European-like Little Switzerland is backing USA as Ryder Cup hits Wisconsin

Welcome sign for New Glarus in Wisconsin, a village near where the Ryder Cup will be held in Sheboygan.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

Signs are written in German and English here. The quaint streets are lined with chalets with sloping roofs, wooden balconies and carved ornaments. Red flags emblazoned with white crosses flutter in the breeze.

“Welcome to New Glarus,” beckons the roadside billboard. “America’s ‘Little Switzerland.’ ”

If there’s any locality that would be pulling for the Europeans in this week’s Ryder Cup, it would be this charming village in southern Wisconsin, a two-hour drive from the rugged and windswept fairways of Whistling Straits.


But, in a year when COVID-19 restrictions make international travel especially difficult, Little Switzerland cannot be of much help to the visitors.

“I don’t think a lot of people here will be rooting for the European team,” said Ginger Blum, tending bar at Puempel’s Olde Tavern, where the beer of choice is New Glarus Spotted Cow, an ale sold only in Wisconsin.

Unlike typical golf tournaments, the Ryder Cup is raucous and patriotic, with fans displaying their allegiances in their hats, jackets, sweatshirts and the like. Two men festooned in American flag slacks stood at the ropes along the 10th fairway during Wednesday’s practice rounds, smoking cigars and whooping it up for their favorite players.

The spectators could play a role this week in a biennial tournament in which the Americans — despite a significant advantage in average world rankings — have suffered nine losses in the last 12 meetings.

“The U.S. fans are generally very good with me and give me a lot of support,” said Englishman Lee Westwood, playing in his 11th Ryder Cup. “Probably be different this week, but I understand that. This is different this week. This is more like a football game or a basketball game where people have picked a side and you cheer for your side, which I enjoy it. That’s what the Ryder Cup is all about.”

The excitement for the tournament is palpable in Wisconsin, including in New Glarus where 57 residents — many from the public Edelweiss Chalet Country Club — are volunteering at the event. Most are working on No. 14, the northernmost hole of the links course, which is bordered by Lake Michigan.

“It’s a two-hour drive, so coming up here you’re saying, ‘Why am I doing this?’ ” said Mark Losenegger, a U.S. Air Force retiree from New Glarus. “You get here and you go, ‘Alright! Let’s go!’ It’s really fun.”

Losenegger, who is of Swiss descent, is co-captain on No. 14, which requires him to make sure everything is running smoothly with the shift of 14 marshals working the hole at any given time.

“I keep telling everybody that it’s almost like being a pilot,” he said. “You’ve got hours and hours of boredom punctuated by minutes of sheer terror.”

This store in New Glarus, Wis., proudly displays Swiss architecture.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, playing in his sixth Ryder Cup, conceded that because most PGA Tour players live in the U.S., this doesn’t feel like as much of an “away game” for European players as it once did.

“If anything that has evolved over the years with the Ryder Cup is the European team and the U.S. team are probably closer than they ever have been individually,” McIlroy said. “We all spend a lot of time over here. We play predominantly on the PGA Tour. So there is a part of that.

Olympic star Simone Biles’ life has been marked by profound challenges. She wants to pass on positive mental health lessons during the Gold Over America Tour coming to Southern California.

“But still, you know you’re — there’s a sea of red everywhere here. It feels like an American Ryder Cup.”

European teammate Ian Poulter predicts 98% of fans will be rooting for the U.S. players.

“As much as we feel comfortable as a team, to know we’re underdogs, we have to play extra special this week to get the job done,” Poulter said. “It feels pretty rewarding at the end of the week if we can get it done.”

This hotel in New Glarus, Wis., has a German flair.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

This event was supposed to happen in 2020 but was canceled because of the pandemic. That the galleries will be full this year, and there’s a relatively normal feel to the event, only heightens the excitement for the players.

“If someone is a USA fan, if someone really doesn’t like me, they’re still rooting for me to win my match,” said Patrick Cantlay, a former UCLA standout playing in his first Ryder Cup. “So that’s like one of the best parts about this format, this team golf, this event.

“Consequently, someone on the other side of the pond may like me and they are rooting so hard against me. So it makes the stakes feel much larger.”

It was Kenny Washington and the Rams that broke the league’s color barrier, a year before Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers integrated Major League Baseball.

Xander Schauffele, who won a gold medal at an Olympic Games devoid of spectators, said he feels especially American — in part because of the international flair of the rest of his family.

“I almost stand alone in my family,” he said. “My brother was born in Stuttgart, my dad was born in Stuttgart, my mom was born in Taiwan and grew up in Japan. I think I’m the only natural-born citizen in my family, so I can say I’m proud to be an American.”

For them, family ties matter most.

“I think my dad is just rooting for me,” Schauffele said. “I don’t think you’ll catch him saying he’s rooting for Europe at any point. But let me know if he does.”

A flower clock in New Glarus, Wis., is Swiss made.
A flower clock in New Glarus, Wis., is Swiss made.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

The denizens of New Glarus happily embrace their heritage. The main street is adorned by a 12-foot-wide floral clock, a product of Swiss craftsmen. Back in 1905, a proposal was presented to the people of the town that Limburger cheese be declared legal tender for the payment of all debts.

Still, there’s no question about the rooting interests of this place. It’s all USA.

Little Switzerland doesn’t sit on the fence.