The 2020 Ryder Cup takes place, finally, from Friday after it was postponed last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. We look at some of the key talking points heading into Whistling Straits, as Europe seeks to retain the famous trophy on US soil.
Making most of home advantage
Trace back through the past seven Ryder Cups, and six of them have been won by the hosts. That trend can be attributed to a number of factors, but two in particular: the home camp set up the course to favour themselves, while the crowds have got only bigger and therefore more vociferous.
As to the latter, this year’s event, staged in Wisconsin, will welcome even less European fans because of tight Covid-19 travel restrictions — which will only strengthen United States’ chances.
OK, Whistling Straits’ position on Lake Michigan means American supporters will not encroach on Team Europe as they did at Hazeltine in 2016, but the partisan crowd will test greatly the visitors’ mettle. One crumb of comfort, though: that sole away win in the past seven clashes? The Miracle at Medinah, in 2012.
Bryson v Brooks a thrilling aside
One of the admittedly many intriguing subplots heading into Whistling Straits centres around the relationship between Bryon DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka. Or lack thereof.
The compatriots’ rivalry had provided plenty of entertainment the past couple of seasons, playing out in interviews and on social media — even if some claim the enmity is not all it’s made out to be.
However, US captain Steve Stricker was at pains to declare the feud has been “put to bed”, while DeChambeau has spoken this week about amicable dinners and discussions.
Meanwhile, videos abound on social media of the two enjoying a seemingly courteous companionship on the driving range. Contrived? Partnering the two during the first two days would certainly suggest not. Either way, it should make for fascinating viewing.
McIlroy turning the tap
Jon Rahm is world No 1, and Ian Poulter Mr Ryder Cup, but Rory McIlroy should typically exist as Team Europe’s greatest weapon against the US.
However, the four-time major winner has not enjoyed the best season — winning at Wells Fargo aside — stuck fiddling with his swing and registering only 7 top-10s in 21 starts. “Only”, given his supreme talent.
Yet McIlroy has grown to love the Ryder Cup following ill-advised comments before his debut in 2010. In fact, he has played every session possible since Celtic Manor, returning an impressive 11 victories and four halves from 24 matches.
He has also fully embraced his role as a leader within the team. Whistling Straights seems tailor-made for McIlroy’s power off the tee, as does a mouth-watering pairing with rookie Viktor Hovland. But can the former rise again to the occasion?
US rookies v Euro oldies
This US team includes six players who have never previously competed in the red-hot Ryder Cup heat. However, Collin Morikawa is a two-time major winner and current Open champion, Patrick Cantley the 2021 FedEx Cup winner and PGA player of the year, and Xander Schauffele a recent Olympic gold medallist.
They sit third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the world rankings. Hardly especially green. Granted, the other trio — Harris English, Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler — have greater question marks against them.
In contrast, Europe have three newbies in Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger. Handling the pressure matters more this week than any other in golf, and maybe Europe’s veterans — Sergio Garcia (age 41), Paul Casey (44), Ian Poulter (45) and Lee Westwood (48) — will help manage better the strain. Or will the youthful exuberance of the US (average age 29) shine brighter?
Favourable set-up blown off track
As mentioned, perhaps the most telling “home” advantage is setting out the course in favour of your team. Thus, Whistling Straits will play wide and long (at 7,390 yards, it is the lengthiest course in Ryder Cup history).
Definitely, that suits the Americans. Eight of the hosts’ side sit inside the top 50 for driving distance on the PGA Tour this season, compared to only three on Team Europe.
Subsequently, the rough has been kept short, allowing the grip-it-and-rip-it brigade to jut out their chests on most tees. Still, it should be said that Whistling Straits won’t be quite as appealing a home venue as Hazeltine in 2016. With the wind forecast to blow, it should play more into Europe’s hands — Shane Lowry, anyone? And that’s potentially decisive in the underdogs’ chances of retaining the trophy.