EUROPE WINS

HAV­ING BEEN ALL-BUT WIPED-OUT BY TEAM USA 17–11 AT HAZEL­TINE TWO-YEARS-AGO, TEAM EUROPE WENT INTO THE 42ND STAG­ING OF THE RYDER CUP IN PARIS HELL-BENT ON RESTOR­ING EURO­PEAN PRIDE AND DE­TER­MINED TO CEL­E­BRATE ON FRENCH SOIL WITH THE COUN­TRY'S FINEST CHAMPAG

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - FEATURE - MIKE WIL­SON

Mean­while, in the pre-match pro­nounce­ments, many within the Team USA camp were bullish, es­pe­cially with Tiger Woods – de­spite long, drawn-out in­jury prob­lems and a Ryder Cup record best de­scribed as, ‘or­di­nary,’ whilst Europe, play­ing at home and on con­ti­nen­tal Europe for only the se­cond time in the 92-year-record happy to let their golf, and their golfers, do their talk­ing on Le Golf Na­tional.

Mike Wil­son at­tended the Ryder Cup and takes a foren­sic look at the match, and the match-ups. He finds some crit­i­cal clues as to how, and why Team Europe pre­vailed and the USA ca­pit­u­lated with the widest mar­gin of vic­tory since 2004 at Oak­land Hills and two-years-later at the K Club in Ire­land and be­lieves it all re­volves around the con­cept of ‘TEAM’.

As US Cap­tain Jim Furyk led his team into bat­tle for the 42nd Ryder Cup one of his prob­lems was that only a hand­ful of his 12 man squad had ever seen, let alone played the Al­ba­tross Course at Le Golf Na­tional in the lead up. Justin Thomas was a rare ex­cep­tion hav­ing played in an event ear­lier this year.

Furyk, a nice man who took his cap­taincy se­ri­ously no doubt con­ducted as many re­con­nais­sance trips as was prac­ti­ca­ble to Le Golf Na­tional, close to the Palais de Ver­sailles. Only Justin Thomas of those likely to earn, or be given a place in Furyk’s dozen good men and true saw fit to cross the At­lantic this year and test-drive the Ryder Cup course play­ing in the US$7m French Open, one of Europe’s most pres­ti­gious na­tional ti­tles. He made his trip worth­while, fin­ish­ing eighth in the Rolex Se­ries event, mak­ing him­self a cool US$150,000.

Mean­while 2017 French Open cham­pion, Swede Alex Norén, al­ready nailed-on for a maiden Ryder Cup turned-up to the French Open, and won again, not only the US$1.4m first prize but also an in­tu­itive, in­sight­ful first prize that was to stand him in good stead. →

Iron­i­cally, Europe’s go-to man, Francesco Moli­nari was play­ing

– and won – the ri­val US$7.1m Quicken Loans tour­na­ment in the US. Whilst more than half the Euro­pean play­ing squad and four of the As­sis­tant Cap­tains were do­ing their stuff in Paris as the mul­ti­mil­lion­aires of the PGA TOUR, many of whom it is said won’t get out of bed for less than a guar­an­teed mil­lion were re­cov­er­ing from the US Open and pre­par­ing for the Bri­tish ver­sion.

“I’m look­ing at the golf course, Le Golf Na­tional is a won­der­ful golf course, in my opin­ion, but it suits a cer­tain style of player, and I’ll be look­ing at that,” said Furyk, adding, “So it’s my job, I think, to round this team out in the best pos­si­ble way, and these four play­ers that we’ll add will give us the best op­por­tu­nity to be suc­cess­ful, whether it’s adding more vet­er­ans, whether that’s adding more rook­ies to the team … I think both can be very valu­able.”

Ar­riv­ing in Paris on Ryder Cup Mon­day – many of the Euro­pean team had al­ready been there over the week­end – is far from the best prepa­ra­tion for PGA TOUR play­ers used to over-man­i­cured TPC-style cour­ses. Switch­ing to a course - shame­lessly but le­git­i­mately - set-up by cap­tain Thomas Bjorn and his posse of vice cap­tains must, for most dyed-in-the-wool PGA TOUR pro­fes­sion­als feel like be­ing forced out of their left-hand-drive Porsche and into a Ford Kuga.

Ahead of nam­ing his four cap­tain’s picks, Furyk had said, “We are look­ing ahead, and we have a long-term plan, but we’re try­ing to iden­tify the four play­ers that fit with these (first) eight,” and, speak­ing on the eve of the event, the like­able but naive US cap­tain said, “They are just try­ing to learn the golf course. I said yes­ter­day, one of our keys, re­ally, would be these three days of prep, Tues­day, Wed­nes­day, Thurs­day.

