By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
MEDINAH, Ill. - You'd be hard-pressed to find a sporting event more emotionally charged than the Ryder Cup.
You'd also be hard-pressed to find a more emotional professional athlete than Bubba Watson, who says he cries at least once a week, which may or may not be a bit of an exaggeration.
The world saw the emotion that poured out of Watson following his playoff win at the Masters in April. That pretty much locked up his spot here at Medinah, as a member of his second U.S. Ryder Cup squad.
However, this will be the first time Watson tees it up in the Ryder Cup on home soil - a fact he's incredibly excited about after having been on the losing U.S. side at Celtic Manor in Wales in 2010.
"I'm looking forward to it," Watson said on Thursday, before heading out for his final practice round. "The crowd has been amazing. They're really pumped about it; our team is pumped about it being here in the U.S. Wales was different obviously because the crowd was more for them than for us, but they respected our golf, they respected good shots. I'm hoping that our crowd does the same thing; they respect good shots from the other team, as well. It seems like we've been here for a few days now and we're just ready to play golf."
Just outside Chicago, Medinah Country Club is located in a part of the country that boasts some of the best sports fans in the world. If the practice rounds are any indication, it's going to be loud here all week. Of course, at a Ryder Cup, that's to be expected and it's part of what makes this event so special.
Let's face it - it doesn't matter the sport, there's nothing like a home-field advantage. The United States has won just two of the last eight Ryder Cups - both on U.S. soil in 1999 and 2008. The last time the United States won the Ryder Cup in Europe was in 1993 at The Belfry.
Everyone on both sides is hoping that enthusiasm remains courteous. It's something U.S. Captain Davis Love III expects, as does European Captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
As beloved as the Ryder Cup has become over the years, the fact is, it's still just golf - something everyone from the players to the fans needs to keep in perspective. That should be easy seeing as now, perhaps more so than any other time in the past, pretty much every player on each side calls each other friends.
Most of the European team plays on the PGA Tour and has a home base somewhere in the United States. Heck, Luke Donald is a Northwestern graduate and calls Chicago home. If it weren't for the colors he's wearing this week, Donald would be the local favorite any other week of the year.
Of course these players are going to want to beat each other's brains in once the competition starts - it's what they've strived all their lives to be in a position to do. But rest assured it will stay respectful inside the ropes.
"We're friends with all of them," Watson said. "We've played golf with all of them for years. We know them all. We know their families. It's just that trophy. It's funny; it's just that little trophy we want to win so bad. So it's really not a dislike for the other team. It's just a dislike for any opponent, no matter who the opponent is. It's a dislike ... for us, we just want to win. It's just like the FedEx. We were mad at Snedeker because he won, and I wanted to win it. But now I'm pulling for that guy. It's funny. You just want to win. I mean, we are in the sport to win. We don't look who it is we're trying to beat; we just want to win it."
Ian Poulter has always been one to wear his emotions on his sleeve and was very candid about what he'd like to do this week.
"This event is unique," the Englishman said. "I mean, you know, I hate to say we don't get on for three days, but there is that divide, and it's not that we don't like each other. We are all good friends, both sides of the pond. But there's something about Ryder Cup which kind of intrigues me how you can be great mates with somebody, but, boy, do you want to kill them in Ryder Cup. It's great. I mean, it's passion like I've never seen before. I love it. I love that chance to be able to go out there and beat one of your mates."
As you watch the Ryder Cup this week, appreciate the passion of the players and the fans. Have pride in your side. Whatever the outcome, the experience will be a great week for each team - a better one for the team that hoists that beautiful gold trophy at the end, no doubt.
But, remember, at the end of the day - as amazing as it's sure to be - this is just golf.
- Bubba Watson
- Ryder Cup