It’s been awhile, eight years in fact, since an American team has hoisted the coveted Ryder Cup, a biennial event that features a team of twelve Americans and a team of twelve Europeans who play against each other in in hopes of capturing a trophy with so much historic and emotional meaning. The Americans last won the matches in 2008 under captain Paul Azinger at Valhalla. The 2010 matches at Celtic Manor were close and exciting with an eventual European triumph. In 2012, the “Miracle at Medinah” happened, where the Europeans overcame a 4-point deficit on the final day to win the cup in honor of legendary Ryder Cup contestant Seve Ballesteros who had passed away earlier that year. In 2014, the Europeans steamrolled the Americans, winning by a margin of 5 points on home soil at Gleneagles. This year would be different, however. With the recent tragedy of Arnold Palmer passing away, the Americans were able to gain an early lead on the Europeans from the first session and never looked back, eventuall winning 17-11. There were many storylines from the 2016 matches at Hazeltine, and as Check Down’s golf obsessor who correctly predicted Rory McIlroy overtaking Dustin Johnson to win the FedEx Cup, (not that I’m proud of myself), some of these headlines are particularly exciting, and some of them don’t make sense at all.
The Juggernaut of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed
Heavy emphasis on Patrick Reed. These two first found a partnership back in Gleneagles in 2014, and were the most successful American tandem that week. There was heavy criticism on 2014 American Captain Tom Watson for sitting them for a match. The two young guns are the clear firepower on the American team for the next several Ryder Cups, and 2012 and 2016 Captain Davis Love III was sure to let them play all 5 matches. While Spieth carried his weight, winning 2.5 out of 5 possible points, Patrick Reed was one of two clear MVPs on the American side (the other one may not be so obvious…). Winning 3.5 out of 5 points, including a 1-up victory against Rory McIlroy and a blown 4-up with 6 to play lead in the Saturday foursomes. Patrick Reed played some of the best golf of the Ryder Cup, going 7-under in his Saturday afternoon four-ball match. His efforts and all-to-be-talked-about antics on the golf course were the most notable takeaway from Hazeltine in my opinion. Starting with his crowd-shushing at Gleneagles last year, he continued his constant fist-pumping and finger-waggling at the European players, all in good fun and emotion and spirit.
Lee Westwood’s Putting Gaffes
For me, this is the most disappointing thing to hear about. As one of Westwood’s biggest fans, something I get a lot of flack for (mark my words he will be vying for his first major at some point very very soon), it’s disappointing to see blame of a 6-point loss come down to 3 short missed putts. What it comes down to is that Westwood’s struggles only accounted for 1-1.5 points. Darren Clarke put it perfectly when he said, “I don’t know how much golf you watched, but Lee has played fantastically. He has given himself every chance”. His 3 matches included getting steamrolled by a historically successful team of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar alongside Thomas Pieters in his first ever Ryder Cup match, a fourball match with Danny Willett where if he didn’t miss a few putts, the team’s deficit would have only been 2 going into the singles, and a 1-down loss to Ryan Moore who played his last 3 holes at 3-under par, going eagle-birdie on 16 and 17 to bring it back to all-square, and a perfectly regular mistake by Westwood on 18 leading to a loss. My main message: Whatever Westwood’s performance entailed, he didn’t lose it for the Europeans, the Americans went out and won it. So to all the Westwood haters and disbelievers, just drop it. Look at the rest of his career accomplishments and shut your mouthes. This is a man who was the highest point getter in both the 2004 and 2006 Ryder Cups. He knows how to do it.