“I've got six guys that have seen the course, six that haven't, they are mixed up to­day where each group has got some­one that's played the golf course that can show the oth­ers around a lit­tle,” he con­tin­ued, adding, “But we're just try­ing to fig­ure it out, you know, Europe knows this golf course well, they have played the French Open here [but] we're try­ing to fig­ure out the setup and what they have in store for the week.

No doubt that wily old fox that is Thomas Bjorn would have had some­one at Furyk’s press con­fer­ence, and pinned the tran­script to the team room wall, ar­guably snatch­ing de­feat from the jaws of vic­tory be­fore a sin­gle golf ball had been struck in anger.

But, on pa­per – and of course the sur­faces the Ryder Cup is played on is much more com­plex than that; grass, sand, wa­ter, trees with wind fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing the equa­tion. The event was stacked with tal­ent with all 12 Team U.S.A. play­ers ranked in the top 25 in the Of­fi­cial World Golf Rank­ings, the Team Europe side wasn’t ex­actly lack­ing in star power ei­ther. For first time ever, the top 10 golfers in the world were com­pet­ing in the same Ryder Cup.

Euro­pean skip­per Bjorn named Paul Casey, Ser­gio Gar­cía, Ian Poul­ter and Hen­rik Sten­son as his four wild­cards. Furyk went for an in-form Tiger Woods, a man who was didn’t play the 36-holes per day re­quired on two days, Phil Mick­el­son and Bryson DeCham­beau were an­nounced as wild­cards on Tues­day, 4 Septem­ber. Tony Finau was an­nounced as Furyk’s fi­nal wild­card pick a week later.

It is within the ques­tion of cap­tains’ picks that the 2018 Ryder Cup was won and lost, es­pe­cially given that it was for Furyk and his charges, an away fix­ture, in­deed a very away fix­ture, where English is not the lan­guage of choice, ren­der­ing many of Team USA, if not blind to what was go­ing on, then cer­tainly deaf to it.

One is re­minded of an em­bar­rass­ing – and largely un­fair - suc­ces­sion of in­ci­dents and malapro­pos that, if noth­ing else, per­pet­u­ated the stereo­typ­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions of the worldly-wise PGA TOUR player who can make mil­lions with­out reg­u­larly leav­ing home.

This year saw Bubba Watson back on Team USA for his fourth Ryder Cup ap­pear­ance. In 2015 he had been cru­elly ‘voted,’ by a jury of his peers as the least pop­u­lar pro­fes­sional on the cir­cuit. Four years ear­lier, iron­i­cally dur­ing the Open de France, he in­sulted the French with his de­scrip­tion of some fa­mous Parisian land­marks fol­low­ing a mis­guided tour, in­clud­ing; “That big tower" (the Eif­fel Tower), the "Build­ing start­ing with an L" (the Lou­vre) and "this arch­way I drove round in a cir­cle," (the Arc de Tri­om­phe) and "the cas­tle that we're stay­ing next to''(the Palace of Ver­sailles).

For the first time in many years, the two Ryder Cup cap­tains’ choices were per­fectly aligned, Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn each with eight play­ers pre-or­dained via the Of­fi­cial Rank­ings, a choice of four more each from a play­ing pool.

Euro­pean skip­per Bjorn showed re­mark­able judgement – in­deed one sus­pects he was be­ing well-ad­vised from within the camp by the steady hands of Robert Karls­son, Pádraig Har­ring­ton, Lee West­wood, Graeme McDow­ell and Luke Don­ald, in­tel­li­gent, ev­i­dence-based feed­back from both sides of the At­lantic. The lead­er­ship group opted for Poul­ter - with his Ryder Cup ‘DNA’ - ma­tured and back to his best and Hen­rik Sten­son, re­cov­er­ing from an in­jury­b­lighted sea­son.

For his part, Furyk chose to ig­nore the rel­a­tively poor Ryder Cup records of both Woods and Mick­el­son, not to men­tion the per­sonal and pro­fes­sional en­mity that is sup­posed to run be­tween the pair. Both are over 40, with ‘Ma­jors’ to boast about and epic ca­reers that are ar­guably wind­ing down. →

Mean­while, on the flip side of his four se­lec­tions, Bryson DeCham­beau and Tony Finau were cho­sen. Both promis­ing but with­out any ev­i­dence they are, in­di­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively, the real deal, com­pared to proven Ryder Cup bat­tlers such as JB Holmes, Zach John­son, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Ma­han, Brandt Snedeker, Boo Week­ley and Steve Stricker all squar­ing the highly-ex­pe­ri­ence, bat­tle-hard­ened cir­cle.

