Curtis Strange has played on five U.S. Ryder Cup teams and captained another, but the 61-year-old American says this week’s 41st edition of the biennial matches at Hazeltine National stands out.
“It keeps getting bigger and better. This year, it’s phenomenal. Look at all the people. I’ve never seen such a mass of humanity,” Curtis Strange told Reuters with a chuckle during Saturday’s fourballs.
“The grounds can handle it, the golf course can handle it. And the play has been out of this world, I think.”
Crowds estimated at 50,000 have turned out for the match play competition that brings out the best in players and the partisan passions of their fans.
“That’s what this thing is all about, it’s the big roars,” said Strange. “And when you go over there, it’s the other side with the big roars.”
Cheering on your team, and dressing for the part, helps make the magic of the event, but sometimes behaviour can cross the line into breaches of golf etiquette including unsportsmanlike heckling.
Strange noticed the uptick in disruptive behaviour.
“It only takes a few, doesn’t it,” said Strange. “They’re policing it pretty well, I understand, but there’s a lot of people to police.
“You want to see the fans root really hard for their team but be polite to the other. Overall, it’s been like that, but there’s a few. You hate to see it. You want to respect the other team, they are our guests, in our country.”
“But you’ve got to remember, every hole is a different 5,000 or 10,000 people. It’s the Ryder Cup.”
Emotions at this Ryder Cup have been fuelled by a losing streak as Europe have won the last three competitions and eight of the last 10.
Some fans were set off by a scathing, published lampooning of U.S. golf fans by the brother of European player Danny Willett, whose match Strange was following at Hazeltine.
“I really feel for Danny Willett this week. It’s none of his doing, he’s a nice young man, a great representation of his team. You hate to see it. But you have to give him credit, he’s handled it well.”
Strange said the heckling was a shame, since there is such good will between the players in these times.
“In my day, there was some animosity because we didn’t know the guys so well,” he said.
“But now they all play together. They’re all friends. They play the world golf championships together, they play the majors together and that’s if they don’t play over here. Half their team plays on the U.S. tour.
“They have the same thing in common, trying to be the best they can be.”
Strange remembered when the U.S. totally dominated the Ryder Cup and it was a much lower profiled event.
“The first year it was a big thing over here was in 1987 after we lost in ’85 over there at The Belfry. I was on both teams, and came back to Muirfield Village in ’87 and there it was 25,000-strong out there every day.
“Whereas in 1983 there was 2,000 people at Palm Beach Gardens. It got big after that.”
At Muirfield Village, under captain Tony Jacklin, Europe posted a 15-13 victory for its first triumph on U.S. soil, one that helped turn the Ryder Cup into the showcase event it has become in the world of sports.