Dubai: With the 43rd Ryder Cup finally taking place this weekend after three long years, I’m seeing a lot of talk of Team USA, who are fielding one of the strongest line-ups in the competition’s history, steamrolling the European side at Whistling Straits to pick up just a third win since the turn of the millennium. Have these naysayers learnt nothing over the years?
Yes, on paper, the US team are clearly the superior of the two squads with 11 of their 12 players occupying a position inside the top 20 of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), but the Ryder Cup isn’t won on paper.
The European squad, led by Padraig Harrington this week, have been written off time and time again over the years. Take Paris 2018 as an example, before a ball was struck, the Europeans weren’t given a chance when a strong American team, which included six of the last seven major winners and a combined 31 Major titles, with a resurgent Tiger Woods among them, travelled to Le Golf National in the hope of securing a first victory on foreign soil for 25 years.
This was meant to be their year but their hopes and dreams were crushed by a formidable European team, who defied the odds to triumph 17½-10½ in front of record-breaking crowds.
So how do Europe keep producing the goods, which has seen them win seven of the last nine editions? They simply bond as a team far better than their counterparts across the pond.
While the Europeans seem to relish the opportunity of a rare week playing as a team with one common goal in mind, the US have failed to adopt the same principles with players turning against one another a common theme in recent years.
In 2014 and following a third straight loss, Phil Mickelson called out captain Tom Watson, in front of the world’s media, for “straying from a winning formula,” employed at Valhalla in 2008. The comment didn’t faze Watson, who insisted “he has a difference of opinion,” but Mickelson’s outburst would lead to the US forming a Ryder Cup “task force,” along with other changes to the way the US squad is selected.
Just four years later, there was drama in the US contingent once again with former workout buddies Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka rumoured to have nearly come to blows in the team room. Patrick Reed, who never seems to be too far away from controversy, also raised eyebrows with his comments following the Jim Furyk’s decision to break-up his triumphant partnership with Jordan Spieth from 2016.
“Patrick never said that he didn’t want to play with Jordan. Maybe you should ask Jordan why he didn’t want to play with Patrick,” tweeted Reed’s wife on the Sunday morning of the tournament.
Reed later said: “The issue is obviously with Jordan not wanting to play with me,” before questioning Furyk’s decision to bench him on Friday and Saturday afternoon. “For somebody as successful in the Ryder Cup as I am, I don’t think it’s smart to sit me twice.”
Fast forward to this year’s event and you’ll find another dilemma facing the US – Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka’s feud.
The conflict dates back more than two years but surfaced again earlier this season when unaired video emerged of Koepka getting distracted and rolling his eyes on camera as DeChambeau was walking past him. That led to a number of issues over the summer, which included the two going back-and-forth in a war of words over social media, before captain Steve Stricker spoke to each player asking them to put their differences aside.
The official US Ryder Cup social media channel released a seemingly staged video earlier this week of the two apparently making up, but does anyone actually buy that? In contrast, the European Ryder Cup social media channel was busy uploading a behind the scenes video of the official photoshoot with the camaraderie and banter between the players clear to see. In short, the Europeans have a lot more fun that the US
Can the US team get along this week? If they do, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with, but write off the Europeans and their incredible team spirit at your own peril.