Looks like a pretty low-key week golfwise, just a dozen European cheeseheads out in Wisconsin trying to charm the locals into silence ahead of a Ryder Cup that is more or less off limits to away fans and will be awash with red, white and blue.
A dog-walking friend of mine was puzzled by the lumps of cheese sported by the players as they emerged on to the first tee during practice. She caught a glimpse of a load of eejits wearing lumps of yellowy-orange plastic on their heads and immediately assumed it was some sort of quaint American idiocy. “No, those were the Europeans,” I said. “Wisconsin’s renowned for its cheese.”And famous for the Green Bay Packers too, of course, a football (American) team of some note, historically at any rate. Fans of the Packers – and people from Wisconsin – are nicknamed cheeseheads. As lonelyplanet.com put it: “Wisconsin is cheesy and proud of it. The state pumps out 2.5 billion pounds of cheddar, Gouda and other smelly goodness – a quarter of America’s hunks – from its cow-speckled farmland per year. Local licence plates read ‘The Dairy State’ with udder dignity….” Excruciating but irresistible and in my defence I’m only quoting…. A couple of weeks ago the European Solheim Cup team managed to keep tens of thousands of would-be rowdy US fans quiet in Toledo, Ohio and won the trophy, against most of the odds, for the second time in a row. The visiting players celebrated their successes but not in an aggressive, IN-YOUR-FACE sort of way, mindful that they didn’t want to antagonise the crowd, just dampen their enthusiasm by keeping the home team under the cosh, struggling to make an impact.
Catriona Matthew, Europe’s captain, victorious at Gleneagles and then, uniquely, at Inverness (the first European captain to win home and away), is still in America and was at Whistling Straits to receive the plaudits at the Ryder Cup opening ceremony. Padraig Harrington, eloquent and relaxed on the podium, will be hoping to emulate that remarkable triumph.
It’s going to be tough, not least because something makes me think of Seve in charge at Valderrama – how on earth could Europe lose? The players couldn’t, wouldn’t let Seve down, at home, in Spain. It just couldn’t happen. Well, Europe did win. But only just, hauled to the finish on a wave of raw emotion.
Steve Stricker is no Seve but he’s a quietly passionate man and he’s at home, in Wisconsin, a place he loves with all his heart. And his players love him, respect his honesty and his quiet confidence, surely that and the raucous home support will give them the edge? The USA’s recent Ryder Cup record is, frankly, abysmal. They’ve won only two of the last nine contests though those two, at home, were won by sizeable margins and it beggars belief that they could lose again. But Padraig Harrington is a wily old campaigner, no less passionate or likeable than Stricker. Which of them is going to be disappointed and have to put a brave face on defeat? Or could it be a draw, with Europe, as the holders, taking the cup home again?
Who knows? I’ve listened to some of the endless “Live From The Ryder Cup” build-up and I’m really none the wiser when it comes to predicting the result. Who’s playing the best? Who’s going to hole the putts that matter? Are the Euros too old and past their best? Are the Americans an irresistible force?
That remains the great unknown but the great thing is that all will be revealed over the next three days (weather permitting – it chucked it down before the opening ceremony) and we’ll be off and running later today.
To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, you’ll be glad to know that my new clubs are not, after all, infallible. I had my first 20-yard nobble (off the tee) a few days ago, much to the amusement of several interested spectators who were playing an adjoining hole and asking if the new clubs were living up to the promise of their first outing. Talk about getting my comeuppance!
There was another chastening outing a couple of days later when I schlepped back down to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (just off White Hart Lane) – car to Milton Keynes, then coach – to see Spurs demolished by Chelsea in the second half. The score was 3-0 to them but it could easily have been 5 or 6 as we were overrun. Ah well, back to the training ground.
To end on a more cheerful note, many congratulations to Ireland on winning the R&A men’s home internationals and the Raymond Trophy at Hankley Common last weekend. Having beaten Scotland and Wales, they halved their last match, against England, 7 1/2 – 7 1/2, despite losing the foursomes 4-1, a stunning comeback.