Back in his rookie Ryder Cup season in 1991, Colin Montgomerie recalled some sage advice he received prior to the contentious matches at Kiawah Island, the so-called "War by the Shore," from some of the veterans on his European team.
In a pressure-filled event that included serious heckling by flag-waving U.S. fans, applause and even cheers when the Europeans made bad shots or missed putts, Montgomerie's colleagues told him the opposition was probably just as nervous as he was, and to simply, "Get on with it."
"I was obviously very nervous as every rookie is and should be," Montgomerie said this afternoon. "I was given the advice, which settled me down in saying that just remember that however nervous you are, especially playing in America, the Americans will be slightly more nervous.
"They have slightly more to lose, possibly, than we have. We're coming in here as underdogs. The Americans are expected to win because of the so-called world rankings, so it's probably more pressure on them."
The United States lost the Cup in 1995 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., then failed to bring it home again two years ago in matches at Valderrama Golf Club in Spain. Both times, the United States was considered a heavy favorite, just as it is once again this week.
Though the 33rd Ryder Cup matches at The Country Club already are being billed in some quarters as "The Battle of Brookline," there nevertheless seems to be a calmer, gentler tone to the proceedings after the first day of practice in this moneyed and manicured Boston suburb.
Montgomerie and other European players said they were treated extremely well by huge crowds lining the fairways as they made their way around a course that seems ideally suited for match-play competition, not to mention the U.S. team's tendency to hit a longer ball. The Europeans also said they expect that sort of civilized behavior to continue throughout the competition that starts here on Friday with doubles play in alternate-shot and four-ball formats.
But one facet of this biennial event hasn't really changed since the Europeans started winning fairly regularly in the 1980s: the crushing weight of expectations felt on both sides from fans, the media, even their own teammates, captains and families.
"It's definitely a different feeling," Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion, said today. "You feel like you're out there and you've got 11 players and a captain pulling for you. At the same time, you have those same guys to fall back on. It's a great feeling to get up in the morning and as soon as you get out of bed, you can start to feel it."
The conventional wisdom is that the Europeans might feel it more, if only because there are seven Ryder rookies on their 12-man team under Mark James, a first-time captain who has played in seven Cup competitions. The U.S. side has only one rookie, David Duval, merely the second-ranked player in the world and winner of four events on the PGA Tour this season.
In addition, the United States has 10 of the top 16 players in the world and two more in the top 30, Tom Lehman (No. 23) and Steve Pate (28), both wild-card picks by captain Ben Crenshaw.
The Europeans have only three men in the top 20, No. 3 Montgomerie, No. 5 Lee Westwood and No. 15 Jesper Parnevik, all Cup veterans. Three more are in the top 25, but it's a long leap down the list to Miguel Angel Jimenez (45), Paul Lawrie (48), Andrew Coltart (66), Padraig Harrington (72), Jarmo Sandelin (73) and Jean Van de Velde (90).
Perhaps that's why Jeff Maggert, who played in the last two Cup losses to Europe, came right out and said today he believes there's no question about the U.S. team's superiority on paper.
"Let's face it, we've got the 12 best players in the world and if they just go out and play golf and hit golf shots, it's hard to mess up putting two guys together," he said.
At first glance, Maggert's comments sounded a touch inflammatory, and some of the British tabloid writers could barely wait to get to their laptops. A few minutes later, Maggert toned it down a touch when he said, "I think all 12 of us on our team think we're the best players in the world and I'm sure if you ask the European players, they'll probably have a different opinion. That's the way I want to think."
Both James and Montgomerie, now on his fifth team, declined to make Maggert's comments into any sort of issue, at least not publicly.
"I've always said the world rankings are wrong," James said sarcastically when asked about his reaction to Maggert's statement. "I'm glad Jeff agrees with me."
Said Montgomerie: "You're going to ask all that question, aren't you? It's because you want someone to bite at it. I'm not going to. I agree with Mark James entirely that none of us agrees with the world rankings. So Jeff Maggert's probably dead right."
There was agreement on one other significant subject today. The issue of some U.S. players wanting to be paid to play, or at least to have money donated in their names to charity, apparently is over for now. Leonard said today the players don't want to discuss the issue this week.
Tiger Woods, one of the most vocal players on the subject, said the U.S. team has come together nicely despite differences of opinion on the subject.
"We were all on the same page to begin with," he said. "We all came here to win. We didn't come here to finish top two in this tournament."