2018 Ry­der Cup Pre­view & Pre­dic­tions

The 42nd stag­ing of the bi­en­nial ge­nial golf­ing grudge match be­tween the lead­ing pro­fes­sional play­ers of Europe and their Amer­i­can cousins breaks new ground, tak­ing place in France over the spec­tac­u­lar L'Al­ba­tross course at Le Golf Na­tional near the Frenc

HK Golfer - - CONTENTS - By Mike Wil­son

With the small gold cup firmly in the grip of the USA, Europe may have its work cut out to re­gain the cov­eted tro­phy.

The Ry­der Cup, one of world sport’s most cov­eted events, three days of grip­ping, head-to-head match play golf be­tween the finest pro­fes­sional play­ers the USA and Europe can muster. It cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion not only of fans across those two con­ti­nents but fur­ther afield too, an elec­tric at­mos­phere on course, high-drama on TV, the emo­tions and nerves of play­ers and watch­ers alike stretched to break­ing point, on a par with the Masters and the Open Cham­pi­onship. How­ever, it’s a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal though to run-of-the-mill stroke play events. Quite un­like the Ma­jors, the for­mat of the bi­en­nial Ry­der Cup is ex­clu­sively match-play. Play­ers not only play­ing for them­selves but pri­mar­ily for their play­ing part­ners and their teams, and all with­out a penny piece in prize money on of­fer. Pride and two-year’s worth of transat­lantic brag­ging rights are what it’s all about.

The 42nd Ry­der Cup takes place over Le Golf Na­tional course near the French cap­i­tal, France, only the sec­ond oc­ca­sion the Euro­pean event has been staged out­side Great Bri­tain and Ire­land. Up to 50,000 fans, each day from both sides of the At­lantic will gear-up for a colour­ful and com­bat­ive three days of com­pe­ti­tion. Three prac­tice days will also at­tract sell-out gal­leries, and TV cov­er­age beamed to al­most a bil­lion peo­ple in 180 coun­tries world­wide.

Go­ing into Paris, 2018 and the 42nd Ry­der Cup, USA Team leads the series with 26 vic­to­ries to Europe’s 13, but that only tells a frac­tion of the story.

The Ry­der Cup was be­com­ing ev­ery­thing its founder ever imag­ined, and more, the high-drama of golf. Mano a mano, close com­pe­ti­tion, but the event was fast grow­ing a hugely suc­cess­ful event com­mer­cially, with Euro­pean na­tions bid­ding for the pride and priv­i­lege of host­ing the event.

Ar­guably, the most dra­matic Ry­der Cup of all came in 1997 at Valder­rama in Spain. Un­der the cap­taincy of the late, great Seve Ballesteros, Europe emerged vic­to­ri­ous, against all the odds.

In­deed, de­spite los­ing out at Brook­line in 1999, Euro­pean Team had be­come much more com­pet­i­tive, in­deed dom­i­nant, win­ning threein-a-row be­tween 2002 and 2006, and again from 2010 to 2014.

How­ever, USA Team goes into the Paris match as hold­ers of the Ry­der Cup, hav­ing won con­vinc­ingly, 17-11, un­der the canny cap­taincy of Davis Love III, who out­wit­ted his op­po­site num­ber, a some­what hap­less Dar­ren Clarke. Love’s play­ers, shorn of the in­jured Tiger Woods, but with a blend of ex­pe­ri­ence – Phil Mick­el­son and Zach Johnson - and youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance - Rickie Fowler, Jor­dan Spi­eth and Brooks Koepka, the Stars & Stripes were fly­ing proudly at Hazel­tine.

All of which brings us to the French con­nec­tion, the much-an­tic­i­pated de­but of the Ry­der Cup in France. Tick­ets sold out months in ad­vance, play­ers from both sides of the At­lantic jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion and a place on their re­spec­tive teams. Europe led by Thomas Bjørn, the visi­tors and hold­ers, the USA by Jim Furyk.

Each team has its se­lec­tion process, a

com­bi­na­tion of se­lec­tion on merit and cap­tains’ picks, as cap­tain at­tempt to field the play­ers in form along­side those with a proven Ry­der Cup track record.

Furyk’s first eight play­ers will be au­to­matic qual­i­fiers - the lead­ing eight on the PGA TOUR money list af­ter the BMW Cham­pi­onship. Bjørn’s Euro­pean out­fit com­prises the first four play­ers from the Euro­pean Points List, fol­lowed by the lead­ing four play­ers from the World Points List and com­pleted by four wild-card se­lec­tions.

