Butch Harmon, the former coach of Tiger Woods, believes the American Ryder Cup team is better off without the absent 14-times major winner and has said the young side at Gleneagles is fired up to win on European soil for the first time in 21 years.
oods was last month forced to rule himself out of for the rest of the season as he continues his rehabilitation from the back surgery he underwent in March – something Harmon feels could be a blessing in disguise for the Americans.
“Well, the last time they won [2008 in Kentucky], Tiger wasn’t on the team,” Harmon said. “They’re stronger without Tiger the way he’s playing because he hasn’t played well. Obviously, physically he couldn’t play anyway. But yeah, I don’t think they lose anything by not having him because, at this point in time, he’s not the Tiger Woods that we remember,” he said.
In truth, even when Tiger is the Woods we all remember, his Ryder Cup record (won 13, lost 14, halved two) does not live up to his individual history making, leading many to conclude he simply is not a team player.
So what of this team under the charge of Tom Watson, who was captain last time the United States won away from home at The Belfry in 1993? “I wouldn’t say it’s one of the weakest, I think it is one of the most inexperienced,” said Harmon who, along with being a commentator for Sky Sports, is also the coach of three players on the American team – nine-times Ryder Cup veteran Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and debutant Jimmy Walker.
“Having said that, I think it’s good for the US side because all these guys that haven’t played in a lot of Ryder Cups quite frankly aren’t used to getting their brains beat out by the European team like a lot of our veterans,” Harmon said. “And it brings a lot of energy to our team.”
Harmon senses an American revolution in Perthshire led by Rickie Fowler, aged 25, Patrick Reed (24) and Jordan Spieth (21), who is touted as the next poster boy of American golf. “These kids are not that far from having played in college,” Harmon said. “They understand the team atmosphere. They’re all talking about, ‘Man, I get to put on the red, white and blue, this is the coolest thing.’ And the other thing you can say about these young kids, they all played Walker Cup together.”
The kids are united. Spieth has brought the putter cover he used in the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup (“I just want the good vibes I had the last time I was at Gleneagles,” Spieth told Harmon). Fowler has had “USA” shaved on the side of his head. “These guys are really jacked up,” Harmon said. “This might be the most unified team we’ve had in who knows when.”
Europe are strong favourites but Harmon believes the underdog status will help the US team. “Being an underdog gives you a little more incentive, it makes you want to show how good we are,” he said. “But the atmosphere in Scotland is going to be unbelievable. I’ve told Jimmy Walker, who’s never even attended a Ryder Cup before. I said, ‘You’ve got to get ready for it because it’s the greatest thing you will ever do in your career. Once you play one, you’ll never want to miss it again.’
“The atmosphere last time at Medinah was phenomenal with the American fans,” Harmon said. “I told my guys, ‘You’re not ready for what you’re going to hear. But embrace it. You know there’s one way to quieten the crowd – just make a lot of birdies.’”
The US are going to need bucketsful of birdies to overcome a European team led by the world No 1 Rory McIlroy along with the experienced Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. But Harmon has a feeling the result is going to be close.
“I think it’s a flip of a coin,” he said. “It’s going to come right down to the final matches. I don’t know how we’re going to top last time because that was the most exciting I’ve ever been involved in. I’ve never seen anything like it. Yes, I’m American and in my heart I’m red, white and blue, but I also love the Ryder Cup,” he said. “I really think we’re going to see that again this year. I don’t think you’re going to see one team run out to a big lead.”
Europe have won five of the last six Ryder Cups but the US still lead this biennial dust-up 25-12 with two draws. The Stars and Stripes dominated the early years when the opposition was Great Britain & Ireland. The score was 18-3 with one draw in the first 50 years since the inaugural match in 1927. Since continental Europe came into the fold in 1979, the score has been 9-7 to Europe with one draw. “If you look back years ago to when the Americans won them all, some of the competitiveness when you look at the fans and even some of the players kind of goes away,” Harmon said. It has reached that point again. “It is important for the Americans to win,” he said, “because they’ve been getting their butts kicked for too long.”