The loudest cheers on Wednesday on the first tee erupted shortly before 10 a.m., when the Europeans pulled off a masterstroke in their charm offensive.
Dressing in green striped outfits was one thing. As he entered this arena of foaming cheese heads, a raw, elated response elicited from the crowded grandstand. Throwing the hat at the crowd and putting on green caps instead caused another roar of approval.
This is the largest sporting event ever held in this remote state known nationally for two things: cheese and the Green Bay Packers. On a rainy Monday night at Lambeau Field, where the Packers played their first home game of the new NFL season, the cheeseheads were almost as ubiquitous among the 77,000 fans in attendance as green jerseys.
The Europa team wore foam cheese heads when they came to practice on Wednesday
Getting the crowd on the side was a strategy devised by Captain Padraig Harrington (center)
Getting the golfing public on board was a strategy devised by captain Padraig Harrington more than 18 months ago that contributed to the perception that playing for Europe at the Ryder Cup always looks much more fun and relaxed.
“Our clothing designers then came up to me and said they wanted to bring some Irish colors into the outfits,” revealed the skipper, whose cousin Joey Harrington used to play for the Detroit Lions, the team that defeated the Packers on Monday.
“I don’t like that kind of thing, so I said, ‘Why don’t we do something with a Wisconsin theme, especially the Green Bay Packers?’ Look, it’s kind of fun. It is light and that is how you want it in practice.
“It’s respectful to the Packers, they agree, and the players are pretty excited to be able to show their appreciation for the American state we’re playing in.
“Obviously the business starts on Friday, but we want the players to have fun with the crowd until then. And I have to say the audience was amazing. They came out here in droves on a cold day and we want to give them something to look at.”
Inevitably Ian Poulter was the center of attention and fans told them to cheer as he prepared to drive away. Be careful what you wish for. ‘USA! USA!’ they refrain.
He took it in the spirit it intended, and they applauded him back as he walked off the tee, all thumbs up if he didn’t clap like a footballer who was replaced just before the end of the game after a winning contribution.
For longtime Ryder Cup observers, it was all reminiscent of Oakland Hills, Detroit, in 2004, when Harrington was part of a Europe team that played on American soil for the first time since Brookline’s infamy in 1999, where the unruly fans created a environment that looks more like a bear pit.
All the conversation leading up to that was whether we could expect more of the same. Captain Bernhard Langer, the skipper Harrington resembles in so many ways, pulled the stinger by sending his players to the ropes of the gallery and making sure they signed more than their share of signatures.
The European team was in high spirits in their nod to NFL franchise Green Bay Packers
The charm led to a Ryder Cup played in a peaceful atmosphere, which resulted in a record win for Europe in an away game. Harrington acknowledged the comparison.
“All the players are there to go with the crowd,” he said. “Because of Covid we are of course not allowed to sign autographs, so we are doing what we can to make it a pleasant time.
“It was a nod to Wisconsin and the Packers and we’re glad the fans were so grateful for what we were trying to do.”
The Dubliner cut an impressive, relaxed figure as he conducted his daily press conference. Usually by the middle of the week the captains begin to tire of this ritual, but not the articulate 50-year-old.
“Oh, you know me, I like to talk,” he said afterwards, as he made his way to a television studio.
Rory McIlroy is on the European side trying to keep the Ryder Cup in Wisconsin this weekend
There had been a typically classy gesture at the end of his press section, when the Irish Independent man had unsuccessfully raised his hand to ask a question.
“Ah, come on, you should let the Irishman ask his question, he’s come a long way,” Harrington said with a smile.
It was also a good question whether there were any players who had exceeded expectations in the team room, as Harrington emphasized the man who was once his opponent.
“I think Sergio (Garcia),” he said. “I kind of knew this, but behind the scenes he works really, really hard. There is not a player on the team with whom he has ever had a quiet word.
The Northern Irishman was also part of the team that won the cup in Paris three years ago
‘Victor Hovland too. Because he was so young, I didn’t know him very well, but he is a lot of fun to be around. It adds that energy and freshness you need.’
As for the players on his team at the other end of the scale, he acknowledged that on a long and demanding course, he had to be careful about how much he asked of his veterans.
He hinted that especially 48-year-old Lee Westwood and 45-year-old Poulter will probably only play three games.
Harrington had another epiphany before leaving the scene. If Europe were to win, he confided that he would embrace the tradition Thomas Bjorn had set up last time in Paris, when the Dane went way out of his comfort zone and agreed to get a tattoo at the behest of his players as the prize for the win.
“It came up in a conversation and I went along with it, so yes, I’ll get my first tattoo if we win,” Harrington said.
‘Where on the body? Ah now, I can’t go down that road. Just to say I was relieved, that was all they asked.
“I would have agreed to a lot more for a win.”