With the stage set for three days of in­ten­sive, high-oc­tane golf, the event com­prises 28 to­tal matches, each of which is worth one point. There are no ex­tra holes in Ry­der Cup matches, should the two sides be tied af­ter 18 holes, each side earns a halve point.

The first team to reach 14½ points from the 28 avail­able wins the Ry­der Cup out­right and, if the match ends in a 14-14 draw, the team hold­ing the Ry­der Cup, USA Team, will re­tain the tiny golf tro­phy.

Built on agri­cul­tural land since Louis XIV and the Château de Ver­sailles, when it was one of the ar­eas where wheat was farmed, Le Golf Na­tional was de­signed by ar­chi­tects Hu­bert Ch­es­neau and Robert Von Hagge who cre­ated a spec­tac­u­lar and spec­ta­tor-friendly sta­dium course, a venue that has cut its teeth by host­ing the pres­ti­gious Open de France since 1991.

Even though the Ry­der Cup is con­densed into an in­tense three-day com­pe­ti­tion win­dow, and to­wards the end of a long gru­elling sea­son, the for­mat de­mands not only skill but strength, stamina and courage too. Cul­mi­nat­ing in all 12 play­ers of ei­ther side go­ing head-to-head in Sun­day sin­gles golf, win­ner takes all as the drama un­folds.

There is lit­tle be­tween the two non-play­ing cap­tains, Thomas Bjørn and Jim Furyk. The Dane is 47 years old, one year younger than his op­po­site num­ber, who turned pro­fes­sional in 1992, a year ahead of his Euro­pean ri­val.

Furyk has one Ma­jor ti­tle to his name, the 2003 U.S. Open. Bjørn has come close, run­ner-up twice in the Open Cham­pi­onship, once in the U.S. PGA and has 15 Euro­pean Tour wins to his name, earn­ing some US$25m, com­pared to the US$67m his op­po­site num­ber has banked.

Furyk has far greater Ry­der Cup play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence com­pared to Bjørn, nine ap­pear­ances in­clud­ing two wins. The Dane just has three with two wins, but Bjørn has been a Euro­pean vice-cap­tain on four oc­ca­sions, ar­guably the bet­ter prepa­ra­tion for what lies ahead in the Parisan sub­urbs later this month.

Ry­der Cup cap­taincy is a fu­sion of art and science, man man­age­ment, mo­ti­va­tion and se­lec­tion of play­ers for four-balls and four­somes, as well as the cru­cial nom­i­na­tion of play­ers in or­der of play for the Sun­day sin­gles, judg­ment of who plays well with whom, which play­ers are ei­ther full of or lack­ing in con­fi­dence.

Also, even be­fore it all gets un­der­way, each man se­lects his four cap­tains’ picks, which­ever skip­per per­forms best against most or all of these cri­te­ria is likely to fill the Ry­der Cup with the best French Cham­pagne come to the evening of Sun­day 30th Septem­ber within a de­cent driv­ing dis­tance of the Palace of Ver­sailles.

But, whilst cap­taincy is cru­cial, play­ing is para­mount. Both teams look set to com­prise a blend of bat­tle-hard­ened ex­pe­ri­ence and those with the fresh, fear­less fun of play­ing Ry­der Cup golf for the very first time.

With fi­nal stand­ings and sub­se­quent au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion for Euro­pean Team yet to be de­cided when on 2nd Septem­ber the rank­ings will re­veal the iden­ti­ties of eight of the 12-man Euro­pean team. As things stand, Francesco Moli­nari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hat­ton and Fleet­wood make up the four qual­i­fiers on the Euro­pean Points List, joined by Rory McIl­roy, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren and Paul Casey qual­i­fied through the World Points List. Then four spots left, most prob­a­bly drawn from Thor­b­jørn Ole­sen, Ian Poulter, Rus­sell Knox, Ed­die Pep­perell, Ser­gio Gar­cía, Matthew Fitz­patrick and Hen­rik Sten­son, who is a ma­jor doubt through in­jury and loss of form.

Moli­nari, with­out ques­tion the best player in the world through­out the sum­mer of 2018 will en­joy the ‘Sheet an­chor’ role for Euro­pean Team. World #4 Justin Rose stand­ing foursquare along­side the Ital­ian. McIl­roy, who in his younger, less ex­pe­ri­enced days re­ferred to the bi­en­nial match-up against the USA as lit­tle more than, “an ex­hi­bi­tion match,” form­ing the foun­da­tions of the Euro­pean 12.

