By Mark Lamport-Stokes
MEDINAH, Illinois (Reuters) - 'Home cooking' has helped the United States win the Ryder Cup all but three times on American soil but former captain Bernhard Langer has already proved once that he has the recipe for European success.
Eight years ago, Langer led Europe to a record victory by 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2 at Oakland Hills and the meticulous German believes his continent can triumph again this week by using a similarly subtle mix of various ingredients.
Though Langer believes home advantage will give the U.S. a slight edge over holders Europe at Medinah Country Club, he expects the winning margin to be wafer thin, whichever team prevails.
"There are lots of little things a captain can do that could have an influence positively or negatively on a Ryder Cup," the twice Masters champion told Reuters on Wednesday a short distance from 18th green on Medinah's No. 3 Course.
"If you can put a lot of the right pieces together, the puzzle looks a lot better than when you mess up a few pieces and it looks like a painting."
Asked what advice he would give to European captain Jose Maria Olazabal for this week's showdown, Langer replied: "To communicate well to his players, to keep them happy, especially those guys who are not playing.
"He has to figure out his best players on the course and if he puts someone out and if he is not confident enough or not playing well, he needs to give him a rest, give him a chance to work out his game or his putting stroke or whatever it is and hope he will be ready for the singles.
"If he has someone who is hot, let him play. Get out there and make more points. Find out who is comfortable with this golf course and with the speed of the greens and figure out who might not be comfortable."
The fact that four players have to sit out each of the foursomes and fourballs sessions on the Friday and Saturday gives the captain a public relations headache, according to Langer.
"Those guys sitting out are not going to be happy," said the German, a veteran of 10 Ryder Cups as player. "I was never happy sitting out and I am sure no one is ever happy.
"They are all thinking, 'Why me? Am I not good enough?' So you've got to make sure that you explain to them what you're thinking is and that everybody is going to play before Sunday which I think is vital.
"You don't want to hold anyone back the whole week and then send them out cold on Sunday. Tell them we are all part of the same team and we are going to pull on the same strings."
Langer, who won his two Green Jackets at the Masters in 1985 and 1993, predicted that this week's Ryder Cup would be a very close contest.
"The teams are very evenly matched, although the Americans are the favourites playing at home," the 55-year-old said. "The golf course is set up a little different than most golf courses with no rough which is unheard of nowadays.
"I guess captain Davis Love must have put some thought into that because he can set up the golf course any which way he feels benefits his players so we will see how that will play out.
"I know the Americans have some big bombers in there but we have a couple ourselves that hit it pretty far so I don't see a real advantage on either side."
Langer, an official patron of the Ryder Cup who is a global ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, said home advantage at a Ryder Cup related to the crowd atmosphere and not to the course.
"It's more about being comfortable with the whole environment," he added. "The crowd is either for you or against you and that plays with your emotions, it plays with the whole atmosphere.
"It is, in a sense, very hostile to the visiting nation and advantageous for the home team. It's unique when you're out there. It starts from the very first shot to the very last shot you're going to hit."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)