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CHASKA, Minn. — There is nothing in the world of sports quite like the Ryder Cup. Every two years, the best golfers in the U.S. take on the best Europe has to offer.
And the tourney did not disappoint in the practice rounds on Thursday. Rory McIlroy, part of the European team, missed a putt six straight times. A fan in the gallery shouted that he could even make the putt. That's when McIlroy's teammate Henrik Stenson pulled the fan out on to the green. Justin Rose pulled out a $100 bill and challenged the fan to make the putt, a 12-footer from the cup.
The fan, Dave Johnson, from North Dakota, took his stance, and, boom, sunk the putt.
So besides the early drama, what's on the line this year from the Hazeltine National Golf Club here? It's not money. It's national pride and patriotism ... a whole lot of it.
Twenty-four of the greatest players in the world are competing at an elite level and America has an ax to grind. This is the biggest event hosted by the PGA of America.
While the U.S. team has won the Ryder Cup 25 out of a possible 40 times overall, it's struggled recently. The U.S. has won just two times in the last 10 years.
But America is better prepped and ready for the 41st Ryder Cup. "We know it's going to be tough," said PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua. "We think we have a good shot."
"We would dearly love to win and love to win in the future, and that's why we've prepared so well," said U.S. Team Captain Davis Love III.
Love said he feels like they are in a position to succeed this year after changing their preparation to provide more consistency and continuity to the team. Similar to Europe, the U.S. recently added a Ryder Cup Committee made up of PGA of America representatives as well as players. The committee puts together a game plan not just for this Ryder Cup, but future ones as well.
"In my 20 years, this is the first that we are actually involved in the decision-making process," said Phil Mickelson, who is playing in his 11th consecutive Ryder Cup. "It's exciting to be part of the groundwork and the foundation of the U.S. side trying to do that now going forward," he added.
While America is amping up its preparation, European pro Justin Rose said his team isn't letting that be a distraction.
"I think Europe is very comfortable in the way we do things, and we are not necessarily looking across the road to see what's going on on the red side of the clubhouse," he said.
"The only way to win a Ryder Cup is to deliver on the golf course, and I think everyone realizes that," he added.
This year's Ryder Cup will see an estimated 250,000 attendees stroll through the gates, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. It will also reach an estimated 500 million people in 160 countries through broadcast outlets.
It is the biggest event of the year for the PGA of America and proceeds help fund much of the group's activities. "A Ryder Cup, particularly a domestic Ryder Cup, really allows the PGA of America to grow the game. It allows us to do all the player development and growth initiatives that we fund throughout the country," said Bevacqua.
He's hoping that a U.S. win will unite the country's golfers and ultimately get more people excited about the game. "I think this entire country would galvanize around a win. The country is ready for it."
UPDATED: This story was updated with mention of the fan's putt during the practice rounds.