SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — The sea of red that fills the galleries every time the United States hosts the Ryder Cup will have fewer European blue dots than usual this year.
Pandemic-related travel restrictions are giving the U.S. a far bigger edge in fan support than the home team normally receives.
“You only have to look around and all the grandstands are red,” Europe’s Ian Poulter said. “Everything that you look at, the fans, 98% are obviously going to be U.S. fans this week.”
When this biennial event normally comes to the United States, there are as many as 5,000 European fans, still a clear minority but enough to be heard. There weren’t anywhere near that many European supporters watching Thursday’s practice at Whistling Straits.
“I think you could probably count them on your hands,” quipped Amanda Carle, a Team Europe fan from Dundee, Scotland, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
European residents aren’t permitted to fly directly to the United States due to the pandemic. The U.S. announced Monday it would allow foreigners to fly into the country if they have proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test, but those changes don’t take effect until November.
That meant fans living in Europe who wanted to watch the Ryder Cup in person had to take indirect routes.
For instance, Ashley Pearson of Hertfordshire, England, was among a group of four people who flew to Mexico and spent two weeks there. Then they flew from Mexico to Chicago before driving to Wisconsin.
Pearson watched the European team practice Thursday while holding a custom-made thermos with the words, “Ryder Cup or Die!!” on one side and “3 Years & 14,767 Miles” on another side to reflect how long he’d waited and how far he’d traveled to get to this point.
“Whatever we had to do, we were always going to do it,” Pearson said.
There were so few European fans watching Thursday’s practice that they quickly bonded with one another. While Pearson was discussing his circuitous path to Wisconsin, William May of Milwaukee and Ed Cook of Chicago – both originally from England – shouted “Let’s Go, Sergio!” as Sergio Garcia walked up the fairway.
“I just said to these guys a few holes back, ‘Oh, I finally found some English guys,’” Pearson said. “I’d been here for two days and hadn’t found anyone English.”
While the advantage in U.S. fans has been overwhelming, it thus far hasn’t been intimidating.
Carle said the reception from the American fans had been “really positive.” Chris Wipaki, Carle’s husband, noted how one fan dressed in an Abraham Lincoln costume had a polite chat with Carle while they watched the Europeans tee off.
“People are being pleasant and polite and nice,” said Haydn Grounds, an Englishman who lives in Ocean Pines, Maryland. “There’s not as many ‘Ole, Ole’s’ as I’d like to hear or you’d typically hear in a normal Ryder Cup, but it’s fun.”
Knowing they’d be small in number, European fans did their best to make their presence felt.
Grounds was one of a few spectators wearing European flags around their necks. Gavin Kidd, a Houston resident originally from Liverpool, England, wore a homemade mailbox costume to honor Poulter, who has been nicknamed “The Postman” because he delivers so often at the Ryder Cup.
Kidd’s outfit drew a mixed reaction.
“The European fans know it straight away,” Kidd said.
“The American fans don’t understand whatsoever,” said his wife, Lesley Kidd.
The Kidds decided to attend the Ryder Cup after noticing how significantly European fans were outnumbered at the Solheim Cup that took place earlier this month in Toledo, Ohio. Without much time to prepare, they bought plane tickets and found lodging about an hour away in Glendale, Wisconsin.
“I felt obligated to do the right thing and support the boys,” Gavin Kidd said.
It’s worth noting that Europe still managed to win the Solheim Cup even without having the crowd in its favor. Europe’s Ryder Cup team hopes to give its own small cheering section reason to celebrate as well.
“I guess everything is stacked against us,” Poulter said. “When you have that, when you can go in as underdogs, when you can turn the tide and actually come out victorious, it means a little bit more.”
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