Americans and Europeans are rivals and friends

Ryder Cup captains Jose Maria Olazabal and Davis Ryder Cup captains Jose Maria Olazabal and Davis Love III shake hands as they lead their teams into the Opening Ceremony for the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. (Sept. 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

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MEDINAH, ILL. -- The U.S. players did not react in any way when Europe's Ian Poulter said the other day, "Boy, do you want to kill them in the Ryder Cup."

The Americans didn't blink an eye because they know Poulter, they know his gift of gab, they know his flair for hyperbole. Everybody knows everybody in the Ryder Cup now, which makes it a different kind of event these days.

While the intensity level is way up from 30 years ago, the animosity level is way down. "That doesn't make it any less competitive. It just makes it that we know each other a lot better," U.S. captain Davis Love III said.

A generation ago, the two sides had almost no contact with each other aside from major championships and the Ryder Cup, so it was easy for them to distill their dislike. Now, many of the European players -- Poulter included -- are members of the U.S. PGA Tour and live much of the year in Florida. England's Luke Donald, a mainstay of the European team, lives in Chicago, a short drive from the course on which he will be on the visiting team as the matches start this morning.

"I'll be the only guy from both teams that is more familiar with this town than probably anyone [else]," said the golfer who attended Northwestern, married a woman from Chicago and is raising a family here. "The people are very welcoming and friendly. I just love the culture of Chicago. It is a sporting town, which appeals to me."

With due respect to Donald, their neighbor, the Bears and Bulls fans will be rooting hard for the U.S. this weekend. The tension in the Ryder Cup at least since the U.S. win at Kiawah Island in 1991 has come largely from the crowds, sort of like the Islanders-Rangers game.

The players themselves are buddies, or "mates" as Poulter called them.

Matt Kuchar of the U.S. said, "We seem to see each other all the time, week in and week out. Justin Rose has kids similar in ages to mine, so we see a lot of Justin and Kate and their kids. Graeme McDowell, I kind of grew up playing college golf and Walker Cups with."

Bubba Watson, perhaps the most emotionally patriotic American player, said, "We're friends with all of them. We know their families. It's just that trophy. It's just that little trophy that we want to win so bad. So it's really not a dislike for the other team. It's a dislike for any opponent, no matter who the opponent is. It's just like the FedEx. We were mad at Snedeker because he won. Now I'm pulling for that guy."

If anything, the familiarity has helped the Europeans, who have won four of the past five Ryder Cups. "That somehow boosts your confidence," said captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who played in Ryder Cups when the feelings were much more edgy. "It's obviously completely different to, let's say, 15 years ago."

It still can get "spicy" on the course, said McDowell, who scored the deciding singles victory for Europe two years ago. But he added, "The days of hostility, I think, are gone. I think. Well, I say that. We'll see."

We already have seen this week. A European reporter asked Phil Mickelson to comment on Poulter's comment, and Mickelson didn't bite. On his way off the dais, he told the writer, "Good try, though."

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