It’s likely a phrase the 12 European team members had never planned to utter, but today all 12 and European Captain Padraig Harrington were Green Bay Packers fans. The team came out of the tunnel on the first tee with the Packers' green and gold colors running down their sleeves and with chunks of plastic cheese adorning their heads:
After an impromptu team picture with all players wearing cheeseheads, the players tossed the slices into the stands and replaced the fake cheese with Packers-colored hats to begin their practice round.
It was brilliant and in its own way followed the playbook that European Captain Bernhard Langer used at the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills.
“Look, it's lighthearted, you want it that way in practice,” said Harrington about donning the Packers colors. “It's somewhat respectful of obviously the Green Bay Packers, and they were very much on board with this, so a bit of fun and we got a nice reception with it. That's kind of what you want on the practice days.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is genius. Over 18 months ago, Harrington decided he didn’t want to wear Irish green as one of the team’s outfits, but thought about doing something Wisconsin related and the idea germinated into what occurred on the first tee Wednesday.
While it would be easy to give Harrington all the credit, it’s just an extension of what he learned from his years of playing in and then later being a vice captain in the Ryder Cup.
He played or worked for nine Ryder Cup captains, starting with Mark James in 1999, then Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie as a player and then starting in 2014, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn as a vice captain.
During those nine Ryder Cups, Harrington learned the European way of doing things and what his team did on Wednesday was spot on.
“It’s not going to determine who wins or loses the Ryder Cup,” McGinley said. “Going through the practice days there’s a couple things you got to keep your eye on, you got to make sure you don’t get a headline yourself as a captain, you got to make sure your team don’t come across as arrogant or say something that is going to get a headline. You got to tiptoe through these days, you got to make sure you don’t antagonize the crowd, you need to be nice to the crowd or show respect to the crowd.”
The mantra that McGinley espoused came directly from Langer, the 2004 European Ryder Cup captain. When U.S. players did not sign autographs during practice days, Langer impressed upon his players not only to sign autographs, but sign more than they normally would.
In the end, the matches were almost lost by the Americans before the first ball was struck. Europe led 3 ½ to ½ after Friday morning fourball, 6 ½ to 1 ½ after the first day and eventually won 18 ½ to 9 ½, a blowout.
“You don’t want to turn up the volume,” McGinley said of how to handle the pre-match, "If anything you want to tamp it down playing away from home.”
There is one unintended consequence for Harrington.
“And now I'm a fan for life,” he said of the Packers. “I'm going to say this. I'm a Patriots fan, so now I'm a Green Bay Packers fan. I changed allegiance somewhat.”