GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Something ancient stirred the air Wednesday with Stephen Gallacher on the back nine of a practice round for the Ryder Cup.
As the only Scot in the matches, Gallacher couldn’t be more at home at Gleneagles, where bagpipers in kilts near the clubhouse squeezed soul-tingling notes through the rolling country side.
Here, on the edge of the Scottish Highlands, Gallacher can do no wrong in his preparation, even when his golf ball isn’t cooperating.
At the 12th tee, he hooks his drive hard left, where it scatters the gallery near a berries-and-cream stand. He re-loads and hits another right back into the gallery. The fans there couldn’t be more pleased, because they know it means Gallacher will be wandering into their midst. When he gets there, they swarm him for autographs.
“Wurrr all prrrowed of ye,” Gallacher hears in a thick Scottish burr as he signs.
Europeans could say the same thing about the entire European team. They’re proud of the way their home-grown talent is dominating the Ryder Cup, which has become the Super Bowl of team golf. They love the chance to root their team on in Europe’s bid to win the Ryder Cup for the sixth time in its last seven tries and for the eighth time in the last 10.
Ladbrokes makes Europe a 4/6 favorite to do just that.
“We’re here without Tiger Woods,” Phil Mickelson said. “We’re without Dustin Johnson. We’re without Jason Dufner. And we’re playing a team that has players like [Rory] McIlroy and Henrik [Stenson], who have played just incredible golf over the years. They’re going to be extremely tough to beat, whoever gets paired against them. Certainly, we are the underdog.”
Don’t tell that to Scots and their fellow European supporters this week.
No matter where this is played, no matter what British bookmakers post as odds and no matter who boasts more highly ranked players, Europeans will always see their team as underdogs. That’s because this is essentially the European Tour vs. the PGA Tour. That’s the dynamic that trumps everything else.
Yes, most of the European team plays the PGA Tour, even make their homes there now, but it doesn’t matter. Their roots are in Europe, in the European Tour. In that regard, Europeans will always be David in a battle with Goliath. They’ll always be the children of the little tour that could. They’ll always be from a circuit dwarfed by the PGA Tour and its giant purses, sponsorships and international TV presence.
“The whole world, when it gets a chance to beat the United States, it’s a big deal,” NBC’s Johnny Miller said. “I just think it’s so much fun for Europe to beat the United States.”
If you don’t think the Ryder Cup is becoming the Super Bowl of team golf, read the British tabloids in the morning. Mickelson was trying to be funny in his news conference here Wednesday, but the little crack he made is sure to make for some big headlines in Europe.
Mickelson was asked if the Americans have struggled to win because they aren’t as close as the Europeans.
“Not only are we able to play together, we also don’t litigate against each other, and that’s a real plus,” Mickelson cracked.
Ouch. Mickelson was making light of litigation that has pitted McIlroy against Graeme McDowell in a legal wrangling over contracts McIlroy had with an agent he used to share with McDowell, but it’s headline fodder now.
It’s also silly bulletin-board fodder that feeds perfectly into Europe’s feeling that the giant can’t fall hard enough.
Europe’s proud of its boys, and you can’t make fun of them in their own backyard, can you?
“I couldn’t resist, sorry,” Mickelson said.
The first tee on opening morning of a Ryder Cup is the most raucous and entertaining scene in golf. There will be singing, chanting and revelry. Surely, there is something special in the works now for Mickelson. He opened the door for that.
“The first hole is always amazing,” Europe’s Sergio Garcia said. “It’s definitely the most impressive first hole we play throughout our careers.
“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it."
The first tee dynamic is enhanced this week. That's because Americans and Europeans will pass through a tunnel beneath a roadway before making a long walk to the first tee. There are blue flowers for the Euros flanking the hillside on one exit to the tunnel, red flowers for the Americans on the other.
It makes for a more dramatic entrance to these matches.
“A bit like gladiators walking into the arena as you walk up that hill, coming out of the tunnel,” European captain Paul McGinley said. “It should be an electric atmosphere.”