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Loud fans with even louder outfits? These ‘Guardians’ fit right in at Ryder Cup

Members of the "Guardians of the Cup"
Members of the “Guardians of the Cup,” old college friends from England, toast their trip from the media center at Whistling Straits. They get together for every Ryder Cup to root for the Europeans.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

They didn’t achieve their primary goal, but they sure had fun trying.

The group of college friends call themselves “Guardians of the Cup,” and they’re ultra-enthusiastic supporters of Team Europe in the Ryder Cup. Every two years, they travel to the biennial golf tournament, dress in outlandish blue-and-yellow attire and cheer their favorite players.

“Once a Guardian, always a Guardian,” said Teddy Shuttleworth, raising a plastic cup of champagne Sunday evening to his old pals from Nottingham University in England who made the trek to Wisconsin for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

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Depending on the location of the event, eight to 12 Guardians make the journey to the event, where they walk the course in a cluster, sing songs both patriotic and whimsical, and generally try to have a good time with opposing fans. They range in age from 38 to 46.

The pals are identifiable from space, dressed like a mix of Payne Stewart and IKEA with their blindingly yellow socks, long-sleeved shirts, Kangol hats and sunglasses, and royal blue knickers and waistcoats adorned with tiny yellow stars.

They first got together for the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland, missed the 2008 version at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., but in 2010 reconvened — for the first time in uniform — at Celtic Manor in Wales. That garb was more balanced, with stars and stripes down one pant leg, and the European flag down the other.

Collin Morikawa nearly aced the 222-yard, par-three 17th hole and secured a Ryder Cup victory for the United States over Europe on Sunday.

It was in Wales that they came prepared with some funny songs they had written, including ditties honoring some of the better competitors.

“There’s such a tension on the first tee,” said Shuttleworth, by day a lawyer in Brighton, England. “There’s this buildup of excitement, but because it’s golf everyone has to be quiet and polite. If you just chuck out a little song or a little one-liner, suddenly everyone laughs and there’s this huge release of excitement.”

Guardian Rob Easton practices his golf swing with an umbrella.
(Sam Farmer / Los Angeles Times)

Unlike in typical golf tournaments, in which the galleries are more subdued, fans at the Ryder Cup tend to be more boisterous and playful, including Team USA supporters who last week wore rubber eagle masks, gigantic red-white-and-blue top hats, and mechanic suits that looked like American flags.

The vast majority of fans at Whistling Straits were friendly and fun-loving, just happy to be there to witness the event. As is the case most everywhere, there were a few loudmouthed fools sprinkled in the crowds.

“The majority of the fans have been great, to be fair,” Team Europe golfer Tyrrell Hatton said. “I think they have been calling out some of the guys that have been chanting some, or using some interesting words, should we say, and it’s just unfortunate that a few of them do silly things like opening cans at the top of your backswing.

“It’s a little bit unnecessary. Obviously, you want to play a fair game, and rightly so, they are supporting their guys. And it’s the same for us in Europe. We get the support when we are at home. So we expected a hostile atmosphere, and that’s what we’ve got so far this week.”

The Ryder Cup is a very different golf tournament, and the unusual golf format of team play brings nervousness and excitement to the three-day event.

Said Shuttleworth: “I think sometimes the U.S. fans get a hard time, to be honest. Hazeltine [in Minnesota in 2016] they got a hard time, and yes, there were a few guys who maybe pushed the limits a little bit. But for the most part, so welcoming.

“You come here and it’s universal, ‘Come on in, let’s have a beer, let’s have some fun.’ Yes, a few guys are going to say nasty things to you, but...”

The Guardians were staying at a hotel in Milwaukee and had to rise at 3 a.m. on tournament days to make the drive north and claim their spots in the first tee grandstands by 5.

“It’s not for the fainthearted,” Shuttleworth said. “You turn up and it’s three hours’ sleep every night. It’s a week away from the family. It’s expensive.”

Oh, but the priceless memories. For instance, they coaxed Englishman Paul Casey off the first tee and into the grandstand Saturday afternoon, with four of them reaching over the railing to hoist him up to their seats. Even though he had lost a total of three matches on Friday and Saturday, Casey was a good sport about it.

“He sang songs with us for five or 10 minutes,” Shuttleworth said. “He didn’t want to go. He was immersed in it. He was sort of nervous about coming up. Thank goodness we didn’t drop him.”

The village of New Glarus, Wis., is filled with European flair, but the town is red, white and blue when it comes to the Ryder Cup.

The European fans have had plenty to cheer, as their team came into Whistling Straits having won four of the last five Ryder Cups. This year, however, the Americans posted a 19-9 victory to win the cup, the most lopsided competition since the 28-point format was introduced in 1979.

“As a fan, you’re here to support your team,” said Guardian Martin Jones, who lives in Rome. “If you live and die by the result, you’ve probably got some … There are more important things for us as fans than golf. Yeah, of course I would have been in a much better mood had we retained the cup. But we got beaten fair and square on a tough golf course by a team that played brilliantly.”

Before leaving the course Sunday night, after spectators had left the course, the Guardians met in the media center and toasted another successful trip — or successful enough.


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