By Ann Liguori
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If there was any question how European Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke perceives United States Captain Davis Love's comments about the Americans being "the best golf team maybe ever assembled," Clarke made his feelings clear during his Tuesday afternoon press conference.
A reporter asked Clarke if his group is more motivated after hearing Love's interview on a radio talk show last week and Johnny Miller's remarks this past weekend during the NBC coverage of the TOUR Championship in which Miller said, "I do believe the Euros have got, at least on paper, the worst team they've had in many years."
Clarke took no time to think about his response before replying, "The guys have all seen everything that's been said. But in terms of that, we have the Masters champion (Danny Willett); we have The Open champion (Henrik Stenson); we have the Olympic champion (Justin Rose), and we have the FedEx champion (Rory McIlroy). You combine that with all the experience and with all of the rest of the team and the way those guys have played, I don't really need to respond to that. I think I've got full confidence in our team."
For the record, the American team is loaded, consisting of PGA Tour stalwarts and rising stars, including reigning U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson, PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker, former Masters and British Open champ Zach Johnson, 2015 Masters and U.S. Open titleholder Jordan Spieth, and, oh yeah, five-time major champion Phil Mickelson.
With that knowledge, Love followed Clarke in the interview room at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. It didn't take long before a member of the European media asked the following question of the U.S. Captain:
"Your comments last week about potentially the best team ever assembled raised some eyebrows. What went into saying that? (It was) kind of a bold statement, and was there any concern about kind of adding a little motivation to the European Team room? Because there's been some back and forth since then regarding that."
Love went on to explain in detail the context of his comments and attempted to lesson the sting.
"Yeah, it raised some eyebrows around our team, too, because if you listen to the interview, or it wasn't really an interview -- it was a send-off that Matt Adams does for the American Captain -- a very nice guy from Canada called in and said, 'I'm supporting the U.S. Team. I just think they need a little bit more swagger when they go out and play.' And I said, 'I agree with you. We've got to get these guys going. '
"And I told a story that Tom Kite always told me, just out-drive them and walk faster than them, get to your ball first and dominate. Every time you get 2-up, you know what's better than 2-up? I said, 'No, what? ' He goes, 3-up. He was trying to give me an attitude of, 'you're better than them,' let's out-play them. Let's show them that you're better.
"Then Matt Adams was asking me, 'What are you going to tell your team?' And I said, 'I would tell my team they're the best team ever assembled. Let's go out and show off and play and have fun.' That's what Nick Saban would tell his team when they're getting ready to go play Ole Miss. He wouldn't say, 'You guys have done a pretty good job this week, and you're a pretty average team, let's go out there and just give it a good shot. No, he's going to say, 'You guys have worked hard, you're the best team I've ever seen. Let's go crush these guys.'
" So the question wasn't, 'How do you rank this team in history?' It was, 'What are you going to tell your team to fire them up?' So I would still tell them the same thing: 'You're a great team. Let's go out there and have some fun, play your game, don't get in your own way. '
"I think we try to be -- especially like our top players, five or six guys, whether it's Davis Love and Tiger Woods and Justin Leonard in '97 -- we try too hard to be better than we are or to do something extraordinary, and I think we get in our own way doing that sometimes. And we just need to understand that we're a really good golf team (and) they are a really good golf team. If we just go play our game, the results will take care of themselves.
" It's just unfortunate that, you know, in that nice conversation, that it got misconstrued. Obviously, that comment and to the other extreme, the comment about the European Team, is not what this is all about.
"So Darren and I have already talked about both of those things, and that's just part of The Ryder Cup. And our team's happy (and) their team's happy. We're out there working hard and moving on."
However, in my opinion, Love meant his one-liner last week, and he's smart enough not to deliberately say anything to give the Europeans additional motivation, because the damage had been done.
On Monday, McIlroy referenced the comments when he said, "Anywhere you look, whether it be the sea of red you see on the golf course or the comments that are made in the media by the U.S. team or by the captain, that gives us so much motivation already. Whenever we are going up against one of the greatest teams ever assembled, that's motivation enough, just to say, how good a victory would this be if we go out and beat these guys on their home soil that, you know ... look, they are a very, very strong team, but at the same time, we have so many strong players."
Sergio Garcia had this to say about Love's comments: "At the end of the day, you don't win Ryder Cups with your mouth. You win them out on the golf course."
The drama and sparks have already begun. After all, it's Ryder Cup week and that's part of what makes this international competition so compelling.
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