HAVEN, Wis. – The fun is over – well almost – and things are getting serious at the 43rd Ryder Cup.
Clearly the European team, which has won four of the last five Ryder Cups, is well prepared. Captain Padraig Harrington, in a clear move to soften the passions of the partisan American crowd, had his players walk out to practice on Wednesday wearing the colors of the Green Bay Packers. Not only that, but the players sported Cheeseheads gear instead of golf caps and then – once the stunt was warmly received – tossed their Cheeseheads into the crowd.
“It was respectful of the Green Bay Packers, and they were very much on board with it,’’ said Harrington. “We got a nice reception with it. Obviously business starts on Friday but, at the moment, the players are enjoying it.’’
“Business’’ really starts on Thursday. Friday’s pairings and matchups for the morning rounds will be announced on Thursday afternoon prior to the Opening Ceremonies at Whistling Straits.
With a roster filled with veteran players who have enjoyed great success in recent Ryder Cups, Harrington isn’t expected to do anything extraordinary. U.S. captain Steve Stricker could, however.
One possibility is a pairing, at some point in the three-day competition, of Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka. They’ve been feuding for months, which presents an unnecessary diversion for the U.S.
This week, though, they met on the practice range and talked briefly. When their chat ended the gallery cheered, clearly suggesting that they wanted peace between the two – at least for this week.
Koepka wasn’t available for comment, but DeChambeau was.
“A lot of this social media stuff has definitely been driven by external factors, not necessarily between us two,’’ he said. “We had some great conversations Tour Championship Week when we had dinner, and then this week as well. I had dinner with him last night, and it was fine.’’
Then DeChambeau suggested what was once unthinkable a few weeks ago.
“There might be something up here moving forward, but I won’t speak too much more on that,’’ said DeChambeau, leading some to suggest they might compete as a team this week.
Stricker called the DeChambeau-Koepka feud “a non-issue.’’
“As for them playing together, probably not,’’ said Stricker. “But that could change.’’
This American side needs a spark with two of its most popular stars, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, not competing. Had the matches gone on as scheduled in 2020 both might well of have been on the U.S. team but things changed a lot since then. Woods, has been sidelined since a Feb. 27 auto accident and Mickelson is here only as one of Stricker’s vice captains.
Woods has no official role on the team, but there’s some speculation he could be called in for emergency help. He could make a surprise visit to give the team a pep talk, but Stricker is being coy about that.
“Having him come here is probably not going to happen,’’ said Stricker. “He’s been in my ear a lot, and he’s part of what we do. It’s just not a good time for him to be here physically because of where he’s at in his rehabilitation. His focus is on getting back to play, and we don’t want to get in the way of that.’
The reigning PGA champion, Mickelson’s mediocre play in the fall prevented Stricker from choosing him as a player even though Mickelson holds two American records for Ryder longevity.
No American has played in more Ryder Cups than Mickelson, who has been in 12, and none have played in more matches. MIckelson has been in 47 but, despite all those opportunities, his 18-22-7 record leaves him down the list as far as points and wins are concerned.
That leaves Stricker with only four players over 30 years old, Dustin Johnson being the oldest at 38. Being his team’s senior citizen doesn’t bother Johnson, but the recent Ryder Cup results do.
“They’ve played better than us,’’ said Johnson. “It isn’t rocket science. Definitely our team is a little different. We’re young, but we still have a lot of experience. Teams of the past had tons of experience, and that didn’t work out so well.’’