SAINT-QUENTIN-en-YVELINES, France — We’re always drawn as much to the villains as we are to the heroes.
In the case of this week’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National, there’s no argument about who the villains are on each team: Ian Poulter for Europe and Patrick Reed for the US.
Both embrace the role, which, of course, is the first and most important ingredient to being a villain.
When a reporter told Poulter that several American players had told him before the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, “If there was one player on the European side they’d hate to lose to,” he was the one, a smirk quickly formed on Poulter’s face.
He said in his distinctly British accent: “Funny, that. I take it as a huge compliment,” Poulter said.
“It’s a daunting position to be in to know that everyone really wants to take you down, but quite frankly, I want to take them down just as much.”
There isn’t a match golf fans crave more this week than a Sunday singles smackdown between Poulter and Reed, who relishes his “Captain America” nickname, for his demonstrative shows of emotion in Ryder Cups.
“It would always be great playing Poults,” Reed said Tuesday. “I’ve always been the type that I want to go up against their best guy, and so on Sunday I want to go up against whoever is playing the best that week. I love that challenge. The first year  it was [Henrik] Stenson. Last [time] it was Rory [McIlroy].”
Reed made a name for himself in that 2014 match against Stenson at Gleneagles in Scotland, where he would bring his index finger to his lips and “shush” the European fans whenever he made a significant putt.
His Ryder Cup legend grew when he outdueled McIlroy in that epic singles match at Hazeltine, which he won after playfully wagging his index finger at McIlroy after topping crucial putts with ones of his own.
Reed is prepared for the onslaught he’ll hear from the chanting European fans, who will pack the gigantic grandstands that will cram nearly 7,000 fans around the back of the first tee.
“There’s really nothing to really get underneath my skin, that’s for sure,’’ Reed said.
“That’s one thing I cherish when I come overseas is they know how to give jabs and take shots at you back and forth, and they do it in a respectful way. It’s a place I’ve always loved to come and I’m still trying to come up with something that I get to do and kind of keep my years going for three in a row and see if I can get booed again.”
That shouldn’t be difficult.
During the Tour Championship last week, fans yelled, “Captain America,” to Reed more often than they called him out as the reigning Masters champion.
“I felt like the fans [were] just trying to get me in that mindset and get ready to go out and get ready for Ryder Cup — being ‘Captain America’ and going out and playing,” he said.
“It’s a good problem to have, people either saying ‘Captain America’ or ‘Masters champion.’ But this week, I’m definitely ‘Captain America.’”
Both villains own excellent Ryder Cup records. Reed, who’s played in two, has a 6-1-2 overall record that includes a 2-0 mark in singles. Poulter, a veteran of six Ryder Cups, has a 12-4-2 record and is 4-0-1 in singles.
Poulter, who didn’t make the 2016 team, was a vice-captain that year and burned to be playing again despite his form dipping, until a resurgence this year earned him one of captain Thomas Bjorn’s four captain’s picks.
“It was difficult being vice-captain last time, knowing how much I’ve helped the team in the past,” Poulter said.
Poulter recalled being at a PGA dinner in 2016 and being asked on stage, “What’s left for you in golf?’’
His answer: “I feel I’ve got more wins in me … [and] I’m going to make the team in Paris.”
“That’s been a goal for the last 18 months, 20 months,” Poulter said. “It’s been something which has kept me going from a motivational standpoint. I’m more excited today than I was in 2004 (his first Ryder Cup), if that’s possible.”
Poulter was then asked, “If this were to be your last home Ryder Cup, are you drinking it all in?”
“It won’t be,” he said with a hint of defiance in his voice. “I would like to think I’ve got more in me. I think how I’ve played this year is hopefully the start of me kicking forward again to play in some more. I don’t want to think that this is my last hurrah.”