HUG­GAN’S AL­LEY: JOHH HUG­GAN

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - 14 |

BON­JOUR from the Ry­der Cup. The ac­tion has just ended and the Euro­pean team has won by 17 1/2 points to 10 1/2. “Quelle sur­prise” as they say in these parts. That makes nine vic­to­ries out of the last 12 for the Old World over those pesky and in­creas­ingly be­mused colo­nials. What’s next for Un­cle Sam’s be­lea­guered neph­ews? A Task Force to look into the Task Force? Stay tuned.

In the mean­time, let’s take a wee look at some of what went on at Le Golf Na­tional for a week or so. First, there was the grand­stand be­hind the 1st tee. Mas­sive thing. Held nearly 7,000 peo­ple. And yes, they cre­ated some noise. And yes, Rory McIl­roy’s beau­ti­fully timed ren­di­tion of the Ice­landic Thun­der­clap was good fun. But still, the whole ex­er­cise seemed a bit con­trived, a bit less than what was promised. Kinda like be­ing told a movie is the best thing since pain tranche (that’s “sliced bread” in French for those strug­gling with my bilin­gual dex­ter­ity) then find­ing it is pretty good but not ex­actly won­der­ful. Some­one some­where – namely the Euro­pean Tour and the PGA of Amer­ica – made a lot of money though. The cor­po­rate pres­ence con­tin­ues to grow bi­en­ni­ally, as do the in­vari­ably laugh-out-loud prices in the mer­chan­dise arena.

Then there was the golf course. It was a bit like step­ping back in time re­ally. To a US Open maybe 20 years ago. Nar­row fair­ways. Thick rough. The only things miss­ing were con­crete­like greens and re­ally stupid pin po­si­tions. In­stead, the putting sur­faces were run­ning maybe a yard-or-two slower than is typ­i­cal on the PGA Tour. Clearly, Euro­pean skip­per Thomas Bjorn came with a plan to both play to the strengths of his own play­ers and ex­pose the per­ceived weak­nesses on the Amer­i­can side.

The most glar­ing fragility, by the way, was not ex­actly dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out.

A quick peek at the “driv­ing ac­cu­racy” sta­tis­tics on the PGA Tour re­veals some star­tling in­com­pe­tency. When it comes to hit­ting fair­ways, the most pro­fi­cient mem­ber of the US squad is Rickie Fowler, who ar­rived dans Fran­cais ranked 52nd on the list. Next was Bryson DeCham­beau at 93rd, closely fol­lowed by Webb Simp­son (94th) and Jor­dan Spi­eth (98th). Tiger Woods is ranked 129th, Dustin John­son 138th, Justin Thomas and Bubba Wat­son 141st, Brooks Koepka 158th, Tony Finau 180th, Pa­trick Reed 182nd and Phil Mick­el­son 190th. Mick­el­son’s po­si­tion, by the way, can also be de­scribed as “fourth-last.” Only An­drew Yun, Ol­lie Schenider­jans and Ricky Barnes hit fewer fair­ways than golf’s great­est-ever left-han­der. In other words, all three are re­ally, re­ally, re­ally bad with a driver in their hands.

My mind goes back to the 12th tee on the sec­ond af­ter­noon. Stand­ing close by, I watched as Woods pulled his tee-shot miles left into the “munchies.” His com­ment as he “placed” his driver back in the bag said it all re­ally: “What a f**king golf shot. Je­sus f**king Christ. You moth­erf**ker.”

Any­way, mov­ing right along, Bjorn de­serves much credit for set­ting-up the course in a way that was al­ways go­ing to ad­van­tage his men. But, in turn, Amer­i­can cap­tain Jim Furyk is de­serv­ing of crit­i­cism on two fronts.

First, he should have fig­ured out what Bjorn was likely to do set-up-wise. And sec­ond, once that first hur­dle had been cleared, he should not have been pick­ing the likes of Finau and Mick­el­son. In fact, he might have been bet­ter off se­lect­ing the 10th most ac­cu­rate driver on the PGA Tour – him­self – or two of his vice-cap­tains, Matt Kuchar and Zach John­son. Within the team, only Fowler hits more fair­ways than those guys.

All of which is not to say that Bjorn’s le­git­i­mate and highly ef­fec­tive tac­tics made for ex­cit­ing golf. They did not. Which is a pity in a match play event that is in­her­ently en­ter­tain­ing. Too of­ten, holes were de­cided not by great putts or dra­matic ap­proach shots – although they both made ap­pear­ances – but by poor tee-shots. Too of­ten, as soon as one player hit a fair­way and the op­po­nent did not, that was that. The hole was all but over. All be­cause the risky re­cov­ery shot was al­most com­pletely elim­i­nated. In­stead, play­ers were re­duced to hack­ing-out or, at best, at­tempt­ing an un­con­trol­lable “heave’-ho” from rough that was much too long and much too thick.

In con­clu­sion, what this wit­ness will take away from the 42nd Ry­der Cup matches is con­fir­ma­tion that the game’s big­gest and most pow­er­ful cir­cuit is on the wrong track. The lead­ing Amer­i­can play­ers are highly pro­fi­cient when it comes to the nar­row form of golf too of­ten found on the PGA Tour. But take them out of that com­fort zone and they are likely to strug­gle.

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