Forget everything you’ve heard on television, seen on the Internet, or read in magazines. Think with your own head for a moment: what’s the truest axiom in golf?
You drive for show, and putt for dough…and trophies.
So ignore who looks stronger on paper, who won “the last how many over the last how long,” and maybe take a close look at the number of untested rookies on each side (and who got left off), but most of all, watch for the hottest putters to take home the trophy.
Yes, Europe has won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, and are defending champions after a 17.5-10.5 drubbing of the U.S. when the teams last met in 2018 Le Golf National in France, but none of that matters Friday morning. As you look at the rosters and the golf course, three issues stand out:
|Tony Finau||Captain’s pick|
|Xander Schauffele||Captain’s pick|
|Jordan Spieth||Captain’s pick|
|Harris English||Captain’s pick|
|Daniel Berger||Captain’s pick|
|Scottie Scheffler||Captain’s pick|
Issue 1: The U.S. hopes it never has to regret leaving who the press dubbed “Captain America” at the 2016 Ryder Cup and who is for certain a sure-fire Euro killer: Patrick Reed. Reed is a demi-god of match play, cinching crucial matches in the clutch ever since he and tiny Augusta State University took home two national collegiate championships, at the expense of the greatest names in NCAA golf. He’s earned a Green Jacket, and not only has experience in the Ryder Cup, he won, arguably, the most exciting match of the modern Ryder Cup generation, holding off a hard-charging, adrenaline fueled Rory McIlroy at Medinah. His experience might have helped.
That being said, USA captain Steve Stricker was solid the rest of the way, almost following the Rolex rankings and money list to the letter, skippi9ng only Reed and Webb Simpson, and even the most ardent Simpson fan – of which I am one – only the most ardent Simpson fan can defend his somewhat bland Ryder cup record.
And Webb doesn’t play with a lot of fire. You need that spark in a Ryder Cup to maintain pace and adrenaline with your opponent…and sometimes your own teammates too. They want to see that as well.
Dustin Johnson is the oldest player on the squad this year, but is he mature and wise enough to lead them? Conventional wisdom says no, especially after the news that he and hothead, yet uber-talented Brooks Koepka actually got in a nasty brawl on the plane that was taking the 2018 USA Ryder Cup team to the matches. Those are not leadership qualities.
|Sergio Garcia||Captain’s pick|
|Ian Poulter||Captain’s pick|
|Shane Lowry||Captain’s pick|
See the difference? Experience.
The Europeans play a longer game than the Americans do. Our team mentality is too mercurial and too eager for quick fixes. Occasionally a new, younger player earns his way on to the team, then struggles in his first rodeo. If things stay this way going forward, the Americans may find they have overcompensated with too many fan favorites getting the nod over the hottest players at the moment.
Issue 2: whistling Straits is an American golf course masquerading as a UK links.
Rory McIlroy said it best in his pre-Ryder Cup presser:
“This is not a links course. It’s an American-style aerial course. No one is gong to be bump-and-running the ball onto these greens,” he remarked. And he’s right. Whistling Straits looks like a U.K. linksland, and is hard by one of the largest inland bodies of water in the world, but it doesn’t play like a links.
Pete Dye would agree. Herb Kohler said to him “I want you to make it look like Ballybunion,” and to an extent Pete succeeded, but much of Pete’s brilliance goes by the wayside. The course is perfectly balanced – an almost perfect copy of the routing of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. There are two par-5s and two par-3s on each side. The par-3s are designed evenly to test draw and fade on both the outward and inward nines, and a cunning crossover ensures that the only time you are playing into the interior of the property and away form the lake is either leaving from or returning to the clubhouse: one and 18 respectively.
“Moreover, all the drives, from the tee are strategic. Tiger Woods likes to say he likes to “see it all,” see everything from the tee, but what I do to a pro is let you see some of the fairway, but not all of the fairway,” Dye confided. “Now once you’ve played the course, you know how wide it is and what’s out there. But even so, what you can’t see creates something in the back of your mind like doubt or fear. The mere fact that you know the fairway is there isn’t enough. When you can’t see all the landing area, you get scared or nervous or uncertain.”
And of course it will be a phenomenal match play course. Every hole is a potential disaster.
“Someone told me there were eight difficult holes and ten impossible holes,” joked England’s Lee Westwood during the 2010 PGA Championship. “I’m still trying to figure out which ones are the difficult ones.”
That may have been hyperbole; the Straits course can be had in fair weather. In 2004 Whistling straits handed out sub-par rounds for the first three days like the Euro team handed out Green Bay Packer cheesehead hats to the crowd this morning. And in 2015 Australia’s Jason Day used brute force to overwhelm Whistling Straits to the tune of a record 20-under score for the four days. But in dirty weather or wind, the straits course is as stingy as a modern day CDC mask guideline.
“The wind is the tricky part,” Dye admitted to Your Author in an earlier interview. “It changes all the time and it swirls. Normally it comes out of the southwest. Now the lake has a different temperature than the land, and when the prevailing wind comes in 8-12 knots, the temperature of the lake will reverse the wind. You can stand on the tee and feel the breeze coming one way, but look at the flag and it’s flying in the other direction…dead opposite.”
Dye went on to explain a little of the science to it, much like Bryson DeChambeau did at the Ocean Course for this year’s PGA…except Pete isn’t anywhere near as much of a brainiac in the way he tries to explain it.
“The temperature of the lake is never over 60-65. Now when the wind comes off the land, its one temperature, but when it hits the lake, I don’t know what causes it, but it reverses…. I remember the last day Justin Leonard hit a great second shot to the 18th green, but the wind was swirling and there’s an opening to the left on the 18th green where the wind comes down a little tunnel from the adjacent ninth hole. Well it knocked his ball down into the bunker and that cost him the tournament. In fact, I saw that a lot on 18 and at other holes too. When you have any green where you can’t feel wind on the tee, yet there is a opening of a tunnel down near the green, the wind gusting around will make the ball do weird things.”
So if we get wind, it clearly favors the Euros, who play in it far more often than their American counterparts, most of whom live in Orlando or Scottsdale, not Kent or Edinburgh.
FRIDAY MORNING FOURSOMES MATCHES
(Remember: in foursomes four guys hit the ball some of the time…it’s what some of still call alternate shot.)
7:05 CST: EUR – Sergio Garcia/Jon Rahm vs USA – Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas
7:21 CST: EUR – Paul Casey/Viktor Hovland vs. USA – Dustin Johnson/Collin Morikawa
7:37 CST: EUR – Lee Westwood/Matt Fitzpatrick vs. USA – Dan Berger/Brooks Koepka
7:35 CST: EUR – Rory McIlroy/Ian Poulter vs USA Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele
And that brings us to…
Issue 3: The Euros have an advantage in the foursomes and fourball formats since they play it more often and divide the team into pairings from each country. Note that the two Spaniards – Garcia and Rahm – as are the Englishmen Westwood and Fitzpatrick. Since Sweden’s Henrik Stenson is a vice captain and was not selected to play, Norway’s Viktor Hovland is a bit of an orphan, so put him with Casey, the wily old vet.
JAY’S GNN PREDICTION: USA 15, EUROPE 13
Still, at the end of the day, it comes down to putting, an d with Dye’s greens well-protected, but somewhat benign within their confines, the Americans have not reason not to prevail. The flattish greens play t their advantage, but if the wind blows on Sunday, then switch it up and take the Euros.