor Poulter, who has won seven of nine possible points in the last two competitions, tried his best to stir it up.
"There's something about Ryder Cup which kind of intrigues me, how you can be great mates with somebody, but, boy, do you want to kill them in Ryder Cup," Poulter said. "It's passion like I've never seen before."