“You don’t have the stones for this.”
It was a zinger, a jeer, a verbal arrow from a fan who hoped to wound Brian Harman at The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in July, but it had the opposite effect.
“Yeah, that helped a lot,” Harman said of the remark after cruising to victory. “I think he was – anyway, that helped.
“It helped snap me back into I’m good enough to do this,” he added. “I’m going to do this.”
At The Open, Harman was the foreign threat. At this week’s Ryder Cup, all 12 Americans are. In both cases, refusing to buckle amid the noise is paramount to success.
The scene at sun-splashed Marco Simone Golf & Country Club was convivial Tuesday as the red-clad U.S. players knocked off what their captain, Zach Johnson, admitted was a bit of jetlag. Fans on 18 clapped for Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele. Behind them, no one razzed Sam Burns for accepting a cart ride down the hill.
But all will not be so happy and well for long. There will be booing and worse when the Ryder Cup starts with Foursomes matches at 7:35 a.m. local time Friday (1:35 a.m. ET). That hostility is a given for visiting teams, and it’s presumably a big part of why the U.S. hasn’t won a Ryder Cup on the road in 30 years.
This week, it will fall to the Americans to dig deep and use that negativity as fuel, perhaps channeling their inner Harman. If they prefer, they can even look beyond golf, to Colorado football coach Deion Sanders: “We keep receipts.” Or to newly minted U.S. Open tennis champion Coco Gauff: “Thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me.” Or to Roman Emperor Nero, who won a chariot race after an opponent insulted his horse.
Actually, that last one was made up (probably), but the fact remains that athletes are famous for finding motivation in slights, snubs and slips of the tongue. Bulletin-board material. Indeed, such fuel to the fire is as old as sport itself.
Patrick Cantlay has never played an away Ryder Cup but said he’s looking forward to the noise.
“I like it,” Cantlay said. “It’s a great change and change of pace from the normal tournaments that we play. I think it’s definitely the idea to turn it into fuel and, you know, try and internalize it and frame it in a way that helps you and propels you forward, as opposed to getting in your way.”
Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth were among those who stood outside the interview room and worked the autograph line Tuesday afternoon. It’s a tried-and-true way to get the crowd on your side, at least temporarily.
Alas, such goodwill tends to dissolve once the matches start.
“I think blocking out the noise is the healthiest thing to do,” said Spieth, who is 8-7-3 in four Ryder Cups, including road losses in 2014 and ’18. “I played a lot of matches with Patrick Reed. When he felt insulted, he turned the notch up. When I feel insulted, I don’t turn it up or down. I’m just like, ‘Okay, they are drunk, move on.’ (Laughter).
“I’ve also shouted plenty of things at sporting events at people that I have no reason to do,” he added, “so I also try to say, ‘pot and kettle,’ and recognize that it’s all just sport and move on.”
Julie Elion, the performance coach who works with three players on the U.S. Team (Wyndham Clark, Max Homa and Justin Thomas), sat in on the press conferences Tuesday. She wants to hear what her players are thinking, but more to the point is always trying to learn from top athletes. She said the word that comes up repeatedly is “fun.”
Asked about dealing with a hostile crowd, she said, “There’s something to the idea of wanting to shut up the fans of the other team. I went to the Super Bowl, and I was very annoyed by the Kansas City Chiefs fans. But I keep hearing the word ‘fun’ again and again, so I think controlling what you can and having fun with it is the lane to be in.”
Broadly speaking, the fierier the player, the more likely he is to react to (and maybe even inspire) provocations. And sometimes the fierier the player, the better he plays. That’s one reason why Thomas, on the back end of an off year, was a captain’s pick. He’s 6-2-1 in two Ryder Cup starts, including going 4-1 in Paris in 2018, a dreadful U.S. loss.
Although frequent partner Spieth said it seems to focus him, Thomas said he doesn’t feed off hostile crowds.
“I don’t necessarily try to hold any grudges,” he said, “or try to point fingers at like, ‘This guy said this so I’m really going to show him,’ kind of thing. It’s like, look, I want to win my match bad enough.”
To be fair, that kind of motivation is never planned, and it’s easy to shrug off until it comes to you like a lightning bolt. And then, well, it can’t be denied. It’s Will Zalatoris rolling a pressure-filled birdie putt at the 2022 FedEx St. Jude Championship, then roaring to no one in particular, “What are they going to say now!?”
Asked recently how playing for Cal impacted him, Homa said: “We all created this bond, and it was centered around a chip on our shoulder and outworking everybody.”
That chip, the underdog mentality, will be as much a part of the U.S. Team as red, white and blue.
“Our backs are against the wall,” U.S. Captain Johnson said, “and that’s the way we are going to approach it.”
Source : PGA Tour