Paul Lawrie, back after a 13-year absence in the Ryder Cup, remembers 11 players on the plane when they traveled to Boston in 1999. The exception was Jesper Parnevik, who had moved to Florida years earlier.
"I think there's definitely less of a 'them-and-us' type of thing now from everybody's point of view," Lee Westwood said. "The players play with each other a lot more regularly since the start of the World Golf Championships, and the fact that the top world-ranked players get pulled together a lot more regularly. There's a feeling that the crowd knows the European players a lot better."
Has it become too friendly?
Not long after the Presidents Cup began in 1994, the International team complained that they should have a home game instead of always playing in America. Fred Couples suggested moving the matches to Lake Nona in Florida, where most of the international players lived. Now, there are five Europeans at Lake Nona — Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose and Peter Hanson are permanent residents, and Sergio Garcia also has a home there.
The mere suggestion that the Ryder Cup turns soft was enough to make Poulter shudder.
"It means too much," Poulter said. "It means too much to Europe. It means too much to us for it to ever lose that edge."
Olazabal made that clear during the opening ceremony when he turned to Love and said, "I know how much you and your team want to win this love gold trophy back," Olazabal said. "But I have to tell you, we have every intention of taking it back with us."
Not even Medinah figures to produce much of an advantage to the Americans. About half the members on each team played in the PGA Championship on this tree-lined course in 2006, and so many of them play an American brand of golf these days, anyway. They are used to fast greens. Love has ordered the rough to be cut down to help his power hitters, but Europe has its share of power.
The difference figures to be the home crowd. Thousands of fans dressed in red, white or blue have crammed into Medinah over the last few days, yelling chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A!" when they see the Americans walk to the first tee or onto the driving range.
As the matches drew closer to starting, there was chirpiness to the chatter. The Americans felt as though Europe had some of its official party in the grandstand behind every hole, watching to see how the Americans practice and even counting off the steps by a caddie to figure out potential hole locations.
Poulter caused a brief stir when he said that he had many friends in America, "but, boy, do you want to kill them in Ryder Cup."
Mickelson has been involved in the Ryder Cup longer than any player on either team. He made his debut in 1995, playing alongside five players who would go on to become U.S. captains. The next seven captains for Europe played in that Ryder Cup.
The way Mickelson sees it, only the competition remains intense.
"I think over the last 20 or 30 years, a lot of the animosity that might be there because they don't know each other is gone, because we do spend so much time with each now, especially the best players on the team," Mickelson said. "I think a lot of strong relationships are formed. And I don't see one week affecting that."
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