Updated: Sep 23, 2021
I LOVE! the Ryder Cup. Even though (being Australian) I could never participate, it’s the most fascinating tournament on the calendar for me every two years. Having played both the European and PGA Tours I’ve seen firsthand the mindset of both sides, and perhaps why Europe has had success over the last few decades. The Ryder Cup started in 1927 and for 70 years the US completely dominated Great Britain (up until 1971) and then Great Britain and Ireland (1973 – 1977). Once continental European players were added to the GB&I team in 1979,
things started getting interesting when Seve Ballesteros came on the scene and became the flame that stoked the European fire. Seve, Langer, Faldo, Lyle, and Woosnam were the engine room for Europe in the 80’s. Their belief and passion for the event began turning the tide. Up until 1979 the US had an 18 – 3 win/loss rate. Since then, Europe has the upper hand with an 11 – 8 record, including winning nine of the last 12 contests.
There are many moving parts and ingredients that go into successful Ryder Cup campaigns, but for me a couple of points stand out more than most as to why the Europeans have done so well in recent years. Golf is an individual pursuit and on paper US always has the upper hand, their line-ups brimming with world class players. This year for example, they have nine players in the top 11 of the Official World Golf Rankings. Europe has one. The Ryder Cup, however, is about coming together as a team, and this is what Europe does naturally. When I played there, the tour had very much a ‘family’ feel. Players stay at the same hotels, eat at the same restaurants, and in some cases ride the same buses to and from tournaments. They become very familiar with each other, and lifelong friendships are commonplace. The PGA Tour on the other hand has a more ‘individualistic’ nature to it. One reason is tournaments supply each player with a car, so there’s more independence to separate yourself from everyone else. You only see other players at the golf course.
Another aspect is the courses Europe host their Ryder Cups on. They are venues played every year on the European Tour. The players know them extremely well, especially the greens, and in match play this familiarity cannot be underestimated. The US plays host on courses that might have a major championship on it every ten years or so, meaning there’s no ‘home field’ advantage in this regard.
Having said all this, it’s going to be a big ask for Europe to retain the Cup again. Course set up will be front and centre in US captain Steve Stricker’s mind. I’m sure he’ll set up Whistling Straits similar to Hazeltine in 2016, where the US won 17 – 11. Long, wide, little to no rough, and the pin positions won’t be too extravagant. This combination plays right into the Americans strengths – length off the tee and low scoring. In Paris three years ago at Le Golf National, Europe’s Captain Thomas Bjorn presented the course perfectly for his team – narrow with thick rough. Strategic, accurate golf was called for and par consistently won holes. It was no surprise the Europeans crushed the US 17 ½ – 10 ½.
There’s a couple of wild cards this year for the Americans. Team harmony firstly. Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka have an ongoing feud, and Brooks’ comments recently in the media saying it’s not an easy event because it doesn’t suit his usual routine. I mean, really? At least Patrick Reed’s omission will help calm the waters in their camp to some extent. On the flip side, the Europeans know how to put egos aside and bond as a unit. It’s instinctive and integral to their success. Secondly, injuries. Collin Morikawa’s back hasn’t been 100% of late and Brooks doesn’t seem to be in peak condition either, withdrawing from the Tour Championship recently.
In any case, whatever happens, it makes for a mouth-watering contest and as always, I’ll be LOVING every minute of it.