Given the Ry­der Cup ex­pe­ri­ence of both Gar­cía and Poulter, both can ex­pect a call from cap­tain Bjørn some­time this month, en­abling them to pre­pare, phys­i­cally and men­tally, for the chal­lenge they both revel in, leav­ing the ex­cit­ing-but-in­ex­pe­ri­enced Ole­sen and Sten­son - if fit - to face the big guns of the USA.

Much transat­lantic talk is of Tiger Woods, now 11th on the points list on the PGA TOUR and on a run of form few thought they would ever see again from the 14-time Ma­jor win­ner. How­ever, given a lack­lus­tre Ry­der Cup record and se­ri­ous doubts con­cern­ing the once-great man’s abil­ity to last the pace over 18 holes, the re­quired 36 in one day on Thurs­day and/or Fri­day looks cer­tain to see his role ce­mented only as a non-play­ing vice-cap­tain.

How­ever, notwith­stand­ing the Tiger teaser, Furyk’s USA Team looks, if not in­vin­ci­ble, then un­doubtly ir­re­sistible, world num­bers one, two and three - Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and re­cent PGA Cham­pi­onship win­ner Brooks Koepka lead­ing the cav­alry charge of Amer­i­can big guns. With Jor­dan Spi­eth and Ricky Fowler back­ing up, Masters cham­pi­ons Bubba Wat­son and Pa­trick Reed in the au­to­matic eight.

That leaves Furyk with, not only the Woods dilemma but also whether to take a chance

on an out-of-form - but Ry­der Cup stal­wart - Phil Mick­el­son, the ‘Steady Ed­die’ Matt Kuchar, ‘Mr. De­pend­able,’ Zach Johnson, fiveap­pear­ances but only once on the win­ning team, 2012 U.S. Open cham­pion Webb Simp­son, or the two rel­a­tive ex­ot­i­cally-named rook­ies, Bryson de Cham­beau and Zan­der Schauf­fele.

What­ever the re­spec­tive cast from each side of the At­lantic Ocean, the drama­tis per­sonae looks so evenly bal­anced, both in terms of past re­sults and ex­pe­ri­ence and play­ing abil­ity in a pres­sure cooker en­vi­ron­ment. The stage is in­deed set for pure the­atre through­out.

Also, like most ma­jor sport­ing oc­ca­sions, the dif­fer­ence be­tween vic­tory and de­feat will come down to small mar­gins - a putt missed here, a hole lost there, a chip in from the fair­way to clinch a cru­cial hole, a bunker found due to fi­nal day adren­a­line pump­ing through the veins.

On bal­ance, USA Team looks marginally stronger and runs deeper than its Euro­pean coun­ter­part. How­ever, Europe is play­ing at home, hav­ing pre­pared Le Golf Na­tional - as it is per­fectly en­ti­tled to do - pre­pared to suit their style. Home ad­van­tage bel­low­ing out from the mas­sive gal­leries lin­ing L’Al­ba­tross course through­out, and a stronger team ethic that is tra­di­tion­ally there in USA Team, tra­di­tion­ally 12 in­di­vid­u­als rather than a team.

All of which leaves the re­spec­tive cap­tains, and their re­spec­tive back­room teams, se­lect­ing the right part­ner­ships on Fri­day and Satur­day. The cor­rect or­der of play come Sun­day, gain­ing, and main­tain­ing the mo­men­tum in a con­test that can ebb and flow like the rest­less tide.

Then there is the role ‘Lady Luck’ might play, an in­jury here, a lipped-out putt there, the bounce of the ball, any one of some un­in­ten­tional ac­tions with un­in­tended con­se­quences.

It’s a tough one - some might say, ‘too close to call’, but on bal­ance, and set­ting aside home ad­van­tage, the strength in depth of the USA, the fact ei­ther an out­right win or a tie would spell vic­tory. More­over, the canny cap­taincy of Furyk over the po­ten­tially tem­per­a­men­tal Bjørn might just see USA Team hold on to the small, but in­valu­able gold cup.

Euro­pean Team Cap­tain Thomas Bjorn speaks to the me­dia dur­ing press con­fer­ence prior to the 2018 PGA Cham­pi­onship at Bel­lerive Coun­try Club

Jim Furyk the Cap­tain of theUSA Team talks with the me­dia dur­ing the 2018 Ry­der Cup Press Con­fer­ence atBel­lerive Coun­try Club

US Ry­der Cup Team golfers (left to right) Brian Har­man, Kevin Kisner and cap­tainJim Furyk prac­tice in July at Le Golf Na­tional ahead of the Ry­der Cup

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