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
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.