The United States reclaimed the Ryder Cup with a dominating win over the European squad at Whistling Straits in Kohler over the weekend.
Held over three days on the magnificent layout in rural Sheboygan County, the Ryder Cup drew large and boisterous crowds – more than 40,000 attended each day – and captured the attention of a worldwide audience. Even the practice rounds and a celebrity golf event held earlier in the week drew throngs of golf fans to the site.
The U.S. team, with Wisconsin native Steve Stricker serving as captain, topped Europe 19 to 9, the largest margin of victory in the modern era.
Ever since it became official that Whistling Straits would host the Ryder Cup, it’s been said repeatedly that this likely would be the most significant sporting event ever held in Wisconsin due to its worldwide appeal and uniqueness.
The Ryder Cup is held every other year with the United States and Europe alternating as hosts. In a sport almost exclusively focused on individual accomplishment, the Ryder Cup brings the team concept to golf. The Ryder Cup crowds are unique in their own right, with many dressed in colorful outfits and hats. Singing and chanting becomes the norm in a sport mostly known for quiet and polite spectators.
Golfers and golf fans alike who have taken part in a Ryder Cup are always quick to mention the first-tee experience as among the most special aspects. The crowds that packed the horseshoe-shaped stands erected around the first tee at Whistling Straits didn’t disappoint.
Each morning, long before dawn, hordes of spectators filed onto the Whistling Straits grounds. As soon as the gates opened, they would run through the darkness to secure their favorite spots on the course. The most popular location turned out to be the first-tee bleachers, the most festive and lively of all the spots.
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The Ryder Cup championship at Whistling Straits benefitted from three spectacular days of early autumn weather. Sunny skies and mild temperatures greeted golfers and spectators on Friday. Saturday began with downright cold conditions, with temperatures in the 40s and fairly strong winds whipping, leaving more than a few spectators who arrived in the early morning hours shivering. But by late morning the sun shone brightly with rays glistening off Lake Michigan. On Sunday, for the final day of competition, summerlike conditions arrived, with temperatures in the mid-70s combined with sticky humidity and overcast skies but no threat of rain.
Highlights on Sunday included Dustin Johnson becoming the first U.S. Ryder Cup team member in 42 years to compile a 5-0 record. Rookie Collin Morikawa, at just 24 years of age, clinched the victory for the U.S. team with a birdie on the 17th hole, leaving the formality of finishing out the round on the 18th hole, where fans jammed into the stands to celebrate the U.S. win.
Whistling Straits has hosted major golf competitions in the past, but the Ryder Cup no doubt is the pinnacle for the layout designed by famed golf course architect Pete Dye and brought to life by Herb Kohler, executive chairman of Kohler Co.
The beauty of the course, which features many spectacular holes along the shore of Lake Michigan, left many spectators and a worldwide audience in awe.
The conditions, and the beauty of the course, also lifted the spirits of spectators who had to wait an extra year to take in one of the world’s most unique sporting spectacles because of a pandemic-driven postponement in 2020.
Shannon Naujock of Milwaukee took in the action on Thursday and Sunday at Whistling Straits.
“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “There is so much more team energy right now. It really feels united.”
Like others in attendance, Naujock was taken in by stunning layout.
“The course is gorgeous,” she said. “On Thursday, I stayed until the end just so I could take more pictures.”
Naujock is confident that the worldwide audience for the Ryder Cup will continue to benefit the region for years to come.
“After the Milwaukee Bucks win (in the NBA Finals), we have had the spotlight on Milwaukee and now we can showcase other areas of the state,” she said. “I think it will help revive the economy. I’ve met people from around the state and some international people, too. I think next year things will be booming because people are seeing this on TV and will want to come here.”
The Ryder Cup was projected to generate $100 million in economic impact for the region.
Among the most noticeable fans at Whistling Straits were the American Marshals, a group of 13 men from Minneapolis who dressed in red, white and blue jerseys and wore horned hats. It marked the seventh Ryder Cup for the group, which formed to support the U.S. team in a way similar to what European fans have done for their squad.
The group, which arrived at Whistling Straits on Tuesday, spent hours walking the course, singing along the way. They also found spots in the stands at the first tee, where they cheered for both U.S. and European golfers, given how few fans from overseas were able to make the trip due to ongoing travel restrictions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe in sportsmanship and no booing,” the group’s “captain,” Cal Franklin, said. “We tried to tell the crowd on the first tee to clap for everybody. We love the Europeans, too. We really do.”
Franklin has golfed a few times at Whistling Straits and had high praise for the course.
“I love this course. Herb Kohler has done an awesome job with it,” Franklin said on Sunday, his voice scratchy from several days of singing and chanting. “Yesterday, we gave him a pair of our horns. He’s a great man. He built an unbelievable place.”
Franklin said the group enjoyed the daily interactions with fans at Whistling Straits.
“The reception from the fans here has been awesome,” he said. “Everyone appreciates what we are trying to do.”
The group plans to travel to Rome for the next Ryder Cup in 2023.
The effort by Herb Kohler that brought this unique and beloved event to a property that once served as a farm is mind-boggling in many ways. Le Golf National in Paris hosted the Ryder Cup in 2018. In 2023, the event goes
to Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Guidonia Montecelio, near Rome. The next U.S. Ryder Cup, in 2025, will be held at the Bethpage Black course on Long Island just outside of New York City.
Paris, Rome and New York as Ryder Cup hosts, alongside Whistling Straits, the location of which many media outlets couldn’t seem to agree on. Is it in Kohler or the unincorporated community of Haven? Some major outlets used a Sheboygan dateline.
Now, there certainly will be those who will argue that the Milwaukee Bucks winning an NBA title on their home court at Fiserv Forum, with more than 65,000 fans also gathering outside the arena, makes that more significant to sports fans in Wisconsin than the Ryder Cup. And the Ryder Cup wrapped up on Sunday just as the Milwaukee Brewers launched into a wild celebration at American Family Field after capturing the National League Central Division crown.
Both are, no doubt, major events and, in the case of the Bucks championship, something that will be forever cherished in Southeast Wisconsin. Rightly so.
But on a worldwide scale, an event with the significance, magnitude and uniqueness of the Ryder Cup comes along, in all likelihood, once in a lifetime. It brought its energy and excitement and massive crowds to a spectacular layout 60 miles from Milwaukee, filled hotels from Milwaukee to Green Bay and put a worldwide spotlight on golf in Wisconsin.
And the storyline featured a native son of Wisconsin serving as U.S team captain. Stricker, who is beloved in the golf community, assembled a team that dismantled its opponents from Europe.
“I’m happy for Steve Stricker. He’s one of the good guys in golf,” European captain Padraig Harrington said. “If you are going to get beat by a captain that’s a good captain, for sure. He obviously got his plan right. They did a good job. They started well and kept the momentum going. It was a tough one to overcome.”
Stricker said he wanted to make a memorable week for his team ever since being named U.S. captain two and a half years ago.
“It’s a special group of guys,” Stricker said. “It was fun to be part of it all this week, especially here in Wisconsin.”