I have a bad feeling about the Ryder Cup this September at the Hazeltine GC. In the last 15 matches between Europe and the USA the former have won a staggering 11 of them, this against a nation who utterly dominated the event until Tony Jacklin turned things around for Europe in 1985. Indeed, in the last seven clashes America have won just once.
Yet I fear it may be very different now for three reasons that became evident during the Open at Troon. First, take a glance at the final leaderboard. True, a European won it in Henrik Stenson, and three Europeans came 5th equal, but look at the other names. Mickelson 2nd, Holmes 3rd, Stricker 4th, Dustin Johnson, Haas equal 9th, Zach Johnson and Patrick Reed just behind them. It seems to me that American golf is incredibly strong right now whilst the stalwarts of the European Tour so much depended upon by Europe at the Ryder Cup are falling by the wayside. Ian Poulter is struggling big time, Lee Westwood is not the force he was and some of those who were eminent in 2012 and 2014 have lost form.
Second, we have too many rookies. I was talking to European captain Darren Clarke over a drink the other week and he admitted that however good your form may be in tournament golf experiencing the Ryder Cup for a first time is not insurmountable but clearly an added challenge. This even applies to Masters champion Danny Willett and definitely so to likely rookies Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood, Rafa Cabrero Bello, Soren Kjeldsen and possibly Andy Sullivan and Thorbjorn Olesen. That’s a potential of six rookies in the European team – on American soil.
Yet the third reason worries me the most. Ever since America started to lose on a consistent basis the same accusation has been levelled at them. They are not a team, unlike the Europeans. They do not know each other well enough, let alone get on. They fly in and out of tournaments on their private planes. They lose to the collective spirit of Europe, often on paper a lesser team but one that performs far better as a unit. I noticed that at Troon Messrs Spieth, Johnson, Fowler, Dufner, Thomas and Walker all house-shared, posting fun pictures up on social along the way. To me that sounds like a bonding exercise which will leave them in good stead for Hazeltine. Not all six will make the American team – although four probably will – but it is the right message.
Europe will still send over a formidable team, including the Masters and Open champions and an individual called McIlroy. But the combination of the Ryder Cup being on American soil and too many European rookies against a team of in form golfers who appear to have learnt the lessons of previous failures in working harder to become a team, may well spell trouble for Darren Clarke and his men.