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Ryder Cup: American stars hope to use Palmer's legacy as inspiration for special triumph

By Ian Herbert

Published 27/09/2016

Inspiration: Davis Love III
Inspiration: Davis Love III

The American TV networks were alive yesterday to the sound of how the Europeans are going to get damaged in this week's Ryder Cup. The NBC led the line with the argument that captain Darren Clarke's team, with its six rookies, is the worst there has been.

"I mean, with all those rookies… and when you lose [Ian] Poulter, it's like tearing your heart out," said Johnny Miller, who was twice on a winning American side. This could be the year the United States win by five points, he suggested.

The death of Arnold Palmer, with the collective desire it has furnished the host nation team with, adds to the poignancy and the sense that things will be different after ten years of European dominance. "Our team will keep Mr Palmer's family in our prayers and will draw from his strength and determination to inspire us," said American captain Davis Love III .

It should be said before those looking for some retribution for eight defeats in 10 tournaments get ahead of themselves that Palmer would have taken some pleasure in the team Clarke has assembled.

If there is a day which epitomises what he came to stand for in golf then perhaps it was June 18, 1960, at the Cherry Hills club in Colorado, when he began the final round of the US Open seven strokes and 14 players behind, and was told by Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press that winning was beyond him. His indignation saw him drive the first green, 346 yards away, and make the first of four birdies, part of a final-round 65. Palmer and the word 'charge' have been inextricably bound together ever since.

Of course, he would have espoused an unapologetic desire for America to win had he lived to see the 41st Ryder Cup. But those rookies of Clarke's would have interested him, perhaps none more than Andy Sullivan, the individual who brings personality to the piece for Europe. Sullivan was stacking shelves at Asda 10 years ago, and in some ways he is the new manifestation of the working class ethic which Poulter has been across the course of the last eight years.

"Sure I've got the personality for the Ryder Cup," he said. "I know the crowd are going to call me a dumpy, fat Englishman and that sort of thing, but I'm the sort of person who embraces that and thrives on it."

There has certainly been more pretension about the way the American side has been assembled. A 'task force' was assembled amid the recriminations of the third successive Ryder Cup defeat two years ago at Gleneagles, and a 'brains trust' put together to plan, with Tiger Woods the 'tactician', as Love tells it.

Yet the team selected is conservative. Love's picks - Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler and JB Holmes - all arrive in Hazeltine with the Ryder Cup experience Europe lack, but only Holmes has been on a winning side and only Dustin Johnson is in form that might instil any anxiety into European ranks.

The Golf Channel's Justin Ray has crunched the numbers on how well US rookies have fared compared with those who bring prior experience. Since 2010 rookies have a 22-17-9 won-lost-halved record compared with 31-41-11 for those with experience.

Clarke, meanwhile, brings a rookie to the table by making the 24-year-old Belgian Thomas Pieters one of his picks. He looks like Europe's answer to the formidable Johnson. There is no fear of fielding inexperience with Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson in the ranks.

The PGA Tour is still stronger than the European Tour, so the spirit of overturning the odds remains as much a motivating factor as ever. Palmer knew all about that.

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