Team Europe is winning the Ryder Cup charm offensive

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — This is precisely why it’s difficult to resist rooting for the European Ryder Cup team.

Exhibit A was on display Wednesday morning on the first tee at Whistling Straits. The European players showed up wearing green, gold and white of the Green Bay Packers and donning those oversized foam cheeseheads, then tossing them into the stands to the fans.

The 43rd Ryder Cup doesn’t begin until Friday morning, and already the European team is on the offensive.

The charm offensive.

It was a positively brilliant bit of gamesmanship on the part of Team Europe, and it was representative of the fun-loving passion they bring to this biannual competition.

All’s fair in the Ryder Cup when it comes to currying favor with the local fans on foreign soil. That’s particularly true this year, with COVID-19 travel restrictions severely hampering European fans’ ability to fly to the U.S. to support their beloved Ryder Cup side with “olé, olé, olé, olé’’ chants.

Whatever might work shall be tried.

“When we were doing the clothing with [fashion company] Loro Piana, they were talking about maybe bringing some Irish colors in for me,’’ European captain Padraig Harrington said Wednesday. “It is a nod to Wisconsin and obviously to Green Bay that we’ve gone with the colors. And obviously the cheeseheads and throwing the things up there is a bit of fun for the fans that are here. The Wisconsin fans are very appreciative, so we want to show our appreciation back.’’

Tyrrell Hatton of England and team Europe, Shane Lowry of Ireland and team Europe, Jon Rahm of Spain and team Europe and Sergio Garcia of Spain and team Europe walk with cheese head hats during a practice round
Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry, Jon Rahm and Sergio Garciawalk with cheese head hats during a practice round.
Getty Images

Harrington revealed that this plan was put into place more than 18 months ago. When going over things with the designer, he said: “Let’s do something different. Why not recognize Wisconsin, where we’re going to play? It fit in very nicely then to go with the Green Bay Packers.’’

Harrington said Team Europe reached out to the Packers with the idea and it was received well.

“It was just a really nice idea, and obviously grew a little bit when it came to the cheeseheads and the foam and the hats,’’ he said. “They were very good, Green Bay Packers. They bought into it, too, and they supplied the hats, so it worked very well on all sides.’’

Ian Poulter, one of the veterans of the European side, said there’s been “a great buzz’’ around Whistling Straits, which is crowded with mostly Team USA fans.

“You only have to look around and all the grandstands are red,’’ Poulter said of the U.S. team colors. “Ninety-eight percent are obviously going to be U.S. fans this week. It’s not easy to play away from home.’’

Maybe — just maybe — Europe’s charm offensive on Wednesday will flip a few of those Team USA supporters over to Team Europe.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and team Europe throws a cheese head hat to the fans.
Rory McIlroy throws a cheesehead hat to Ryder Cup fans
Getty Images

It was a sneaky-good one-up on Team USA by Europe — particularly considering that the American captain Steve Stricker is a proud Wisconsin native.

“That’s smart on their part,’’ Stricker said. “Why wouldn’t you when you come over to foreign soil try to win some fans over, right? With the travel restrictions and all that, they’re trying to roundup as many fans as they can. We’d be doing the same thing over there.

“Cheeseheads are a staple here, right? So, that’s cool to see. I saw Fleetwood on TV wearing a green and gold hat, so I thought they were kind of going down the Packer route, as well. So good on them and interesting to see.’’

Maybe a bit awkward considering perhaps Team USA should have been the one tossing cheeseheads to the fans. Though he’d never admit to it, when he saw the European maneuver, Stricker must have had pangs of, “Damn, why didn’t we do this?’’

Harrington, meanwhile, clearly was loving seeing the flawless execution after all those months of preparation.

“Everybody is out here to get on well with the crowds,’’ Harrington said. “We obviously can’t sign autographs this week with COVID, which is something that traditionally we would do. These fans have come out and they’ve come out on a cold day. They’ve come out to watch us, and we want to give them something to watch.’’

Mission accomplished.

Europe, 1-up before the matches begin.