Americans’ goal to take ‘home’ away from Rome

Americans’ goal to take ‘home’ away from Rome
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GUIDONIA MONTCELIO, Italy – If there’s any player uniquely prepared for the atmosphere of an away Ryder Cup, it’s Brian Harman.

Earlier this summer, on his way to an emphatic victory at Royal Liverpool that snuffed any drama out of the year’s final major, the crafty left-hander was stopped dead in his tracks by a boisterous fan who looked him in the eyes and woofed: “Harman, you don’t have the stones for this!”

That might seem tame compared to what he could hear this week at his first Ryder Cup.

When examining why the Americans have failed to win on foreign soil in three decades, the most significant reason might also be the simplest: the effect of the partisan crowd. Since 2000, the road team has won just twice overall, and that included the miracle at Medinah in 2012, when the Europeans matched the largest final-day rally in history. Quite simply, it’s hard to win in enemy territory. Loud and proud, the crowd has proven influential enough to overwhelm the visitors while also buoying the home team.

“I don’t think there’s any way to prepare for it,” Harman said this week. “I expect them to be as fervent and I expect to be at times overwhelmed by it.”

Harman compared the experience to close friends who are expecting their first child. “I don’t think there’s any way you’re ever totally ready. There’s nothing you can tell them to get ready for it. No – your life is going to change, and it’s going to be really hard, but you’ll get through it. There’s lots of people that have done it, and it’s up to you how you handle it.”

Harman, in particular, has always owned a competitive mean streak, a simmering intensity born from slights about his game, his length, his height, whatever. Perhaps most famously, at the 2009 NCAAs, he ran down Rickie Fowler in singles when Fowler and his coach forgot to put back the flag before heading to the next tee. That was all it took to set him off.

Now, Harman and Fowler are teammates, united by the task of not just blocking out the noise but creating the sweetest sound of all in these spirited away games.


That’s what Max Homa noticed when he rewatched some of the most recent away Ryder Cups – how quiet the spectators fell when the Americans mounted a (rare) charge. It was no different than a visiting team storms in, jumps ahead by two touchdowns late, and then runs out the clock as fans stream toward the exits.

“If you can get it into your mind that you’d like to make a bunch of people sad, it’s also great. That’s something I’ve been thinking of,” Homa said. “Although I won’t get the cheers when I do something great this week, I will crave a lot of silence.”

It’s the only event all year during which professional golfers are actively rooted against by a multitude. That’d never happen on the regular Tour, of course; fans have the choice to follow any player in the field, and they’re most likely to spend their time (and hard-earned cash) watching someone they actually enjoy.

The battle lines are just more clearly drawn at Marco Simone, a true home-field advantage.

“We were all athletes in many different sports,” Wyndham Clark said, “and I think we all said, Hey, we love that it’s an away game. We feel like we can quiet the crowd, and it would be even more fun and more enjoyable to win on the road.”

For two Ryder Cups, Spieth partnered primarily with a polar-opposite personality in Patrick Reed, who seemed energized by hostile environments. The louder they roared against him, the better he played – and the more he toyed with them, shushing them, whooping it up, cupping his hand to his ear.

“When he felt insulted, he turned the notch up,” Spieth said. “But when I feel insulted, I don’t turn it up or down – I’m just like, OK, they are drunk, move on.

“I’ve also shouted plenty of things at sporting events at people that I have no reason to do, so I also try to say, well, pot and kettle, and recognize that it’s all just sport and move on.”

And yet, for players accustomed to unfettered love and affection from fans throughout the year, the experience can still be jarring. Collin Morikawa recalled being taken aback by what happened at the 2021 Open, when the relative major newcomer kept both Spieth and Louis Oosthuizen at bay. They might not have cheered on Morikawa as he played the back nine at Royal St. George’s, but then he was the beloved favorite, no doubt, at the trophy presentation. That dynamic will only be intensified here in Rome.

“We’re still going to have some fans out here in the red, white and blue,” Morikawa said, “and you’ve got to embrace what it is, but that’s just an extra task that we’re going to have to step forward to.”

The Ryder Cup also taps into a player’s more primal instincts. It’s head-to-head, me-versus-you, us-versus-them. There’s never been more familiarity between the two sides, the majority of team members competing against each other on a weekly basis on the PGA Tour and living in close proximity in South Florida. But this week, in such an emotional environment, and with so much at stake for both team and individual legacies, everything changes.

One of Justin Thomas’ closest friends on Tour is Rory McIlroy, and they squared off in Sunday singles in 2018. The stakes couldn’t have been higher: The Americans desperately need a point from Thomas to cut into the 10-6 deficit. The Europeans wanted to set the tone by trotting out their best player first.

“We hated each other for 18 holes,” Thomas said. “It’s nothing personal. It’s not a dislike as a person. My wife even knows: If Jill teed it up in the Ryder Cup for the other team, I’m going to try to beat her pretty bad.”

But as Thomas knows well, tensions always rise in this format. Maybe it’s a short putt that wasn’t conceded. Perhaps it’s an act of showboating the opponent felt was disrespectful. It could be a controversial ruling that swings the momentum. It doesn’t always have to be as direct as the jeer Harman heard at The Open – because, sometimes, simply thinking about the hate is enough.

“I love the story Michael Jordan told about the guy that talked trash to him, and he goes out and scores 40 and the guy never said a word to him,” Harman said. “Just totally made up. I love that story.”

Of course he did. Forever in search of the next slight, there should be no shortage of material this week at Marco Simone.

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