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Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter


Back when he was named to captain the European side in the Ryder Cup, Padraig Harrington probably never imagined one of his duties would be to be walking around Whistling Straits with a plastic hat shaped like a giant wedge of cheese on his head.

But the Irishman and his players did that on Wednesday, hoping that the cheddar caps, along with the uniforms sporting the colours of the Green Bay Packers, might soothe the home-state fans just a little bit.

 “It's lighthearted,” admitted Harrington. “You want it that way in practice.”

It’s a case of enjoy-it-while-you-can because once the opening tee shot is hit, the locals will no doubt start in with their partisan chants, a few of which will no doubt cross the line. Not even Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers could quiet these braying beasts.

The Ryder Cup is the one major golf event where it’s Us versus Them. Harrington knows that from playing in six Ryder Cups and serving as a vice-captain three other times.

Away games, such as this one, can be tough, especially for those who haven’t been in one before. But the European team is stacked with veterans who know what to expect. Only three team members – Shane Lowry, Viktor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger – are making their debuts.

“Obviously, Europe has a strong team when it comes to experience,” said Harrington. “That's quite relevant when you're playing an away match.”

The atmosphere is unlike any other in golf, with the decibel level of the fans soaring with chants for their side and against the opposition. There’s also the pressure of playing for 11 teammates, a rarity in what is usually an individual pursuit.

That’s why having players such as Lee Westwood, appearing in his 11th Ryder Cup, Sergio Garcia, making his 10th start, and Ian Poulter, playing for the seventh time, is vital for the European team.

“This is different this week,” said Westwood. “This is more like a football game or a basketball game where people have picked a side and you cheer for your side, which I enjoy it. That's what the Ryder Cup is all about.”

The down side of that experience, however, is that it also means old. The European team has an average age of 34.5 compared to 28.9 for the Americans. That’s not an advantage on a hard-slogging course such as Whistling Straits. For instance, Westwood, at 48, isn’t likely to play all five matches.

“We all know in Ryder Cups there's a fine line between playing too much, trying to stay fresh, fine line, 36 holes a day,” said Harrington. “Obviously I have a slightly older team, experienced team, pretty fit team. That's the one thing about it. We're not struggling in that sense.

“Some of the older guys, like you could put a Sergio or a Paul Casey, they're fairly fit and strong. You don't see them having any issues with playing 36 holes if they have to. But yeah, it's something I would be aware of that we don't want to burn players out before the weekend, before Sunday.”

It’s the middle of that age/experience pack on which Harrington will be relying. Players such as Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm will be expected to play all five rounds and produce as many points as possible.

While Harrington hasn’t tipped his hands to any pairings, it’s possible that McIlroy would play with Hovland while Westwood and Garcia could reunite for the first time since 2004. They have a record of 5-1 when paired up.

The European pairings have been set and strategies relayed to the players. The team will start as the underdogs as they have so many times in the past and hope to emerge as champions as they have more often than not.