Yes, Europe had its share of rook­ies, Spa­niard John Rahm - taken un­der the wing of Gar­cía and Justin Rose, Tommy Fleet­wood - men­tored by Poul­ter and Moli­nari, Alex Norén by Robert Karls­son and Sten­son and Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen had his com­pa­triot Cap­tain Thomas Bjorn. Vet­eran Casey was back in the frame along with Rose, this was a team in the true sense of the world whereas Team USA was a se­ries of in­di­vid­u­als, round pegs in square holes.

Furyk was mag­nan­i­mous in de­feat, say­ing, “I'm proud of these guys, they fought, they came out to­day [Sun­day], and there was a time this morn­ing where it looked like we had a chance on those first five or six matches, put heat on Europe, and they fought, [but] hat's off to Europe”.

But Furyk’s cap­tains’ picks in par­tic­u­lar let him and Team USA down, and badly, Tiger Woods fail­ing to pick up even half-apoint, same too for Mick­el­son, (both dropped for two of the five for­mats), Rickie Fowler al­most as un­pro­duc­tive, like world num­berone Dustin John­son, only Justin Thomas mak­ing max­i­mum points>

Whereas Open Cham­pi­onship win­ner Moli­nari – surely the best player in world golf as things stand - set the tone by earning max­i­mum points, team-mates such as rook­ies Fleet­wood, Ole­sen, Rahm and Norén all con­tribut­ing sig­nif­i­cantly, as did the ‘Sheet an­chor,’ trio of Gar­cía, Poul­ter and Sten­son.

It’s not of­ten that clas­si­cal Greek philoso­phers like Aris­to­tle will be quoted in NZGM, but this month, years af­ter his un­timely death when he said that, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” could be quoted as one of the rea­sons Europe put one over on Team USA, clos­ing the gap be­tween Europe and its arch-ri­val to just four rub­bers, and clos­ing.

Mean­while, look­ing ahead to the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wis­con­sin, USA, it looks like the Stars & Stripes who have all the prob­lems, ag­ing and un­der­per­form­ing multi-mil­lion­aires ac­cus­tomed to play­ing solely for them­selves, and, as the old adage goes, there is no, ‘I’ in team. The Euro­peans clearly much more ca­pa­ble of bind­ing and blend­ing to­wards a wider and col­lec­tive cause as suc­ces­sive USA Cap­tains and play­ers rapidly run out of ex­cuses.

With­out ques­tion, the Euro­pean team room will rightly en­joy in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive suc­cess far into the French night, whilst, one would ex­pect that the at­mos­phere on the var­i­ous pri­vate jets head­ing state­side fol­low­ing a crush­ing de­feat will be fu­ne­real fol­low­ing a fail­ure which should take months to over­come.

Mem­bers of Team Europe all hold The Ryder Cup tro­phy as they cel­e­brate af­ter winning The Ryder Cup dur­ing sin­gles matches of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf Na­tional on Septem­ber 30, 2018 in Paris, France.

Cap­tain Thomas Bjorn of Europe holds The Ryder Cup as Europe cel­e­brate vic­tory.

Ser­gio Gar­cía of Europe plays his shot from the first tee.

USA Cap­tain Jim Furyk con­grat­u­lat­ing Euro­pean Cap­tain Thomas Bjorn.

Ser­gio Gar­cia now holds the record of the most points won by any player in the Ryder Cup

Tiger Woods didn’t win any of his Ryder Cup matches.

The Euro­pean Team (L-R Seated) Jon Rahm, Rory McIl­roy; Thomas Bjorn (Cap­tain), Ser­gio Gar­cía, Ian Poul­ter, (L-R stand­ing) Hen­rik Sten­son, Tommy Fleet­wood, Paul Casey, Tyrrell Hat­ton, Thor­b­jorn Ole­sen, Francer­sco Moli­nari, Alex Noren, Justin Rose. The United States Team (l-r seated) Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Phil Mick­el­son, Rickie Fowler, (l-r Stand­ing) Brooks Koepka, Bryson De Cham­beau, Webb Simp­son, Tony Finau, Dustin John­son, Bubba Watson, Jor­dan Spi­eth, Pa­trick Reed.

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