HAVEN – In the Irish Barn, which serves as the halfway house for golfers at Whistling Straits, Pádraig Harrington looked out over the ninth hole and toward Lake Michigan. He smiled at the heavy fog lying on the golf course, soft rain falling in 71-degree weather.
“It looks like an Irish summer’s day out there,” Harrington quipped.
The three-time major champion from Dublin, Ireland, is captaining the 2020 European Ryder Cup squad that will try to retain the cup from Sept. 25-27 on the lakeside course, and from the moment Whistling Straits was named as the host venue of the biannual team event there was a feeling it wouldn’t provide the United States team its typical home-course advantage.
The U.S. teams typically like wide fairways, short rough and fast greens – and many venues can be shaped in such a way. The rolling, sandy hills of Whistling Straits may not allow U.S. captain Steve Stricker to tinker too much in that way, which is something Harrington noted Tuesday morning during a news conference to advance the tournament.
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“Here at Whistling Straits, this is a much more natural golf course,” Harrington said. “I’m interested to see down the road what Steve has in store but doesn’t look like you can do a lot with this golf course. As much as it was obviously designed and built there, it looks like it’s just in a natural setting all its life and it’s going to present its way. Even the weather could be very changeable the week of the Ryder Cup next year.
“So in many ways, this is a golf course that is just going to test the players on its own merits.”
Even Stricker, whose presence will bring an even more passionate home-state fan base to an already charged atmosphere, couldn’t help but hope the weather in about a year is a tad bit different for his team.
“Yeah, it concerns us, when we look out, and I don’t know if you brought this weather today or what, but hopefully we have nice, sunny 75-degree days next year at this time,” Stricker said looking out to the lake. “But yeah, you know, when you look out here, it has the feel of — does it not, over there in Ireland…”
“It looks like an Irish day out there, yeah,” Harrington interjected with a smile.
“But the whole setting next to Lake Michigan, it looks like we could be overseas somewhere for sure,” Stricker continued.
“The state is going to show up big time and we’re going to have the crowd on our side, so hopefully that will deter from what it really looks like out there as far as an Irish setting. You know, we’re looking forward to it.”
In Whistling Straits’ history as a PGA Championship venue, international players have found success more often than not on Pete Dye’s design. Vijay Singh won in 2004, Martin Kaymer in 2010 and Jason Day in 2015.
Interestingly, the course has proven it can be an exciting match-play venue in those stroke-play tournaments. Singh won in a playoff over Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco. Kaymer won in a playoff over Bubba Watson and in 2015 Day had to fend off Jordan Spieth in essentially a two-man race to the Wanamaker Trophy.
“I think it will be a great venue for the Ryder Cup. It’s a dramatic golf course. We need that in the Ryder Cup,” Harrington said. “The Ryder Cup is probably the most exciting golf event in the game — one of the biggest sporting events but certainly the most exciting in golf. You need a dramatic golf course that lends itself to spectacular play, as well as some disastrous play. That’s what match play is about.”
Course setup is always a talking point for the captains in the run-up to the Ryder Cup, but Harrington said he hopes at some point down the line that that responsibility is taken away from the captains to literally level out the playing field for the teams.
“I think it’s obviously not going to happen probably in my lifetime, but 40, 50 years down the road when the Ryder Cup is still going along, it will probably be best to have a neutral setup where there is no setting up a golf course as we did in Europe so that it was very tight off the tee and it made it a real difficult – where par was a good score,” Harrington said, noting the course setup in the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, France.
“Whereas, if you went back to Hazeltine (in 2016), it was more of a birdie-fest where the statisticians get involved and tell us what suits each team. Possibly down the road, it’s going to be more of a neutral setup.”