Easier to go into space or climb Everest than play for Europe in Ryder Cup, says Padraig Harrington

Europe’s players will take inspiration from a stirring reminder of their place in Ryder Cup history as they bid to defy the odds and retain the trophy at Whistling Straits.

Team Europe captain Padraig Harrington, Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy pose for a team photo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

The United States are odds-on favourites to continue the dominance of home teams in the biennial contest, with Europe’s ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012 the only away victory in the last seven.

All 12 of Steve Stricker’s side are ranked inside the world’s top 21 and have a record-low average ranking of 8.9, compared to 30.8 for Padraig Harrington’s European team.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

However, Harrington has produced some numbers of his own to help inspire his side to an away win which Rory McIlroy believes would be a “monumental achievement.”

Team Europe's Rory McIlroy practices at Whistling Straits. Picture: PA

“We have this thing this week where we’ve all been given a player number, so there’s been 164 players that have played for the European Ryder Cup team, or GB&I way back in the day,” McIlroy revealed.

“So that’s a pretty small group of players. I’m number 144, I think Lee (Westwood) is number 118. Bernd Wiesberger, who’s making his debut this year, is number 164.

“It’s a small collection of people that have played for Europe in the Ryder Cup. I think that’s what brings us very close together, and that’s been one of our big focus points this week.

“Just being here is very special and being part of a European team. Very few people can call themselves a European Ryder Cup player.”

Asked if the numbers were Harrington’s idea, McIlroy added: “Yeah. He played a video for us last night to put it into context.

“570 people have been into space. I think over 5,000 people have climbed Everest. 225 have won a men’s major. When you sort of break it down like that it’s a pretty small group and it’s pretty cool.”

McIlroy bore the brunt of the heckling over the first two days of the last Ryder Cup on US soil at Hazeltine in 2016, ultimately having to ask for one man to be removed for being abusive during Saturday’s afternoon fourballs. And with a similarly hostile atmosphere expected at Whistling Straits, where European support will be minimal due to coronavirus travel restrictions, McIlroy is under no illusions about what it would mean to win on Sunday.

“It would be massive,” the four-time major winner said. “I think winning any Ryder Cup is huge and it’s a monumental achievement for all that are involved, but I think over the years winning a Ryder Cup on the road has just become more meaningful for some reason.

“We experienced it in 2012, which from a European perspective is probably one of the best days in the Ryder Cup that we’ve ever had in history. I’d certainly love to have that feeling again.

“I think it would be a huge achievement. Obviously this tournament isn’t played on paper, it’s played on grass, but you look at the world rankings and everything, we’re coming in here as underdogs with a lot of things stacked against us, so I think that would make it even more of an achievement.”

Harrington and Stricker offered hints about their possible pairings as practice got under way in earnest at Whistling Straits on Tuesday.

Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler were in the same group on Tuesday, with Spieth and Thomas set to resume their partnership from 2018.

On the European side, world No 1 Jon Rahm, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton went out together, with Fleetwood in need of a new partner after Francesco Molinari failed to make the team.

Paul Casey, Bernd Wiesberger, Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick and Ian Poulter were in group two, Poulter perhaps being lined up to give rookie Wiesberger the benefits of his experience.

Cup preview: Page 25