Golf

Will fans revert to rowdy ways at Cup?

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson and the Americans could use some home cookin'.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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CHICAGO

In Colin Montgomerie’s curious world view, American fans at recent Ryder Cups have behaved only because of the despicable terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I think the world changed, I mean the Ryder Cup and sporting events, when America played internationally since 9/11,” says Europe’s victorious captain of two years ago.

“America realized we were their allies, their great allies. But that was 12 years ago, and time moves on.”

Consequently, Monty is now warning Jose Maria Olazabal’s Europeans that things might get ugly outside the ropes this week at Medinah Country Club.

Presumably, he worries that Chicago fans might ignore fractious geopolitical realities and cheer too loudly for the red, white and blue.

“I have a slight fear that it is going to be very difficult for us Europeans to perform to our potential in a very difficult place to be,” he says.

“America, when they want (the cup) back, is a difficult place to have to play golf.

“I do hope everyone realizes that and allow the Europeans to play to their potential which, unfortunately, on the Sunday of the Ryder Cup in 1999, that wasn’t available to us.”

Montgomerie, of course, just won’t let Brookline go.

“I just hope that nobody is targeted in the way that some particular players were in ’99. I hope those days are behind us, I really do, and I hope the etiquette of the game shines through and not anything else,” he says.

The fans that week in Boston were certainly over the top, the behavior of some reprehensible, but would anyone remember them if the Europeans hadn’t choked in the Sunday singles?

It’s convenient to blame rowdy cigar-chomping uncouth fans, or the trophy wives of American players for running on the green when Justin Leonard’s Hail Mary putt found the bottom of the cup — Olazabal still had a putt to tie — but the truth is Ben Crenshaw’s team rallied magnificently on that Sunday and Mark James’ men wilted.

And Monty equally conveniently forgets that what happened at Brookline had its roots in the '80s, when the Seve Ballesteros-led Europeans not only started beating the US, but enjoyed rubbing American noses in it.

The genteel sportsmanship that had been the hallmark of what was a relatively uninteresting exhibition turned into battles in the '90s, given names like The War by the Shore (Kiawah Island, 1991) and the Battle of Brookline.

Thankfully, those days are over.

And while the détente has come in the past 10 years, it has nothing to do with 9/11 and everything to do with the globalization of golf.

In 1999, all 12 of the European team members flew together from London to Boston. None played on the PGA Tour and few would have counted American pros among their circle of friends.

This week, only three of Olazabal’s men — Paul Lawrie, Nicolas Colsaerts and Francesco Molinari — are flying to Chicago from Heathrow.

MEASURING CUPS

Did the 39th Ryder Cup compare to the five best of all time?

The rest of the European team members either live in the US or spend most of their time here. Five of them played at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

“Thinking that we all play in America, Luke Donald lives in Chicago and they like Rory (McIlroy) and Lee (Westwood), no, no, no, this is the Ryder Cup, this is different, and we’re not silly enough not to realize this is the case,” Mongtomerie says.

But it is different, Monty.

The matches two years ago at Celtic Manor had an edge because Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were feuding. But it was not really very edgy and not really much of a feud.

Rory put Tiger’s nose out of joint by saying any European would love to play him in the singles given the state of his game at the time. Tiger let it be known he didn’t appreciate the smack talk.

European players and caddies wore big curly wigs to show their support for the young Northern Irishman during practice rounds.

In the end, nothing happened.

Indeed, now Woods and McIlroy, the two top-ranked players in the world, are BFFs.

There were no such bromances among opposing stars in the '80s or '90s.

Nick Faldo’s haughtiness rubbed all the top American players the wrong way, as did Seve, who had a habit of coughing or jingling coins in his pocket when his opponents were swinging.

On the US side, men like Lanny Wadkins, Paul Azinger, Corey Pavin — who ill-advisedly wore a camouflage hat in 1991 — and Payne Stewart weren’t known for their diplomacy.

“In ’97, I wouldn’t have known the likes of Freddie (Couples), Davis (Love III), Tom Lehman,” says Europe’s unofficial playing captain at Medinah, Lee Westwood.

“It was definitely ‘them and us.’ But it’s not anymore. We play with each other regularly now; there is no (feud) which might have born out of unfamiliarity.

“But there’s a will to win and a desire to win and when you walk on to that first tee, you’ve taken sides and you desperately want to beat them. But then you walk off and it’s back to having a drink on Sunday night and being mates.”

"We are just more familiar with them now," says US captain Davis Love III. "They are our friends. That doesn't make it any less competitive. It makes the tea room party on Sunday night a lot more fun."

As Samuel Ryder, the English businessman who started the competition in 1927, would’ve wanted.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Jose Maria Olazabal, Davis Love III, Tom Lehman, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood

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