With the Tour Championship decided and in the rear view mirror, the next major event is the Ryder Cup. I used to really like the Ryder Cup until it became a jingoistic carnival of drunken galleries and badly designed player attire. The current Ryder Cup gallery would qualify for attendance at a Trump rally in southern Florida. This year the event is in Rome where the European crowd will probably behave as if they were cheering the lions munching on the Christians in the Coliseum. The players themselves have grown to embrace the gallery partisanship and expect boos and catcalls in the middle of their back swings. The Cup was supposed to be a friendly competition between the countries–originally it was the USA vs. Great Britain and Ireland but eventually the players for Europe were added to improve the level of competition. The USA had dominated the earlier years but the European teams have had their way with the Americans in the Cup’s recent history. I have a minority opinion that the crowd behavior impacts the level of play, which was never the intent of Samuel Ryder. The event is a huge fundraiser for the PGA of America and the Royal & Ancient as the best players compete for bragging rights of holding on or regaining the Cup. It is the only “All-Star” team competition that has any meaning to the players as the established forms of All-Star games in other sports such as baseball, basketball or football are kind of a joke. The Europeans seem to take these matches much more seriously than the US as you’ll find considerable media coverage of the players, their intrigue, their relationships and habits, which comes off as a version of “Entertainment Tonight.” US golf fans hardly know when the matches are and where there being played. The timing of the Ryder Cup competes for fan attention from the almighty attraction of college and professional football at the same time the Cup matches are conducted. Especially this year, coverage might be muted even more as the matches are in Rome and the time zone changes might confuse when they can be watched on television and then there’s always football.
I have to confess that I couldn’t even remember who won the last Cup but I would have guessed the USA. It was a resounding thumping of the European squad by the USA with homeboy favorite, Steve Stricker, as Captain at Whistling Straits in Kohler Wisconsin. While we’re not speaking very nicely about the Ryder Cup, the players think it’s a big deal to be selected and they feel very strongly about playing for their country. Selection to the Ryder Cup is automatic for half the players but the remainder of the squad are chosen by the Team Captain, which injects some controversy into the process. There are always players that feel slighted for not being selected as a Captain’s pick. When I looked at the US team selected by Captain Zack Johnson, I had no disagreements with his selections but one name really stood out. Justin Thomas was selected as one of Johnson’s captain’s picks. Normally this is a no-brainer but Thomas had a very un-Thomas like year and failed to qualify for the Tour Championship. Thomas is a veteran Ryder Club competitor and close to team members Jordan Speith and Rickie Fowler but the current state of his game would seem to question his presence on the team. The one player who I believe was snubbed was Keegan Bradley, who had a terrific year on Tour winning twice and played very well at East Lake. I’m sure it was a close call, but Keegan is pretty disappointed and rightly so. Thomas has been searching for his game and the Ryder Cup is not the place to try to find it.
I don’t think the USA is going to be able to get it done in Rome and it might not even be a close affair. The top European players, Rahm, Hovland, McIlroy, Hatton, and Fleetwood have been playing well all year and all of these guys played extremely well in the FedEx Cup tournament leading up to East Lake last week where Hovland grabbed the title. Currently there is only one LIV player on the USA team and Brooks Koepka qualified for the team automatically with his PGA Championship victory. Players such as Dustin Johnson and Bryson Dechambeau have disappeared from view as their efforts can only be seen following Animal Planet or the Real Housewives of Atlanta. The Europeans have momentum from their recent performances and a raucous crowd to motivate them further, which will have some impact on how the Americans can play. For the USA to win, they will have to get out to a lead in the foursomes and fourballs in the first two days, which really something that traditionally they have not been able to do. If I were Captain Luke Donald, I would pick Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter as Captains’ picks. Garcia is the leading point getter of all time in these matches and Poulter knows how to ignite a team. The Europeans also have depth on their side with a US Open champion, Matt Fitzpatrick and Scotland’s son, Bob Macintyre.
The venue is the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club located just outside of Rome, Italy. The golf course seems to be a typical Ryder Cup kind of course that is long enough at 7,400 yards but will yield a number of potential birdie holes to produce some good theater. You can bet that the fairways will be wide enough for the likes of Rahm, McIlroy, and Hovland to nail fairways with over 320 yard drives. The USA has a lot to overcome to win these matches but as we say in all sport–you have to play the game to determine the outcome. The winner of all of this will be the game of golf, which is the best outcome of all.
The spirit of golf comes shining true as the Walker Cup matches concluded on Sunday at St. Andrews with the US coming from behind to beat a very game Great Britain and Ireland squad. The US was heavily favored sporting many of the top amateurs in the world but GB&I took an early lead before succumbing in the final singles sessions.
The Walker Cup is an esteemed event started by an idea generated by George Herbert Walker, the great grandfather of former US Presidents, George Bush (41) and George Bush (43). The Cup is co-sponsored by the USGA and R&A. The US has dominated the competition over it’s course but GB&I has had some success over the past 25 events. This year’s event was the 49th edition of the Cup and displays the genuine friendship and traditions of the game of golf.