Chicagoans calm before whipping up a storm as teams expect vocal onslaught
Europe and USA expect the crowd’s pre-match exemplary behaviour to change tomorrow, writes PHILIP REID
THE BOISTEROUS nature of Chicago sports fans has hardly been apparent on the practice days. Even as air force jet fighters occasionally hurtled overhead at breakneck speeds, preparing for the opening ceremony, such military connotations were at odds with the good-natured spectators.
On Tuesday, those golf fans even burst into a spontaneous singing of Happy Birthday to basketball player Scottie Pippen during a celebrity outing which infiltrated the preparatory work of both teams here at Medinah Country Club.
Everyone associated with Team Europe expects such light relief and exemplary behaviour to change come the serious business, when the on-course battle starts in earnest tomorrow. Home town advantage has to mean something. And, the Chicagoans take their sport seriously. They have a reputation for cheering loudly and of expecting their teams – be it basketball, American football or baseball – to play hard. Give and take. Loudly.
This could be the Ryder Cup that puts some oomph back into the match on this side of the Atlantic, where crowds – ever since the infamous final day at Brookline in 1999 when lines were crossed – have tended to err on the more civilised side. Detroit in 2004. Too sedate. Louisville in 2008. A wee bit more jingoistic.
This time, the expectation from both teams is the locals will unleash their vocal chords with a vengeance. Hopefully, it will be just that: loud! Hopefully, there won’t be any episodes to add to a rather notorious charge-sheet that has included past incidents in the metropolis where goalposts were torn down by drunk football fans at a college game (Soldier Field, 1976), baseball fans and opposing team players were involved in a brawl (Wrigley Field, 2000) and an assault on a Kansas City Royal baseball player by a home White Sox fan (Comiskey Park, 2002). They were incidents which muddied the reputation of Chicago sports fans, who pride themselves on being among the best around.
No, this time, it will be loud and raucous and the US players expect the home fans to get behind them in a positive way. As Jim Furyk put it, “I know the Chicago fans are good fans. I know they are loud. I know they are boisterous. I know the European fans, even with, say, 3,000 fans here, can make a lot of noise. That’s what they’re good at. They have their soccer chants and songs. That’s part of their culture. But I know 37,000 Americans can drown out 3,000 Europeans.”
Likewise, Tiger Woods expects. “This is a great sporting town, they obviously have supported the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks. You name it. They just love sport, period. We are going to have a great atmosphere, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Europeans, on the other hand, know what is in store. “I expect them (the crowd) to be very vocal. I think everybody is ready for that and I think, for me, it adds to the electricity, adds to the adrenalin rush. I can’t wait,” said Ian Poulter.
Graeme McDowell remarked, “putts that drop in front of your home fans are like a bomb going off and putts that go in (for the visiting team) will be like someone’s got the silencer on, kind of a muted applause . . . people love their sport in this part of the world. It’s going to be interesting to see the atmosphere.”
In the absence of a figure like Colin Montgomerie – who perpetually found the ire of American golf fans and was dubbed Mrs Doubtfire for his on-course demeanour – to take the majority of the brickbats, perhaps Poulter may have unconsciously taken a hit for the team with his potentially inflammatory comments yesterday.
“It’s going to be intimidating, but it’s going to be brilliant. I couldn’t or wouldn’t want to be in any other situation this week . . . there’s something about the Ryder Cup intrigues me, how you can be great mates with somebody but, boy, do you want to kill them in the Ryder Cup.”
If the American crowds needed any further fuel to light their fire, Poulter provided a rather timely delivery for them.