KOHLER, Wisconsin (Reuters) – When the Ryder Cup gets underway on Friday the United States team members will be playing for their country and the Europeans will be playing for respect.
There may be different motivations but there is a singular goal, lifting the little gold trophy on Sunday in a fading Wisconsin sunset.
Whatever the inspiration, the Europeans have found more of it.
Held every two years (the 43rd edition was delayed a year by COVID-19) Europe have dominated the competition, winning nine of the last 12 events which alternate between U.S. and European venues.
In almost every recent Ryder Cup the U.S. have come in as heavy favourites, as they do this year with eight of their 12 players in the top 10 of the world rankings, but have failed to live up to their billing.
The one thread connecting the decades of European domination is the unified effort and passion they apply to competition, which U.S. teams have never been able to consistently match.
For European captain Padraig Harrington that spirit flows from one source, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, whose fiery commitment to the Ryder Cup instilled the passion that still burns within each European team member.
“Pretty straightforward. Seve. Started with Seve in the ’80s,” said Harrington. “He pushed for this to become continental 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,” he added.
“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, and playing and winning in The Ryder Cup was the way to say that Europe deserved a seat at the table.”
Mention the Ryder Cup to any European player and almost to a man Ballesteros’s name will pop up in the conversation, a talisman to motivate and guide the team.
The U.S. motivation has been more calculated.
“There’s two teams playing and there’s going to be a winner an there’s going to be a loser,” said Brooks Koepka. “It just comes down to who plays better, and I think it’s as simple as that.
“I think sometimes people look into it a little too much.
“It’s just you play good that week and you get a bunch of guys that play better than the other guys and you’re going to have a winner.”
Former world number one Dustin Johnson echoed his team mate’s views.
“They just play better. It’s really simple,” said Dustin Johnson. “Whoever plays better is going to win. I mean, it’s not rocket science.”
For the Europeans it is not quite the same straightforward calculus. Success is rooted in something deeper than the simple addition of pars, birdies and bogeys.
Being named in the Ryder Cup team brings with it the responsibility of holding high the torch they have been passed and it is not a task Europeans take for granted.
Despite being from different countries and cultures, and speaking different languages, the Ryder Cup has become a common cause that even newcomers like Norwegian Viktor Hovland and Austrian Bernd Wiesberger embrace.
“Just watching that as a European, that gets your heart going,” said Hovland, who will become the first Norwegian to play in a Ryder Cup. “That was kind of the big part of making the Ryder Cup one of my dreams to play in.
“It’s easier to play for something bigger than yourself when you all like who you’re with.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating, Editing by Ed Osmond)