Hope for full Ryder Cup crowds as Harrington tightens focus

·4-min read
Norway's Viktor Hovland is among the points leaders to claim a Ryder Cup spot for Europe in September's team matches against the United States at Whistling Straits

Ryder Cup organizers said Tuesday they are optimistic of having full crowds and a party atmopshere at September's showdown while Europe captain Padraig Harrington tightens his focus on the event.

The biennial US-Europe team golf clash, delayed a year by Covid-19, is scheduled for September 24-26 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

"We are very hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to have a full attendance," Kerry Haigh, PGA of America chief championships officer, said Tuesday at the PGA Championship.

Holders Europe have won seven of the past nine meetings, including the most recent in France in 2018.

PGA of America chief executive officer Seth Waugh wants this Cup to be a grand celebration of moving beyond Covid-19 by having vocal Cup spectators in full song at Whistling Straits.

"Our plan is to have it be the greatest Ryder Cup in history. I think the world as we've seen is ready to have a party," Waugh said.

"This is really going to be the first time to cheer for your country, to have that sort of tribal -- in-person anyway -- atmosphere that's so important.

"We're hopeful that September will be one of the great events in golf and a great sort of exclamation point to the end of this thing.

"I realize the world still has a lot of challenges out there, but from a US perspective we're really hopeful we'll be able to pull it off."

Irishman Harrington, a three-time major winner, finds himself devoting more time to talk and practice with candidates for captain's picks.

"I'm more focused if anything on the Ryder Cup now," he said. "My team seems to be reasonably settled in the top nine positions, and it looks like most guys are playing to impress me."

European Ryder Cup points leaders are England's Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Spain's Jon Rahm while world points would add Norway's Viktor Hovland, England's Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Matthew Fitzpatrick and Frenchman Victor Perez.

Harrington knows what will make the biggest impression upon him.

"When it comes to the Ryder Cup, the best thing my players could do for me is win majors," Harrington said.

"I've tried to say and get it across to everybody, their goal at the moment is to play well in the next three majors and the Olympics... and then hopefully hold something back to peak at the end of September."

The first chance at a major is the week at Kiawah Island and Harrington wants to let players focus on that rather than mention the Ryder Cup.

"This is not the week for getting in guys' heads," he said. "This is not the week for having dinners and things like that. This is a tournament week, serious business for these guys."

- Westwood's taste for it -

Harrington is looking to the Tokyo Olympics as an intense test as well.

"The Olympics creates that pressure and tension. Winning an Olympic medal is a big deal," Harrington said. "If a player can go out and win in the Olympics, that's the sort of player I want on the first tee of a Ryder Cup."

Westwood, a 10-time Ryder Cup player and seven-time winner, is pleased to likely be back on the squad at age 48 after serving as an assistant captain in Paris.

"I've got a pretty solid position in the team at the moment," Westwood said. "When I was vice captain in Paris, I said, 'There's one thing worse than playing practice rounds at the Ryder Cup, and that's watching other people do it.'

"If you've played in the Ryder Cup you just want to be involved all the time. Once you get a taste of it, you don't want to let it go."

Westwood has often paired with Spain's Sergio Garcia, a Masters winner who might be in line for a captain's pick to make a 10th Ryder Cup appearance.

"Sergio has always been a great Ryder Cup competitor," Westwood said. "It's tough to see a Ryder Cup without Sergio in it."

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