Well, no-one expected that.
It was an unexpectedly brilliant, dominant performance by the American side. Almost across the board, the produced some dazzling, confident, defiant golf. No one who loves golf, no matter whose side they are on, had to acknowledge that they were witnessing something very special.
But how did this all come together so perfectly for the Americans?
“We hate to lose” answered one of their players. And their Ryder Cup teams had lost – a lot. So the fear of failure was a huge motivator.
I think the “changing of the guard” was a big factor. And it’s not just about the youth of the side and the fact that six young rookies hadn’t been battle scarred by previous Ryder Cup failures.
No, I think Tiger Woods has had a lot to do with the whole picture.
Tiger was such a dominant presence in American golf for so long, and won so often, that he took away opportunities for many more players to experience winning. As good as he was for the game, he was also bad for American golf in that he stopped it growing outside of himself.
These fresh young Americans are winning in the post-Woods era and they are winning majors that he would otherwise have claimed if he had continued his dominance. Would the exceptional Collin Morikawa have come through? It’s doubtful.
This generation have grown up competing against each other in college and know each other and each others’ games inside out. There is already more of a bond. Woods own record in Ryder Cup isn’t stellar and although he has tried to be much more involved of late, earlier he wasn’t much of a team player. The difference in this team at Whistling Straights was it gelled together better, under their famous pod system of practice.
Steve Stricker was a calm and serene figure at the matches, keeping humour and order even downplaying the tedious feud between Brooks and Bryson. Of his vice captains, current major champion Mickelson was hands on involved with every match, visibly present and supportive. I’m expecting him to take the helm at the match in Rome. He had an Italian grandparent and will feel an emotional attachment to this particular match. And there’s the motivation of winning the cup again on foreign soil for the first time in thirty years.
The environment at Whistling Straits was also a big factor. Padraig Harrington said that he and Steve Stricker had discussed the matches going ahead without fans and decided not. It would, under the circumstances, have been considerably fairer to the European team if this Ryder Cup had been played without fans, as it was almost impossible for European fans to attend. The handful that I saw were ex-pats and the so called “Guardians of the Ryder Cup” eight vocal European supporters and social media stars, who are sponsored by Your Golf Travel, who somehow made it to America.
I watched most of the matches with the sound turned off. The negative partisan moaning and dramatics of the commentary team were grating. Repeatedly stating the obvious, from Saturday onwards, that it’s going to take a miracle. But I also turned the sound off because the booing and abuse of the European players was disgusting. We’ve come to expect this. It began at Kiawah Island in 1991 and has exploded into something so hostile and intimidatory that the away team get ground down psychologically. If the fans are the thirteenth man on the team, then the American team’s version is a jingoistic nightmare. The throwing down of beers to Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who were sat out from the fourballs, while they were on the tee and them swigging them (they appeared to be drinking a Vodka mix rather than beer) wasn’t a great moment.
Neither was Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger’s vulgar language to the rules official who wouldn’t give Brooks relief from a drain on the 15th hole of their foursomes match. As one American commentator, who called it ‘pathetic’, it was a wonder that they weren’t docked a hole under rule 1.2a – serious misconduct.
Something needs to be addressed about abusing rules officials and the crowd abusing players in these matches, if the new era is about to dawn with the American side fully engaged in winning the Ryder Cup.
We’ve become accustomed to some American players turning up, donning the uniform and doing their own thing, and expecting that to work. So often the Americans seemed to be playing as individuals in a team competition. There’s also seemed to be a lack lustre lack of commitment and some nasty in fighting within some of their teams that has been aired publicly.
This was so bad after the 2014 matches that the Americans set up a Ryder Cup taskforce. And it’s taken seven years for us to see the outcome. But more work needs to be done, on both sides, to make the competition fairer. That starts and ends with everyone’s behaviour.
Were the Europeans ‘humiliated’? No, I think that’s too strong. They were outplayed, but also they were sabotaged by a hostile crowd of home fans who got to them psychologically with their repetative neanderthal chanting. No wit, no originality, no charm.
Did Padraig Harrington make some mistakes? He probably could have played Lowry more and rested McIlroy. Was he wrong to choose Poulter as a captain’s pick? No, not on the basis of his current statistics, and his record, he was playing well going in. Where Harrington did go wrong was limiting himself to three picks, when the other team had six.
But should his own record be tarnished by this? Definitely not. He won three majors in 13 months! It was most interesting to see how dignified he was on Sunday after the match had been won, and how it was Jim Furyk, the losing American Captain at the Paris Ryder Cup, stayed with him and talked to him at length. It reminded me of 1995 when Bernard Gallacher spoke for losing American captain Lanny Wadkins, ‘let me help you out here Lanny, because I know just how you feel’.
I don’t think there will be a massive post-mortem on the European side over this, they still have a tried and tested winning formula and most of all a team full of pride and heart. But – the focus needs to be more on nurturing younger, more fearless talent coming through and giving them a blooding as Viktor Hovland did so well. Multiple winners Nicolai and Rasmus Hojgaard and Bob McIntyre immediately come to mind.
But of wider importance, I wonder where we exactly where we will all be placed in two years time. The so called “strategic alliance” of the PGA Tour and the European Tour could have a knock on effect on the Ryder Cup. This concerns me, as this seems to be getting much more serious. Mens professional golf is in the process of profound change and things are not going to stay the same for much longer.
To see the devastation, upset and tears of the European players was to know how genuinely they care about this competition. It cannot be watered down into a world team event, the place for that is in the Olympics.
No, the Ryder Cup must continue as it is, but we have entered a completely new era now, and everyone must get focussed.