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Fewer fans no worry for Harrington at Ryder Cup

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Ireland’s Padraig Harrington gestures on Day 1 of the PGA Championship at Wentworth Golf Club in Surrey, southwest of London on September 9. AFP

Fewer fans no worry for Harrington at Ryder Cup

Europe captain Padraig Harrington says bring on the noise from American fans at the Ryder Cup even if the Covid-19 pandemic reduces the number of Europe supporters at Whistling Straits.

After the biennial team golf showdown between US and Europe was postponed a year because no fans could have attended under 2020 pandemic safety rules, the Irishman doesn’t mind a hostile crowd when play starts Friday.

“Our players play for the glory of this event,” Harington said Monday. “If there was 40,000 US fans and no Europeans, we’d prefer that than having no fans. That’s just the reality.

“We want the noise. We want the excitement. We want the buzz of it all. Yes, the players will have to deal with it and yes, they will have to embrace it. But they wouldn’t want the alternative. Having no fans is no fun. They will enjoy it.”

European teams have won nine of the past 12 Ryder Cups, including the most recent in France in 2018, and three of the past six on US soil.

With such veterans as Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter on the squad, Europe knows what to expect with Covid-19 travel rules hindering European travel to the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan.

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

“We expect a loud crowd. We expect excitement, and the players should be well-prepared for it. It’s not like they haven’t seen it before. After all, it is only golf. It’s pretty safe inside the ropes. I don’t think they need to worry about too much.”

Harrington also isn’t worried about Spanish world number one Jon Rahm, who won the US Open in June, missing the cut last week in a US PGA Tour event.

“He was lifting very nicely in the gym today when I arrived,” the Irishman said. “I arrived in to find him too sweaty to give a hug to lifting some heavy weights. I said, ‘OK, things are looking good.’”

Harrington also said many of his players want to be paired in four-ball and foursomes on Friday and Saturday with the team’s second highest-ranked player, world number 14 Viktor Hovland of Norway, whom Harrington said could play in all five sessions.

“He’s not just a good player,” said Harrington. “They like the enthusiasm that he brings to the golf course. I think all the guys look at Viktor and we see the youthful exuberance that we once had. I think that’s why he’s such an attractive partner for anybody.”

Asked what helps unite European talent, Harrington said the emphasis the late Seve Ballesteros put on the Ryder Cup to bolster the European Tour has become a motivating force.

“Seve. Pretty straightforward. Seve,” he said. “It was a way for Seve to legitimise The European Tour . . . The great players in Europe didn’t get great access to play in all the best events in the world. Seve was always fighting against that. Winning the Ryder Cup was the way to say that Europe deserved a seat at the table.”

Plenty of options

Harrington says Europe enters with a game plan but can adapt quickly if it falls apart.

“There are unknowns, things change as you go on through the week,” he said. “We have plenty of options and that’s the main thing.”

Asked about the importance of a captain, Harrington said the Cup could come down to a single decision one makes, or about the atmosphere he creates over an entire week.

“If it’s going to be a tight game, which a lot of these are, the captain and the atmosphere he brings to his team can be the difference,” Harrington said.

“Many times, the captain will not be the actual difference but it’s possible that we could be the very difference at the end of the week.

“We have to prepare like we’re the ones that are going to make a little bit of a difference that just get our team across the line.”

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