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October 4, 2023
The Europeans won the Ryder Cup because
The Europeans won the Ryder Cup because. 1. They had the better players. 2. They were better prepared. 3. The golf course setup fit their games better. 4. A distinct home crowd advantage. But when it's all said and done. The players had to hit the shots and make the putts and the Europeans hit better and made more clutch shots than the US.
The three best players in the world at this time were born across the sea. Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy are in class by themselves and it showed in Rome over this past weekend. Scottie Scheffler is elite, but putting woes have made him less invincible. Patrick Cantley and Max Homa are America's next best, but still a step behind Europe's top three. Europe gathered 10 of its 16 ½ points from their top players. Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele, and Collin Morikawa would be our solid middle of the lineup players. This trio under achieved and I put the blame on their performance the first two days as a main reason for the US failing to be in reasonable contention going into the last day. Europe's middle three of Tommy Fleetwood, Tryell Hatton, and Matt Fitzpatrick were solid winning 5 ½ points to the 1 ½ from America's middle three during the opening days. Team Captain Zach Johnson relied on the past glories of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas and had them go out three times in two -man competition and they garnered only a half of a point. Justin Thomas did play well and was a worthy captain's pick, but he had little to no help from Jordan. Wyndham Clark boasted he was as good as Rory McIlroy, but every time he was needed to deliver, he faltered. Sam Burns also isn't quite there. He had flashes of what it takes in this kind of competition, but at this time in his career, his ball striking isn't up to the elite in the game. Poor Rickie Fowler got no respect. He only played in two matches and lost both. It was a captain's decision to not have him play on day two. Translation, Zach Johnson felt there were better players than Rickie.
Since 1995 the European squad has won 10 of the last 14 competitions and never lost outside of the United States during that time. Each year the US captain states, "We will learn from this defeat and not have it happen again." But with each loss, the captain has made critical choices that has put their team at a disadvantage. Why did ten of the US team not play a competitive round for five weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup? Why on a course that favors straight drivers and accurate ball strikers, did Zach Johnson pair Sam Burns, statistically the least accurate driver and iron player on the team, with Scottie Scheffler the best ball strikers in an alternate ball format. Forget that they are best of friends, this was a pairing that spelled disaster from the start. The opening match wasn't close. The captain doesn't hit golf shots, but the other three matches the first morning looked equal on paper, but Hovland and Aberg were a buzzsaw that would have beaten any team. In the last two matches in the first session, Rickie Fowler let crucial shots and putts get away that led to his and Collin Morikawa's defeat. That last match would've been a classic with Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood against the best US team of Patrick Cantley and Xander Schauffele. Unfortunately, Xander wasn't sharp and the result was a Europe sweep of the opening matches 4 to 0. From that point it was a desperate game of catchup, where the Europeans were playing their "A" games and with boisterous home crowd it wasn't going to happen.
Each captain has a large role in the setup of the golf course and Luke Donald, the European Captain, had the course arranged to play narrow and have fewer wedge play opportunities. This favored the home team, but certainly wasn't the deciding factor. The pairing of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas has been golden for the Americans in the past, but this wasn't the course for them. They salvaged only a half a point in their three matches. Turn that around and we have a different outcome. In hindsight, I would have loved that have had Keegan Bradley, Tony Finau, and Cameron Young on this team. Bradley is a ball striker and on top of his game and Finau has Ryder Cup experience and usually long and straight. Young is similar to Sam Burns, but a better ball striker. Brooks Koepka earned his right to be on this team and played well, except for the debacle that he and Scottie suffered the second day. He was the only LIV player competing, which seemingly wasn't a big deal and it appeared he was embraced openly by both teams. Think of what another LIV player could have contributed if Dustin Johnson was in the mix?
The crowds at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome were everything you want for a Ryder Cup, boisterous, loud, and enthusiastic. It appeared they didn't go overboard and disrupt the play of the contestants. But that type of atmosphere certainly helps the home team. In two years, when the Cup will be played at Bethpage in New York, the crowds probably will be louder and maybe a bit disorderly. I hope not to the extent that it affects play. It appeared that most of the players embraced the environment, but others weren't quite ready for it. The compassion and team pride were on full display in this competition. Players cried and tempers flared, but in the end it was a hard-fought battle that each player became totally invested in.
Mistakes were made and second guessing will take place for the next two years. In the final analysis, the European team was better prepared, more motivated, and ultimately played better than the America squad. The core of team Europe of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland are super stars and will not be fading away and young players like Ludwig Aberg and Nicolai Hojgaard will only get better. The middle is solid with Tommy Fleetwood, Tryell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Sepp Straka. If the US thinks they will roll over this team in New York they better have their players peaking and in full competitive mode. Errors happened, but Europe was better this week. I don't think Zach Johnson's mistakes could've changed the outcome. Hats off to Europe!