McDowell declares hostility a thing of the past

Graeme McDowell expects a loud not a hostile reception in Chicago. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ieThe “War by the Shore” of 1991 and the “Battle of Brookline” of 1999 will forever be marked in the annals of Ryder Cup infamy for European Ryder Cup players. But whether Chicago will add its name to the list of nefarious American venues or go down in history as Europe’s kind of town, as Sinatra once crooned, remains to be seen.

Colin Montgomerie, the Mrs Doubtfire caricature that was a favourite target of abuse for US fans for years, has led a small chorus of European voices who believes that some of Jose María Olazábal’s troops will be singled out for special abuse in one of America’s greatest sporting cities.

US skipper Davis Love III wants the 40,000 fans from the home of the Bulls, the Cubs, the White Sox, the Bears and the Blackhawks to name some of the major sports franchises in town, to make themselves heard.

“When we travel over there, it’s tough on us,” he said this week. “When they travel over here, it’s tough on them. Chicago is an incredible sports town and the fans are going to be fired up. The first tee could be the loudest any of these guys have ever seen.”

Loud is one thing. But hostile and abusive? Only Montgomerie and Lee Westwood fear that things could get out of hand again and that more than the odd lone lunatic will try and get under European skins.

The fact is that times have changed since 1999. And 1991 is now so far removed from the reality of PGA Tour life for Europe’s top stars that it seems like a vague nightmare from the dark ages.

Eight of the 12-strong European team now have homes in America and seven of them play the PGA Tour full-time. The world No 1, Rory McIlroy, is arguably the most popular golfer in America and his friend, Graeme McDowell, speaks with such a strong mid-Atlantic twang since his student days in Alabama that he could be mistaken for a good ol’ boy.

Even Luke Donald, that most English of Englishmen, graduated from Northwestern University and lives in Chicago with his wife and two children. It’s all far removed from those early European raiding parties that beached on American shores.

Just three European team members flew in on Monday. The rest were already in their second home, such as 2010 US Open winner McDowell, who believes that the days of hostility have gone the way of persimmon and balata.

“To me, the only thing that Davis can do this week is to set the golf course up for scoring to get the crowds on their feet, and to get them charged up from the word go…. So I’d say he’s trying to get the crowd on his side as best he can, because there’s no doubt, as much golf as the Europeans play here in the States, I think the crowds like the European golfers.  They have embraced them as PGA Tour players.  

“You know, the days of hostility I think are gone.  I think, of course, the crowd are going to be on the Americans’ side, that’s inevitable, but the hostility is gone a little bit to a certain extent.”

Donald concurred recently, explaining: ““We will see what happens. You never know, but hopefully the days of disrespecting the away team are out the window.

“Sure give your team support, but there’s no room in this game for being disrespectful. I think it has changed. In ’99 there weren’t too many of us playing in the US – now three-quarters of us are and we are very well-known. I think that helps.”

Even Westwood, the victim of some personal abuse at Valhalla in Kentucky four years ago, has now moved his family to Florida.

McDowell can’t remember a negative incident from his Ryder Cup debut in Kentucky in 2008

“I’ve never really experienced any hostility,” he said. “You get the odd stupid comment but they don’t even merit a response. You will miss a putt and it will be cheered but you have to expect that, it just goes with the territory this week.

“I think the days of hostility are over but I could be wrong. Perhaps they are all going to be given a little script when they walk in the door - here’s things to say to the Europeans. Nah. I feel like our team is very well respected in this part of the world now.”

What happens when the beer starts to flow remains to be seen.

At Valhalla, Westwood was fuming after Europe’s defeat, complaining: “’I have been abused from start to finish. Some of the stuff that’s been said to me this week is shameful.  There was one particularly offensive reference to my mother  on the 12th tee. To me that’s not golf.”

He’s more phlegmatic these days, confessing: “I don’t get too wound up any more.”

The Worksop man simply laughed at the fan dressed as a ghost who leapt out in front of him and shouted “Boo” in his face four years ago.

But McDowell is more worried about bomb disposal than halloween costumes.

“There’s no doubt, there’s a world of difference between playing in front of your home fans and playing in front of the US fans,” he said yesterday. “Putts that drop in front of your home fans are like a bomb going off and putts that go in this weekend will be like someone’s got the silencer on.  It’s kind of a muted applause.”

Putting his fingers to his lips in a shushing gesture, he said: “We’ve got to make sure we give them plenty of that.”

US stalwart Jim Furyk is clear about America’s plan - get the crowd on your side.

“I know the Chicago fans are good fans.  I know they are loud.  I know they are boisterous.  I think that’s what I’m expecting to hear.

“I know the European fans, even with, say, 3,000 fans here, they can make a lot of noise.  That’s what they are good at.  They have their soccer chants and songs.  That’s part of their culture as far as, you know, being heard, being loud.  They are good fans, as well.

“But I know that 37,000 Americans can drown out 3,000 Europeans if they want toand that’s kind of what happened at Valhalla a little bit.  They let them have their fun for a while, and then when they got tired of it, they just started, “USA, USA” and made enough noise that you couldn’t hear them anymore.

“Our job will be to get out there, try to make a good start, make some birdies and engage the crowd and show some emotion ourselves.  I think if we can do that, I think the rest of the world will find out how good the sports fans here in Chicago are.”