WISCONSIN (AFP) - An American squad featuring nine of the world's 11 top-ranked golfers tries to reclaim the Ryder Cup from Europe this weekend, aided by 40,000 loud supporters and a home course edge.
The European side, however, has won nine of the past 12 editions of the biennial team matches, including three of the past six on United States soil, and brings an experienced lineup to face a US team with six rookies on its 12-man roster.
"Everything is stacked against us," said European talisman Ian Poulter, who has never lost a Ryder Cup singles match. "When you have that, when you can go in as underdogs, when you can turn the tide and actually come out victorious, it means a little bit more.
"If we can come out on top Sunday night, it'll be a pretty special one."
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy of Europe says a win "would be massive" and rival Europe's rally from 10-6 down on Sunday to win the 2012 "Miracle at Medinah." "I'd certainly love to have that feeling again," McIlroy said. "It would be a huge achievement."
Brisk winds at Whistling Straits along the Lake Michigan shoreline promise to make the layout, tucked among cliffs and hillsides, formidable for everyone when play starts Friday.
"We like a bit of wind, but we're not asking for everybody to be blown off the golf course," Europe captain Padraig Harrington said.
"You've got to hit wind shots. You've got to keep the ball down at times. You've got to aim off into trouble and trust the wind is going to take it back.
"Nobody wants it too windy. That's not conducive to a good, fair battle, but a bit of wind is a true test of golf."
Flag-stiffening winds will switch to southerly on Friday (Sept 24), unlike anything seen on practice days.
"Wind has proved to be a challenge," US captain Steve Stricker said. "We're going to see something totally different come Friday."
US players "had a good time with the wind," Stricker said. "They thought it was fun. They embraced it."
It doesn't hurt that the hosts have 2020 Masters winner Dustin Johnson, Tokyo Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, British Open champion Collin Morikawa and US PGA Tour playoff winner Patrick Cantlay all ranked in the top five, even if the last three are Ryder Cup newcomers.
"We come with a lot of enthusiasm and energy, young guys willing and ready to learn," Stricker said. "We're not coming with bad experiences. I see that as a positive. Our guys are super fired up and ready to go."
Friday and Saturday feature morning foursomes and afternoon four-ball matches ahead of Sunday's 12 final singles matches.
About 40,000 spectators are expected each day, mostly US supporters due to Covid-19 travel restrictions after the event was delayed from 2020 by the pandemic.
"These fans have been pent up for a long time and they're going to come out and get behind their team," said Stricker. "It's going to be loud.
"We need that backing. It's our home turf. But we're also hoping they don't cross the line, which we've seen at some other Ryder Cups throughout the years."
"I got called a turd at Hazeltine in 2016," England's Lee Westwood recalled. "That's the first time I've been called a turd since I was about 12 years of age in a playground."
Europeans did their bit to win over US fans Wednesday, wearing cheeseheads to the first tee, the foam cheese wedge-shaped hats worn by supporters of the nearby NFL Green Bay Packers.
"It's light-hearted. You want it that way in practice," Harrington said. "Obviously business starts Friday."
Stricker agreed, saying the first tee "will be 10 times more electric come Friday."
With inches making the difference between horrid and helpful lies off greens and fairways, longer-hitting US players could see winds negate or enhance their advantage.
"You can get into trouble but you can also birdie just about every single hole with the right shot," three-time major winner Jordan Speith said. "It's tough and fair."
It's the first time in 60 years that Europe will have four players over age 40 while the Americans field one of their youngest lineups.