American Captain Davis Love III has already promised an atmosphere like no other and the European team fully expect to experience the fervent support of the home crowd, but will the 13th man make or break the Ryder Cup for one team?
In the preamble to the tournament, both sets of players have been at pains to stress their delight with the potential crowd at Medinah, and they have stressed that they hope that the support will be loud and long, yet respectful for both teams.
There are no doubts that the crowd at Medinah Country Club this weekend will provide the first two, the question is, will they also remain respectful?
The nadir of the Ryder Cup came in Brookline in 1999, when one of the greatest comebacks ever witnessed in sport by the United States team, was overshadowed by the antics on the course of a few their team members and several ‘fans’.
European players were routinely abused at the tee and in the middle of taking shots and that was not the only form of gamesmanship in evidence at that event as is evident by this little known story, recounted by Mark James in his controversial book “Into the Bear Pit”.
In his singles match with Andrew Coltart, the Scot hit his ball into the crowd and could not find it despite a thorough search. It cost him a two shot penalty that effectively lost him the hole against Tiger Woods.
After Coltart had declared the ball lost and played his second, American fans in the crowd were seen high-fiving and, strangely, Coltart’s first ball was then found. It was heavily embedded into the turf, almost as if it had been stood upon.
The ball may have plugged had it hit soft ground straight from the air, but Coltart and Woods clearly heard the ball hit the trees and in such circumstances, the chances of a ball hitting a tree and then embedding almost fully in relatively hard ground, is almost non-existent.
At the time, Coltart was just a hole behind Tiger Woods but went on to lose his match by three. Having declared his ball lost and already played his second, he could no longer play the first ball. Had Coltart won that game, Europe would have won the 1999 Ryder Cup.
In a more well documented case, so bad was the foul-mouthed, personal abuse received by Colin Montgomerie, his American opponent, Payne Stewart, pleaded with the home fans to leave him alone and show him the respect he deserved.
Fortunately, since Brookline, things have improved markedly, but it would be premature to suggest that the both teams are confident that the same problems could not happen again.
The Chicago crowd is likely to be large, vocal and volatile. Natives of Chicago are not famed for their restraint and if they are able to give the home side an advantage, then you can bet that they will.Let’s hope that advantage manifests itself in fair sporting terms, rather than the unsavoury scenes that have been witnessed in the past.
It is fair and right that the American team enjoy all the advantages of a fervent home support. Yet a careful line must be tread here. One that ensures that support should not turn from rallying the US team, into an abuse of their guests to try and put them off their game, or worse still, a bending of the rules to hand the US team an unfair advantage.
The essence of Ryder Cup is of fierce competition, but also of fair one too. The minute that balance is upset, you end up with the acrimonious fall out that was the lingering memory of Brookline in 1999.
It is also, somewhat peculiarly, only a problem on American soil. There have been few, if any, complaints about the antics of European fans over the years. To be fair, the last two Ryder Cup’s held in America have also seen exemplary behaviour from the home fans too.
Indeed, it is only Brookline in 1991 and, arguably, Kiawah Island in 1991, that has seen this sort of raucous behaviour. All the Ryder Cup’s held since 2002 have been conducted with precisely the kind of support players want to hear, loud and vocal in support of the home team but entirely respectful of their opponents.
In essence, let’s hope that the behaviour of the 13th man at Medinah echoes that of recent events and if the ‘13th Man’ is to inspire the American team to victory, that it is achieved in a way that remains respectful to the ideals upon which the competition and indeed the game of golf, was founded in the first place.
All Pictures Courtesy of Ryder Cup, Andrew Coltart & Colin Montgomerie Facebook pages.