U.S. Ryder Cup unity a bigger factor, says Bjorn
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Close team bonds have not always been a hallmark for the United States at past Ryder Cups but that is likely to change in a big way at this year's edition, according to European vice-captain Thomas Bjorn.
While Europe could previously bank on tighter team unity in the biennial competition because of relationships forged on the smaller and more sociable European Tour, Bjorn believes the 2012 American lineup will set new standards for camaraderie.
"They've got a lot of guys who know each other really well -- like Bubba (Watson) and Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan," Bjorn, a 13-times winner on the European Tour, told Reuters.
"They spend a lot of time together so they are really good friends. That's been one of our strengths in the past but I see a lot of that in their team now.
"It won't be as difficult for them to feel the team environment. It's a lot easier when you've got guys that really do get on well together."
Bjorn, a member of the triumphant European Ryder Cup teams in 1997 and 2002, felt the U.S. PGA Tour had become a friendlier circuit in recent years.
"In Europe, we stick together and spend a lot of time together across nationalities while over here, in the past, it seems like you go and do your own thing ... you travel with your family," the 41-year-old Dane said.
"But I see players spending time together more and more now over here now and that will stand the U.S. in very good stead at the Ryder Cup."
Eight of the 12 spots on the U.S. team have already been secured and, in Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Watson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner and Matt Kuchar, Bjorn sees a burning desire for the Cup to be wrested back from Europe.
"They've got an unbelievable team this year and they are all playing very well," said Bjorn, who along with Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley will serve as an assistant to European Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
"After a period where American golf didn't look strong, they look extremely strong this season ... they look like they want really hard to play in this Ryder Cup.
"That's something that has maybe been lacking a little bit in the past but it looks like they really want it."
Europe have won the trophy eight times in the last 16 Ryder Cups since their selection was expanded to include continental players in 1979 after years of American domination over British and Irish teams.
Captained by Colin Montgomerie, the Europeans triumphed by a slender margin of 14-1/2 points to 13-1/2 in the most recent edition at Celtic Manor in Wales but they will have to contend with U.S. crowds when they defend the trophy at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago from September 28-30.
"Home advantage is important," said Bjorn. "Once you start building momentum then it becomes extremely difficult for the away team to get it back because the crowds get very loud and very much behind their team and everyone gets on such a high.
"The one thing that always amazes me in the Ryder Cup, as much pressure as there is, is that it's probably where you see the best golf ever played because that momentum builds in people.
"You see players playing the best golf of their lives in the Ryder Cup. That's where the home advantage can come in. If you can build momentum, it just never seems to stop."
The 10 automatic qualifiers on the European team will be confirmed on Sunday after this week's Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in Scotland where Bjorn defends the title he won in a marathon five-man playoff last year.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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