By Mitch Phillips
PARIS (Reuters) – They might be 24 of the best players in the world but, if much of the Ryder Cup build up is to be believed, this year’s battle will be decided less by golfing prowess than on who is having the most fun in the team room.
Every two years, particularly when Europe win, the question arises about whether their ability to bond on and off the course is superior to the Americans and if so, why and how much it matters.
U.S. captain Jim Furyk, never exactly the life and soul of the party during his playing days, pretty much dismissed the concept on Tuesday along the lines of “the team which has the best team spirit is decided only once they’ve won.”
Yet the feeling persists that over the years the Americans have sometimes struggled to find that relaxed connection that seemed to help Europe thrive, particularly in the testing foursomes format where players play alternate shots.
And if anyone has come to epitomise the friendly spirit on the European side it is everyone’s favourite Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
He is appearing in his ninth Ryder Cup this week and though a relatively poor year form-wise meant he needed a captain’s pick, his selection was never in doubt for everything else he brings to the group.
“Everyone loves Sergio,” said Rory McIlroy on Wednesday. He’s fun-loving, he never lets the environment or the atmosphere get too serious, and I think that’s one of the big things about European Ryder Cups over the past few years. We’ve basically left any sort of egos at the door.
“I think the more you can keep that atmosphere in the team room the better and Sergio is great at just bringing that dynamic to everyone else.”
Garcia said he thrived on being part of a team in a sport where solitary focus is the norm.
“Golf is such a lonely game throughout the whole year so sometimes it’s nice to have a friend next to you who is cheering for you, and not only one, but another 10 behind that are doing the same thing,” he said.
“I feel like it helps me and it’s one of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed foursomes and fourballs.
“I think that probably, to be totally honest, is one of the reasons why the vice captains and the captain decided to have me on the team, not only for what I can bring on the course, but what I can bring outside.”
Four years ago, following defeat at Gleneagles, Phil Mickelson blasted Tom Watson’s captaincy in an outburst that led to the setting up of a task force to try to get the United States back on track.
It delivered immediate returns with victory at Hazeltine in 2016 but that spirit now faces the ultimate challenge of trying to find a way to win away for the first time in 25 years.
Furyk has no concerns. “This group is very easy when it comes to team and cohesion,” he said.
“They get on very well, they go on vacations, they hang out together. Most of these guys understand the dynamics of a team room and look forward to it.
“We try to breed that and we try to breed the team getting together and everyone taking care of each other, but really it’s one of my easiest jobs because it’s such an easy group.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)