Match of the Decade: Phil Mickelson vs. Sergio Garcia
18 holes. 2 players. 19 birdies. That’s all there is to it. The 46-year old American stalwart played the match of his life against the fiery Spaniard Sergio Garcia, ending in an all-square result where both players made fantastic birdie putts on the 18th hole. Phil has been under the gun all week, first being questioned about his comments from 2014 about Tom Watson’s lack of sticking to the winning formula and his pre-match comments about Hal Sutton not doing the best job when he was the captain in 2004. Many people made predetermined thoughts that Mickelson’s game may not have been in form coming into the Ryder Cup, and he proved everyone wrong, getting 2.5 out of 4 possible points for the United States team. His most important point was that 0.5 coming on the Sunday Singles against Sergio Garcia. Going 4-under on the back nine, which included a 15 foot made birdie putt to secure a half-point on 18 which was answered by Garcia shortly after. Extremely gracious and humble in halved match, Mickelson showed why he belonged in uniform that week. Many credit him to making a lot of the key decisions, and regardless if he did or didn’t, he performed like a champion. There was more talk about Tiger Woods being named an assistant captain than there was about Mickelson coming into the week. Let me say one thing: While Tiger Woods is an extremely influential human, he had very little and almost nothing to do with the American victory. All of the players have given their praise to Mickelson, and that’s why you gotta love him. He’s my Co-MVP with Patrick Reed this week.
Friday Morning Sweep
Awaiting on the first tee box on Friday for the first session of matches was Arnold Palmer’s Ryder Cup bag from 1975 when he was the last captain to also play in the matches (since then, the captains have been non-playing captains). With heavy hearts, the Americans went out and won all four of their foursome matches against the Europeans. The first weird thing about the sweep is that it occurred in the foursome alternate-shot matches, which traditionally and as of late have been dominated by the European side. To go out and play and sweep a format that is a normal weak spot in the U.S. Ryder Cup efforts showed that they came to play. Another weird thing: The last time the Americans swept a session in the Ryder Cup? 1975 when Arnold Palmer was the playing captain. I guess these matches were pretty much a formality before they started.
My Problem With The Talk About Rookies
Many people have made big deals about how the Europeans were at a clear disadvantage with half of their team being first-time Ryder Cup competitors, and the U.S. only having two. If you’re someone who believes this and stands by it as the reason for the European loss, listen up. Brooks Koepka, a rookie on the U.S. side won 3 out of 4 points. Rafa Cabrera-Bello won 2.5 out of 3 points. Thomas Pieters won 4 out of 5 points. Ryan Moore clinched the cup as the last man added to the squad, winning the last three holes of his match to defeat Lee Westwood. There’s more coming to the history of rookies in recent Ryder Cups, but let me digress. Why not talk about the 2 out of 5 point performances by Ryder Cup and Olympic medalists Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson? Why not talk bout Martin Kaymer’s 1 out of 4 performance, where the 1 point came in a singles match that occurred after the Ryder Cup was already won by the Americans? I’ll give the rookie-talkers the benefit when Danny Willett, Matt Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan went a collective zero out of 7. Let’s not forget that Danny Willett won the Masters this year, Fitzpatrick won a U.S. Amateur which included winning 6 out of 6 matches, and Andy Sullivan has won three times on the European Tour in the last two years. Back to the overall rookie performances of recent Ryder Cups:
- 2014- both sides had 3 rookies. U.S. gets steamrolled. Rookie Patrick Reed wins 3.5 out of 4
- 2012-U.S. had 4 rookies, Europeans had 1. U.S. had 10-6 lead going into singles. Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner, both rookies, both win 3 out of 4 points. Keegan’s 1 loss came in singles against Rory McIlroy
- 2010- Europeans have 6 rookies. Still manage to win.
- 2008-U.S. team has SEVEN rookies. Americans steamroll the Europeans 16.5-11.5
As you can see, rookie performances are almost a toss-up. But don’t blame the European loss on their rookies. I don’t care about the home-country advantage. The Europeans were able to overcome immense U.S. support in 2012 and a 4-point deficit in the Sunday Singles to eventually win the Cup.
Overall Team/Player Grades
The United States Team
The European Team
Overall, great win by the American boys. Let’s see what happens in France in 2018!