A Year Out from Wisconsin's Ryder Cup, Captains Just Need Players

Stricker, Harrington will be watching their peers closely in the season ahead of the international tilt at Whistling Straits next fall.

Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker and European counterpart Padraig Harrington have picked out designs for golf bags and clothing and settled on lodging for their respective teams, among a slew of other administrative duties.

Now comes the important work.

In a little less than a year, the eyes of the golf world will be focused on the picturesque Whistling Straits golf course in Sheboygan County, which will host the Ryder Cup, one of the world’s most unique and passionate sporting events. Held every other year at alternating sites in the United States and Europe, as many as 45,000 spectators are expected to be on site each day during the Sept. 22-27 event.

Stricker, an Edgerton native who now lives in Madison, and Harrington, who hails from Ireland, are shifting their focus to the potential makeup of their 12-man squads.

“We’re a year out. Now it becomes, who are we looking at? What’s the team going to look like?” says Stricker, who has played on three Ryder Cup teams and served on three more as vice captain. “We’ll just keep working at it. I love watching golf. I love watching guys compete, so I’ll keep a good eye on everybody and see how they are playing.”

As the home country captain, Stricker also will offer input concerning the course setup at Whistling Straits.

Harrington, who has played on six Ryder Cup teams and served three stints as vice captain, agrees that the pressure of putting together the most competitive team is mounting.

“I have the feeling now that we’ve turned the corner,” he says. “From now on it will turn more to my time with the team, my time getting to know the players.”

Stricker and Harrington addressed the media at Whistling Straits on Tuesday morning under gray skies with rain falling periodically, prompting Harrington to joke that the conditions reminded him of a usual summer day in Ireland.

“It’s a great venue,” Stricker says. “It’s one of the best courses in Wisconsin. To be able to play here is really a special treat for all of us. The state is going to show up big time and we are going to have the crowd on our side. Hopefully, that will deter from the Irish setting.”

The captains shared stories of their first Ryder Cup experiences and the pressure that comes with it.

Stricker’s first Ryder Cup took place at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, with Paul Azinger serving as captain.

“We went on to win there. It was a great experience,” Stricker says. “The crowds at Valhalla were unbelievable. It’s a nerve-wracking time. You’re playing for country. Probably the most nervous I’ve ever been playing the game of golf is playing that first Ryder Cup.”

Harrington’s rookie Ryder Cup experience occurred at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1999.

“It still goes down as probably the most electrifying week I’ve ever had on a golf course. It was so exciting,” Harrington says. “It’s why sports fans love the Ryder Cup. It’s dramatic, it’s exciting. The ebbs and flows, there’s nothing quite like it. You get to root for your home country, your home continent.”

The Ryder Cup’s team play unites American players used to going it alone – and fans used to cheering on individuals – behind the Stars and Stripes; photo courtesy of PGA

The U.S. Ryder Cup team will consist of eight players who qualify for the team, as well as four picks made by Stricker, who didn’t rule out considering aging stars Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson for the team if they aren’t among the automatic qualifiers.

“I think they both are very capable of making the team,” Stricker says. “Tiger has played well again. It wouldn’t surprise me if either one of those guys makes the team next year. Anything is possible with Phil. Tiger, we know what kind of player and competitor he is. To leave those guys out would be really hard to do because of what they mean and have meant to these teams over the years.”

As visiting captain, Harrington won’t have any input into the course setup, so he is shifting his focus solely to the European team.

Related: The Wolrd’s Biggest Golf Event is Coming to Wisconsin

“Mostly, my captaincy will be just managing my team, putting them together in the right format,” Harrington says. “I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. I don’t have new ideas that are going to revolutionize being the captain of the team. I will present all the options to my players so that they are in the best possible position to play their own game and their best game.”

The European squad will be made of nine automatic qualifiers and three selections from Harrington.

“Anybody you pick is under pressure, more pressure, more stress than those who qualify,” Harrington explains. “Why not just have them qualify and be there on his own merits? No second guessing, no judging.”

The United States has lost seven of the last 10 Ryder Cup competitions, including last year’s event outside Paris, something that Stricker admits creates added pressure.

The best players in the world are selected to the teams; Jordan Spieth
anchored the 2018 U.S. team that lost to Europe at Le Golf National near Paris; photo courtesy of PGA

“The last few Ryder Cups haven’t gone the way we would have liked,” Stricker says. “For me, it’s about moving forward and learning from the past a little bit. It’s about playing better. Bottom line, they played great and outplayed us. We’re going to have to make the putts that we need to and hit the tee shots down the stretch that we need to hit.”

Ryder Cup tickets are being distributed through a random draw. The event is expected to have an economic impact of $135 million for the region.

“We have the ultimate event in the game of golf,” Stricker exclaims. “To be here, at Whistling Straits, in Wisconsin, the anticipation is through the roof. I’m very excited to have this opportunity to be here in my home state to try to lead this team and try to win that cup back. It’s a great treat for all us. It’ll be here before we know it.”



Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.