Tiger Woods the butt of player prank as US Ryder Cup team lighten the mood and Rory McIlroy is up to mischief too
A couple of hours after Tiger Woods’s victory in the Tour Championship on Sunday, the man of the moment arrived at Atlanta airport to meet up with his Ryder Cup team-mates. He was greeted with silence.
All kept their backs to him with no one so much as lifting a head to acknowledge his victory.
“I heard Jim [Furyk, the United States captain] wanted to talk to me,” Woods smiled. “He was sitting there not saying anything. I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked at me like ‘No big deal’…”
It turned out Furyk and his vice-captain Zach Johnson had organised a little prank, checking first with Woods’s caddie Joe LaCava that his boss would find it amusing. As it turned out, Furyk could not keep a straight face for more than a few seconds, and the rest of the players were soon on their feet whooping and hollering.
The story gives a little insight into the mood in the American camp. Europe’s success in Ryder Cups this century has often been attributed to “superior team spirit”, whatever that means; a bond that somehow trumps world rankings and major titles.
While it is dangerous to stereotype, it would be fair to say the popular image of American players in recent years has been of taking themselves and their game pretty seriously. They can appear more po-faced and earnest than their counterparts.
The European players know this. They play up to it. All week they have been talking about how they have been taking the mickey out of one another. Or “leaving their egos at the door” as Rory McIlroy described it on Wednesday.
There was the cryotherapy chamber video prank which McIlroy and others pulled on captain Thomas Bjorn. There was the follow-up when Bjorn actually went into one and came out looking ripped.
There was the impressionist who did impersonations of each European player in a video which Bjorn played to the team on the opening night.
On Wednesday, Jon Rahm told a story about how he had fallen asleep on the physio table following his practice round on Tuesday and woke up to find he had been made the unwitting star of the team’s WhatsApp group.
“After Rory drove it past me 50 yards on pretty much every hole, I was on the physio table after the round with needles in me,” Rahm explained. “Because of jet lag, I was completely asleep. So Rory decided it was a perfect time to take a picture [of me] in my underwear and post it on the chat.”
There is no sense that any of this is forced. It is the European way.
What has become clear, though, is that the Americans, whether by accident or design, are also getting in on the act. Bubba Watson turned up to his press conference on Wednesday wearing a turquoise glove, which he explained was part of a series of japes the American players were carrying out. Others have been trying to get certain words into their interviews.
Rookie Justin Thomas arrived at his conference early and asked Webb Simpson who his favourite rookie was. Spieth arrived early during Watson’s press conference, joking with him about his intellect.
Insiders say the US team room is a relaxed place, although what goes on inside it is a closely guarded secret. We do know that Bryson DeChambeau has been trying to take out Matt Kuchar – the acknowledged master – on the ping pong table. DeChambeau bought a bat for the occasion.
Furyk gave a typically anodyne response on Wednesday when asked about team spirit and what he was trying to create, mumbling something about his players being “fun” and “easy to work with”. Behind the scenes, though, perhaps the Americans have taken a leaf out of the European playbook, with the hope that a more relaxed approach to team bonding pays off.