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Ryder Cup: Where Golf Meets College Football


This weekend, professional golf becomes a team sport. The Ryder Cup pits the United States against Europe. Instead of green jackets and million dollar checks, players compete for country. Today, the Americans will try to take back the cup at Medinah Country Club in Illinois. And joining us from the course, is Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today.

Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Hey, David. How are you?

GREENE: I'm well. Thank you. So tell us a bit about the Ryder Cup. It's a very different format than tournaments we're used to.

BRENNAN: It is, David. I think it's golf all of a sudden meeting college football in terms of the raucous nature of, not only the crowds, but also the way the game is played. Sportsmanship goes out the window for these few days and gamesmanship is very much in play.

It's about cheering loudly. And you'll find that even fans will cheer for a miss, which of course is never the norm in the country club game of golf. So it's a different game. It's a fun game. I really love the Ryder Cup and it's really something to watch, because it's team golf as opposed to individual golf.

GREENE: So the Europeans have been dominating this event. I mean, the U.S. has home field advantage, as it were, to keep the college football theme going. But the Europeans, I mean, it seems like they've got this working together as a team thing down.

BRENNAN: And the irony, you're absolutely right, David, is that they're the ones from all the different countries. You know, it's Spain and it's England and it's Belgium and over the years Germany and other countries. So that is ironic that they are more of a team, even though they're from other nations, than the U.S., which of course is from the same country.

In the last eight matches, the last eight Ryder Cups, Europe has won six of them, the U.S. has only won two. And I think what we can safely say is that Europe seems to want it more over the years. They care more about it. They're more passionate. And where the American stars, our big names, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, have not played well, the unknown Europeans have risen and bubbled to the surface in a way that has been career altering for them.

GREENE: You mentioned a couple of the big names on the U.S. side. On the European side, who are we looking for?

BRENNAN: Definitely Rory McIlroy. He's the world number one, 23 years old. He's only been in one Ryder Cup. And he's a marked man. You know, the U.S. wants to beat him, very much targeting him the way the Europeans used to target Tiger Woods and beat him. And they did. Tiger does not have a great record. And so I think Rory McIlroy, watch for him to play with his dear friend and countryman, Graeme McDowell, the U.S. Open winner a couple of years ago. That is going to be the marquee matchup for Europe. As well as there's Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, men who have wanted to win majors but haven't yet.

GREENE: And, Christine, there is a one-on-one component on one of the days as I understand it.

BRENNAN: That's right. On Sunday they will all play - all 12 men from either side will play. And it's one of these things where the captains do not reveal who they're placing where. So if by chance, David, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are playing against each other on Sunday we'll know that is amazing good luck.

There's a lot of strategy to this, depending on who's ahead going in to Sunday morning and, you know, where you think you're going to win points early and change the flags on the board and start the wave of the - the crescendo of all the attention and the cheers. So, as I said, it's great theater, but there is a real strategy to it. And that's the Sunday round.

GREENE: Quick predictions? Does the U.S. turn the tide this year?

BRENNAN: You know, it's a home game for the U.S. You said it. But Europeans, I've kind of got to go with them. They're the ones that know how to do this, so I'll stick with Europe to hand onto the cup.

GREENE: All right. Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today. Always good to have you on the program.

BRENNAN: David, thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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