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irish dream team? You suspect Lowry will play with Rory McIlroy in foursomes as good memories linger

harrington's charges face heavy firepower of stricker's men

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Team Europe Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington pictured with the Ryder Cup trophy. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Team Europe Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington pictured with the Ryder Cup trophy. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Team Europe Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington pictured with the Ryder Cup trophy. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

It is called the Irish Course and for three days next weekend, the 18 golf holes at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, will see 24 of the very best golfers in the world go head-to-head for not a single dollar.

Instead, golfers who spend the majority of their careers competing as a solo artists will put their heart and soul on the line for a small gold chalice that is the Ryder Cup in a team event.

Three-time Major champion Pádraig Harrington captains the European team that looks strong on paper but is up against it as the crowd will be 99.99 per cent USA since no visitors are being allowed into America right now, except for urgent reasons.

Despite the fact that we believe Europe always win the Ryder Cup, in fact Europe has won only twice in the last two decades in America.

They were winners in 2004, when the European captain Bernhard Langer schooled his hapless opposite number - the Stetson-wearing Hal Sutton- in Detroit.

Eight years later, Europe won again, but that it is called the Miracle at Medinah tells you everything about how close that event was.

Steve Stricker, a local boy, is not likely to be as accommodating as Sutton and he has some firepower to call on in a young, if inexperienced, American team.

As the home captain, Stricker can set up the course as he sees fit - and he will surely favour the many boomers among the USA's dozen golfers.

One thing that might favour the Europeans is the weather. In taking the event so far north, the home team has risked getting Irish weather for The Irish Course.

"We're playing on the shores of Lake Michigan, well north in America," says Harrington. "And it is in the last week of September. This is not going to be 80 F and sunny as in Florida. There could be a bit of wind, cold, rain, we'll see, but that could be in our favour."

Europe certainly scores over the Americans on experience in 2021. Half of the American side has never played in the event before, as Stricker oversees a changing of the guard with staples of previous recent American teams - such as Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler - all replaced by younger players.

Stricker's biggest issue is surely how to handle the Bryson DeChambeau situation, with at least two of his team - Brooks Koepka and Patrick Cantlay - making it clear that they have no time for the brash Californian DeChambeau.

That cannot help create a good atmosphere in the team room - nor help with bonding, something the American golfers, so unused to playing in a team context, seem to find difficult,

Finding a foursomes and fourballs partner for DeChambeau is surely the first thing on the American skipper's 'to do' list when the practice rounds start on Tuesday morning. Just like it used to be when the American leader's first problem was always 'who will play with Tiger'?

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Harrington is blessed on that front, with even the rookies like Shane Lowry and Viktor Hovland very easy to pair up.

You suspect Lowry will play with Rory McIlroy in foursomes anyway. The pair were unbeaten as Irish amateur internationals in that format. That's a long time ago now, but the good memories linger.

Driving the ball accurately is the key to this Whistling Straits course.

All the course guides emphasise that, so it is no wonder Harrington is delighted by how many accurate drivers of the golf ball off the tee have made his team.

If the American 'bombers' like Bryson or Justin Thomas are going to hit the ball miles off the tee, well Padraig just wants his men to hit it straight.

One little quirk of selecting Whistling Straits as the Ryder Cup host course is that its most difficult hole, the 18th, will see very little play this week. That's because, typically at each staging, only about six of the 28 matches in a Ryder Cup make it to the last hole.

The recent Solheim Cup, in which Leona Maguire starred, was an exception with 16 of the 28 matches at the Inverness Club in Ohio reaching the last hole.

As ever, there were selection controversies. Justin Rose missed out on the European side and neither Patrick Reed, the self-styled 'Captain America', nor Billy Horschel, this year's WGC Matchplay champion, were chosen by Stricker.

They are now on the outside looking in. Between the ropes, each team of 12 will go hard at it and maybe Harrington has enough talent in his team to win it.

Especially if his rival skipper is not able to pull his team together.

That could be a huge bonus for the Irishman as he sets out on a mission he always knew he would one day be asked to undertake - captaining Europe to a win at the Ryder Cup.

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