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Published: Friday, 9/17/2004

Looking for loud, respectful crowd

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - Jim Furyk is all for good taste and good sportsmanship. But he also expects Oakland Hills Country Club to be an overwhelming home-field advantage for the U.S. team as the 35th Ryder Cup matches begin this morning.

"I'm hoping our fans are extremely rowdy," Furyk said. "I hope they cheer all the good shots they see.

"I don't want to see anyone cheered against. I expect that when the Europeans hit good shots, there is nice, polite [applause]. And when we hit great shots, I expect deafening roars. I think that's the way this event should be."

Unfortunately, that has not always been the case.

Some over-the-top partisanship from spectators first surfaced at The Belfry in the mid-1980s at a point where the home European team was beginning to become very competitive in what had once been an American-dominated event.

When the stage shifted to Kiawah Island in South Carolina on the heels of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the emotions of a U.S. squad en route to a dramatic victory spilled over onto the other side of the gallery ropes.

"I think it was a little bit over the top," said Bernhard Langer, then a competitor and now the Europeans' non-playing captain. "You know, this isn't a war. We're not shooting bullets; we're not trying to kill each other. We're just competing in a great contest. We're friends."

Fans at The Country Club at Brookline, near Boston, certainly didn't treat Great Britain's Colin Montgomerie as a friend during the 1999 matches. He was verbally abused to the point that at least one spectator was ejected from the premises.

After Kiawah and Brookline, there is some concern that U.S. crowds will be Ugly Americans.

"I've prepared my guys for the worst," Langer said, "but I'm hoping that the crowds will see the players behaving like sportsmen and will pick up on that and be reasonable and fair."

But no one is sure what to expect over the next three days at Oakland Hills, where throngs have been in a frenzy of sorts during practice rounds.

"I've been amazed," said Ryder Cup rookie Kenny Perry. "It's been electric out there. It's like a maze with 40,000 people who want to get close to you, get an autograph or something."

Said Davis Love III: "They started cheering when we walked out for the first practice round on Tuesday. They've been yelling, 'Good luck, today,' and we're like, you know, it's a practice round. They've been charged up and ready."

And they have treated the Europeans kindly.

"All of the guys have received a wonderful reception," said Langer, whose team has gone out of its way to mix with the crowds, pose for pictures and sign autographs.

"I've been getting a very positive crowd reaction and I look forward to [today's] start," Montgomerie said. "The cheers will be louder for a good American shot, or an American putt that drops. That's obvious; we're playing away from home. But I do hope that good golf will be applauded for both sides."

Sutton said nobody expects the fans to sit on their hands.

"I've never been to a sporting event where everybody sat there like this," Sutton said, quietly applauding. "Everybody roots hard for their team. But I'm confident the fans will be respectful of all the golfers."



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