The Ryder Cup Preview
THIS is going to be a very different Ryder Cup. Travel restrictions means that there are going to be very few European fans at Whistling Straits as Padraig Harrington’s 12 men take on an American side that dominates the world rankings.
But is Harrington concerned? Not a bit of it. He has world number one Jon Rahm at his disposal and would anybody want to take him on right now? Rory McIlroy always seems to raise his game at the event. Tommy Fleetwood may not have had the best season but he will be able to call upon the memories of what he achieved alongside Francesco Molinari at Le Golf National three years ago when he was responsible for accumulating four points.
On paper, Steve Stricker’s side is the better team. With the sole exception of Scottie Scheffler, every one of them is a proven winner. Every one of them sits inside the top 21 in the world rankings, with nine of them in the top 11. But Europe’s players have 38 Ryder Cup appearances between them, the USA just 12. And experience counts for everything in the Ryder Cup. Lee Westwood is playing in his 11th match, record points scorer Sergio Garcia in his 10th.
Some of the best players in the world have admitting to struggling to put the ball on the tee. Stricker has six men in his side who have never played in the match before. And in Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka they have two key players who can barely stand the sight on one another. Patrick Cantlay is also not a fan of DeChambeau.
Look at the European team and you see 12 men who genuinely like each other, who get on.
“The Ryder Cup brings out something special in my players,” said Harrington. “The passion in our team is something special. It may be a cliche but Europeans enjoy playing in a team. It brings out the very best in them."
Leaving out Justin Rose was not an easy decision for Harrington and the captain admitted that the discussion he had with Rose was a difficult one.
“One of my picks could easily have been Justin or Alex Noren. But the consistency of the Ian Poulter and Shane Lowry means I have no concerns about them. Justin played well the past couple of weeks. He is a great team player and although he was disappointed not to make the side he made it clear that he will be at home supporting the boys.
“We have three rookies in the side. One of them is Shane Lowry, an Open champion who has won many big tournaments. He will be a rock in this team.
“I have won three majors but I never struck the ball as well as Viktor Hovland does. Bernd Wiesberger may be a rookie in this environment but he is a proven winner and he will not let us down.”
The US team were able to leave out Billy Horschel, who won the BMW PGA Championship, and US PGA champion Phil Mickelson. There is no Rickie Fowler. No Tiger Woods. No Matt Kuchar. But it could be argued that this is the strongest team the Americans have ever sent out - Stricker clearly thinks so. There is a changing of the guard in the home side. And Stricker will be fielding a group of young players who are unburdened by history.
Open champion Collin Morikawa is arguably the best iron player in the game but will he cope with the blustery conditions we can expect to see at Whistling Straits? It is a links-style layout and it may well suit Europe rather better it does the Americans. DeChambeau could well find himself in all sorts of trouble of a course that demands accuracy from the tee. And who would want to partner him in the foursomes?
We saw at the recent Solheim Cup how little support there was for Catriona Matthew’s team but they overcame it. The American fans will obviously be hugely partisan but that will not trouble the likes of Rahm, Poulter, McIlroy and Garcia, who will delight in silencing the fans.
Hovland will also feel at home as he spends almost all of his time playing on the PGA Tour, with huge success. He is also a fabulous strategist - Harrington’s team will be queueing up to have him with them in both the foursomes and fourballs. When you look at teams before things get going you look for players who are likely to thrive under the huge pressure, and Hovland most definitely falls into that category for Europe. It would be no surprise to see him playing five times. And who would bet against him being Europe’s top scorer at the end of it all?
There are concerns about the form of Tyrrell Hatton and 48-year-old Lee Westwood. Hatton started the season in brilliant fashion but failed to make it to the Tour Championship and then missed the cut at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, where he was defending champion. But this is the Ryder Cup and Whistling Straits may well bring out the best in him. And Westwood insists that he is hitting the ball really well and has assured Harrington that he will be at his very best this week.
Garcia is already the record points scorer and will be looking to add to that. Three years ago he was a controversial captain’s pick. He didn’t let Thomas Bjorn down and he won’t let Harrington down this time. Like Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal before him, Garcia is inspired by representing Europe. It always seems to bring out the best in him.
Europe’s golfers revel in being the underdogs and they have no reason to fear their American opponents.
The Ryder Cup is unlike any other tournament in golf and the atmosphere is something that every golf fan should experience. The experts at Golfbreaks.com can help with all aspects of your Ryder Cup experience, from accommodation and ticket packages to hospitality and travel and playing some of the fantastic nearby courses.
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