CAN STRICKER MAINTAIN HARMONY ON TEAM USA?
Captain aims to lead talented but mercurial crew to rare Ryder Cup victory over Europe
Some people are made for the red carpet, while others prefer the after party.
Dozing off on the couch during Sunday football, I awoke to the Emmys on television. After briefly witnessing the hot mess of celebrity culture, I thanked my lucky stars that I write about golf for a living.
Then again it's Ryder Cup week at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, and over the years, the USA versus Europe biennial event has morphed into golf 's biggest spectacle. It's complete with speeches, personality clashes, fashion winners and losers, but thankfully plenty of substance and genuine excitement along the way.
In recent times, this has been the best part of the week to be on Team USA. No team steps out of the limo and strikes a pose like the perpetually favoured Americans. The red carpet has never been a problem for them; their trouble often starts when the action begins.
Then there's Team Europe. Not much for grand entrances or gossip column fodder, but no group pours out of the limo at the after party like the Euros on a Ryder Cup winning Sunday.
For all the firepower on the American side, they have won just twice this century and have spent countless years trying to figure out why.
This will be the first team since 1993 without either Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson playing. For all that the two greatest players of their generation have done for the game, neither Woods nor Mickelson embraced the team atmosphere until their contemporaries were long gone and the golf world had been remade by a generation that grew up idolizing them.
This year, the man tasked with putting the “team” into Team USA is Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.
There are few, if any, more respected and well-liked personalities in the game; think Ted Lasso without the moustache or caffeine. As for proof, earlier this year a golf journalist posted on social media that she broke up with her boyfriend after interviewing Stricker because her eyes were opened to what a man should be.
Captain Stricker has his work cut out for him this year leading an American team that always seems to have question marks about team unity.
This year's biggest soap opera is the well-documented feud between Brooks Koepka and Bryson Dechambeau. Stricker said on Monday that he doesn't see it being an issue, but admitted he's unlikely to pair the rivals together this week. Stricker likely also weighed team chemistry when he chose to leave match play stalwart Patrick Reed off the team.
The American captain is also tasked with preparing six Ryder Cup rookies this week as well as monitoring Collin Morikawa's nagging back and a wrist injury to Koepka that forced him to withdraw from the Tour Championship.
“I saw a stat earlier that we are, on average, about five years younger than the European Team,” Stricker said on Monday. “One thing is we come with a lot of enthusiasm and energy, young guys willing and ready to learn. No bad experiences for the most part from a lot of these guys . ... I see that as a positive. We're using that as a positive and our guys are super fired up and ready to go.”
For all the hazards Team USA has to navigate, they have an average world ranking of ninth compared to 30th for Team Europe, and the Americans are nearly two-to-one favourites to win this week.
Captain Padraig Harrington, on the other hand, won't be looking to change anything with Team Europe as they try to squeeze every last drop of magic out of captain's picks and Ryder Cup legends Ian Poulter, 45, and Sergio Garcia, 41. Also earning a spot on the team was 48-year-old Lee Westwood, who has nearly as much Ryder Cup experience as the entire American team.
“Obviously, Europe has a strong team when it comes to experience. That's quite relevant when you're playing an away match,” Harrington said.
“If you had two players, one experienced and one not of equal ability, certainly in an away match, you would be looking for experience. I'm very comfortable that my team is that experienced. It will be interesting . ... Clearly, we have a game plan, a pretty strong game plan, all the way through, well-prepared.”
I've been told that, over the years, part of Team Europe's secret is they have a built-in rallying point, that despite individual fame and fortune, they still see themselves as an underdog team assembled to take on the big, bad Americans who come in every year as favourites.
On Sunday evening we'll see whether the Ryder Cup will go to Stricker for directing American Renewal or to Harrington for Europe's Last Dance.