If there is one sporting event that America is desperate to win, it’s this weekend’s Ryder Cup.
USA have seemingly been in Europe’s shadow in recent times, having only won the competition once in the last eight attempts (2008).
This year’s edition is set to be USA’s most opportune to finally claw back some of the pride that has been lost through their last three outings.
After losing to Colin Montgomerie’s Europe in 2010 at Celtic Manor, the world witnessed an incredible turnaround which the European media entitled: ‘The miracle at Medinah’. Martin Kaymer successfully putted the ball to complete one of the greatest sporting comebacks in modern sporting history.
Two years ago was arguably the worst the Americans have played at a Ryder Cup, with Europe winning comfortably 16.5 – 11.5.
Europe have an incentive of their own however. Since the introduction of a continental team back in 1979, Europe have never won the Ryder Cup four times consecutively.
Although on paper the USA team looks as strong as ever, the Europeans may fancy their chances with the majority of the team in decent form going into the weekend.
Let’s meet the teams.
Captain: Darren Clarke
Vice Captains: Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harington, Paul Lawrie, Ian Poulter, Sam Torrence
Clarke has featured in five of these tournaments as a player and brings some key experience to what is a team full of Ryder Cup rookies. Having only lost in one Ryder Cup he has competed in (1999) he will be looking to add to all that success as a captain. Let’s not forget he is a former Open Championship winner and he did lead Europe to victory earlier this year in the 2016 EurAsia cup.
His vice-captaincy selections are to me spot on. Bjorn has never lost a Ryder Cup match in his career and was also a vice captain for 3 previous Ryder Cups under Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, and José Maria Olazábal.
The mix of youth and experience is key for the players out there doing the dirty work, so to have the likes of Ian Poulter and Sam Torrence in your corner is always a bonus.
Golfers: Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer (Captain’s Pick), Rory McIlroy, Thomas Pieters (Captain’s Pick), Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Lee Westwood (Captain’s Pick), Danny Willett, Chris Wood.
Team Europe may contain three of the current top 10 in the world rankings (McIlroy, Stenson and Willett) but it’s a team full of debutants.
Six of the 12 representing Europe are contesting their first Ryder Cup and to go to the States is no easy task. They can expect an atmosphere like no other on a golf course- hostile to put it lightly.
Saying that, there are champions in this team. Willett won the Masters earlier in the year, with Stenson claiming his first major title at the Open in July and McIlroy winning the FedEX cup only last weekend.
Captain picks Westwood and Kaymer bring that needed Ryder Cup experience with them. They will be the players Europe hope can score points in the opening couple of sessions to ease the nerves.
The rookies all bring something to the table. Cabrera Bello is one of the most consistent on the European Tour, Fitzpatrick is only 22 years old and is already a European Tour event winner. Sullivan proved his worth in the EurAsia Cup, winning three out of three matches.
Some will look at the rookies and question whether the team can cope, however I think that Europe has a strong, well-balanced team and will push America right up until the final day.
Main Concern: The inexperience of the team.
Main Strength: The motivational skills of the Captains, playing and supporting as a team.
Captain: Davis Love III
Vice Captains: Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods
Love III becomes the eighth American to captain a Ryder Cup team more than once, but will look to do better than in 2012 where his team collapsed in the Singles. The 1997 PGA Champion played in six Ryder Cups as a player and has 21 titles to his name on the PGA Tour.
The American vice captains are some of the best golfers the country has had in recent times, with the most notable being the infamous Tiger Woods. With 79 PGA titles and 14 major championships to his name, Woods knows a thing or two about winning on the big occasion, however his Ryder Cup record is shocking. He has only won one in seven he has taken part in. Some will be surprised by Watson’s selection as a Vice Captain, having been a regular for the team in both the Olympics this summer and President’s Cup last year. The two time Masters Champion played under Love III in 2012.
Golfers: Rickie Fowler (Captain’s Pick), J.B. Holmes (Captain’s Pick), Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar (Captain’s Pick), Phil Mickelson, Ryan Moore (Captain’s Pick), Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker
The American team features four of the top 10 in the world rankings (D. Johnson, Spieth, Reed, Fowler) and boasts a side full of major championship winners.
Phil Mickelson plays in his 11th Ryder Cup, the most appearances by any American in the competition and provides two players worth of experience. His opening round at The Open in July was one to just admire and more showings like that this week will put the USA team in a strong position.
Dustin Johnson and Jimmy Walker both won their maiden Major titles this year (US and PGA respectively). Johnson’s devastating driving distances always sets himself up nicely for a birdie or even an eagle.
The captain picks similarly to Europe provide experience in Matt Kuchar and J.B. Holmes, so the head to head between them and Westwood/Kaymer could be a decisive factor as to where the trophy will be heading come Sunday.
Main Concern: Too many individuals. Can they work well as a team especially with the pressure that comes with being tournament favourites.
Main Strength: Arguably the strongest USA squad to play in a Ryder Cup (on paper).
The Ryder Cup is being held at the Hazeltine Golf Course in Minnesota. This is a tough course to get to know quickly, with the last major championship taking place here back in 2009. Half of the holes have water hazards surrounding the fairways/roughs/greens and with a par score of just 71, one cannot afford to see their ball go for a dip.
This course is best suited to long distance drivers, as the course stretches over 7,000 yards. The likes of Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy will be licking their lips at the prospect of driving down this course.
Be mindful of the seventh hole, a hole Johnny Miller (a two-time major winner) called the ‘toughest par four he has ever played’. The tee shot must carry 220 yards over Hazeltine Lake while the green itself is a raised peninsula which falls off on all sides.
When Hazeltine hosted the US Open in 1970, nearly half of the field failed to break 80 in the first round. The course received much negative press as a result.
The way the course is laid out it will take a miracle for this to be over before Sunday. Each and every session in the Foursomes and Fourballs will be crucial as both teams will want a significant lead going into the singles on Sunday. Europe may be in confident mood, but I think this course suits the American team more.
More importantly, the American team know what the Ryder Cup is about, for 6 rookies to go to America and beat the USA in their own backyard with the hostile crowd, would in my opinion top the European victory in 2012.