The war of words between the U.S. and Europe has escalated to fever pitch before the first ball has been struck in the battle between the two teams set for Friday’s start to the Ryder Cup.
An unlikely source of fightin’ words began the skirmish when Lee Westwood said last week that assistant U.S. captain Tiger Woods could have an "adverse effect" on the team. But that was just the opening salvo in the volley of verbiage that had yet to be unleashed.
Indeed, though Team Euro needs no additional incentive to keep kicking American butt, U.S. captain Davis Love III handed Darren Clarke and his charges prime bulletin-board material when he claimed that this year’s home squad was "the best golf team maybe ever assembled."
No surprise that the boast caught the attention of many on the opposing side, which is 8-2 since 1995, and even less shocking that the lads were quick to make DL3 wish he could take it back -- which he kinda, sorta tried to do. NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller took issue with Love’s absurd claim but sparked even more hilarity by contending the Euros had, "at least on paper, the worst team they’ve had in years."
They must be running out of thumb tacks in the visitors’ team room at Hazeltine. For sure, they’re 2-up in the head-game portion of the event, with Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia firing back at Love and Miller.
How the teams match up pic.twitter.com/OLU58bK4df— Ryder Cup Team EUR (@RyderCupEurope) September 27, 2016
"Definitely assembled the best task force ever, that's for sure," McIlroy, referring to the PGA of America panel established after Europe whipped the Americans two years ago at Gleneagles, cracked during his Tour Championship/FedEx Cup-winning run over the weekend.
He did not let up during a Tuesday presser from Hazeltine.
"Whenever we are going up against one of the greatest teams ever assembled, that’s motivation enough," McIlroy cheekily said. "How good a victory would this be if we go out and beat these guys on their home soil?"
Recognizing the ruckus he raised, Love attempted to put his original comments in context, telling the assembled scribes on Tuesday that the remarks he made on a radio program on Friday were "misconstrued." He was only trying to inject more "swagger" into his guys, who are in deep trouble if they need a phony-baloney pep talk about how great they are to get up for the competition.
"The question [from a listener] wasn’t, ‘how do you rank this team in history?’ It was, ‘what are you going to tell your team to fire them up?’" Love tried to explain. "So I would still tell them the same thing: ‘You’re a great team, let's go out there and have some fun, play your game, don't get in your own way.’"
Um, okay. Love can play it however he chooses, and his counterpart Clarke said his boys, who are confident of winning an unprecedented fourth Ryder Cup in a row, required no rah-rah bloviating from him.
"I don't need to [use Love’s comments as a motivating factor]," Euro captain Darren Clarke said on Wednesday. "The guys have all seen everything that's been said."
Miller’s opinions, on the other hand, may fire up the six rookies as much as they have stoked Sergio Garcia’s desire to pull an upset on American soil and appeared to spark Clarke’s ire.
"Johnny says a lot of things. Obviously he's not always going to say the right thing," Garcia said.
Comments from Miller and Love "are pretty much motivating factors," Garcia said. "Everybody's allowed to have their own opinion, and that's what they think, and that's great for them. But we know what we have and that's the most important thing for us."
What the Euros have is a roster full of newbies and major winners, Clarke was eager to point out.
"We have the Masters champion, we have The Open champion, we have the Olympic champion, and we have the FedEx champion," Clarke recited, referring to Danny Willett, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, and Rory McIlroy. "You combine that with all the experience and with all of the rest of the team and the way those guys played, I don’t really need to respond to that. I think I’ve got full confidence in our team."
But, but, I don't understand. Johnny Miller says its the worst Europe team in many years. And, like, he's an expert and everything https://t.co/iFAACuK3sc— James Corrigan (@jcorrigangolf) September 26, 2016
Willett, though, has more to worry about than being dissed by Miller. The smack laid down by his brother Peter more than likely made a target of the 28-year Englishman, who can expect a raucous reception from the Minnesota spectators after his brother called them and other U.S. fans "pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants" in a blog post on Wednesday.
And then there’s Phil Mickelson, who once again took trash talking inside the team room by ripping 2004 Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton a new one for putting him and Tiger Woods "in a position to fail." Of course, hammering his own leader for losing the cup is nothing new for Lefty — just ask Tom Watson.
Sutton, by the way, wondered on Thursday what the heck he had to do with what was going down in 2016 in Chaska, Minn. Though he told Alex Miceli that "Phil better get his mind on what he needs to have it on this week instead of on something that happened 10 years ago," Sutton said he would be the fall guy if that’s what it took to put the entire incident behind him.
"If I still need to shoulder the blame for Phil’s poor play," Sutton said, "well then I’ll do that."
No doubt the bluster -- inside as well as outside the locker rooms -- will continue leading up to and throughout this week’s games, but Garcia summed it up best when he dismissed the Americans’ posturing as prattle from losers.
"At the end of the day, you don’t win Ryder Cups with your mouth," Garcia said. "You win them out there on the golf course. So that’s what we’ll see, which team is the best."