Ryder Cup: How and why the United States must deliver the trophy against Europe at Hazeltine

The biennial event gets under way today in Hazeltine, Minnesota. John McAuley looks at the main talking points.
Europe captain Darren Clarke, left, and United States captain Davis Love III pose with the Ryder Cup Monday, September 26, 2016, at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. David J Phillip / AP Photo
Europe captain Darren Clarke, left, and United States captain Davis Love III pose with the Ryder Cup Monday, September 26, 2016, at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. David J Phillip / AP Photo

The United States take on defending champions Europe in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club seeking to improve on a recent record that has yielded only two wins in 10.

Taken to task

The American’s comprehensive defeat at Gleneagles in 2014 prompted a bitter fallout in the immediate aftermath, with the US in such a funk that they resolved to implement a Ryder Cup task force to discover how they have won the trophy only once in the past seven attempts.

Former captains were consulted. Prominent players came together.

They even studied the European model to see if they could glean what makes their rivals so successful of late. It will have provided answers, but it also ratchets up the pressure. The US have pored over this Ryder Cup conundrum. Now they must deliver the goods.

See Woods for the trees

Perhaps the biggest surprise in team selection came not in Davis Love III’s four picks – Rickie Fowler, JB Holmes, Matt Kuchar and Ryan Moore – but in appointing Tiger Woods as a vice captain.

The 14-time major winner brings vast experience and still retains an aura, but his enthusiasm for the Ryder Cup has long been questioned.

His playing record, too, reads 14.5 points from 33 matches. Love has already said he will need to cautiously manage the furore that is sure to follow Woods around Hazeltine.

Throw into the mix the temperamental Bubba Watson as another vice captain, and place in the opposite corner Woods’s old sparring partner Ian Poulter, and the support cast could become a distraction.

• Read more: Assessing the form of the Ryder Cup rookies

• Read more: Exclusive: Ryder Cup rookie Rafa Cabrera Bello relishing taking on Americans in their own backyard

Best versus worst

Love called his side “maybe the best golf team ever assembled” and was this week forced to backtrack somewhat.

Then, Johnny Miller labelled the European team “the worst in many years”. Both the US captain and the two-time US Ryder Cup participant should have chosen their words more carefully, as Team Europe confirmed they would use them as motivation.

The truth is, the two sides are incredibly close in talent, with many predicting as competitive a clash as Medinah 2012, when Europe triumphed by a point.

Statistically, the US boast a higher average world ranking (16.3 to 27.8) and on average possess the longer drivers and better putters. But Europe have recently dominated the foresomes (they won 7-1 in 2014), testament to their collective spirit.

Playing on patriotism

As the practice days this week have proven, there is going to be plenty of support at Hazeltine. Punters are sure to pack the stands and thicken the fairway fringes, with the US obviously enjoying the majority.

As Darren Clarke conceded, it will be loud and it will be partisan. The visitors’ cause has not been helped by the controversial online article by Danny Willett’s brother, who lambasted the American fans, describing them as “a braying mob of imbeciles”.

Europe have rightfully attempted to distance themselves from that, but it will have only stoked the fires of the home support. Expect Patrick Reed, in particular, to thrive on that.

Handling novices’ nerves

Much has been made about the make-up of the European team. Of their 12 players, six are Ryder Cup rookies and have therefore yet to sample the event’s unique atmosphere. The hosts, meanwhile, have two.

So how Europe’s first-timers fare is one of the most intriguing storylines this week.

They will be confronting totally new experiences, playing for not only themselves but their continent, and in the cauldron of the Americans’ backyard.

The Europeans will point to Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer as possessing plenty of Ryder Cup know-how to lean on.

The rookies, though, can either embrace the competition or implode. Europe had six in 2010 and won, but that was on home soil.

Leading from the front

A captain’s true impact is difficult to measure once they put their players out on the course.

However, past events have shown captains earn their crust primarily in the team room.

Rory McIlroy has described a Jose Maria Olazabal speech at Medinhah in 2012 as awe-inspiring. Two years later, Tom Watson’s leadership was heavily criticised. Once pairings and playing order are decided – a significant part of the process – captains and their vice-captains are mainly motivational men.

In Clarke and co, Europe, whose team ethos is viewed as a major weapon, appear to hold the upper hand. Love has been there and lost, in 2012, so the desire to succeed will be greater. So too will the pressure.

Prediction

Desperately needing to reverse their fortunes, the US should be pumped up. That, together with home support, their big-hitting talent and the comparative inexperience of the Europeans, will be crucial. Expect Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy to be the main men for their respective teams. It will be tight, with the hosts to win 15-13.

Squads

United States

Davis Love III (captain), Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, JB Holmes.

Europe

Darren Clarke (captain), Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett, Lee Westwood, Chris Wood, Justin Rose, Andy Sullivan, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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Published: September 29, 2016 04:00 AM

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