Our golf scribe takes a look at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which gets underway this Friday.
The death of Arnold Palmer brings a melancholic dimension to this year’s Ryder Cup proceedings. The great man, dubbed ‘the King’, leaves a legacy that few can wish to emulate.
America will be looking to break Europe’s recent stranglehold on the Cup and in so doing honour the great man. Few would argue against the fact that Europe’s recent success has done a lot to bolster the prestige of a tournament that had been dominated by the States. Darren Clarke faces a daunting challenge this year, with six rookies amongst the European ranks. Having said that, Davis Love will need to overcome a significant psychological hurdle, seeking to dispel the myth that the USA have become a dysfunctional unit, lacking the team ethos of Europe.
The Ryder Cup | Friday 30 September - Sunday 02 October | Hazeltine Golf Course
To Win Outright
USA 11/20 | Draw 11/1 | Europe 17/10
Dustin Johnson | Jordan Spieth | Phil Mickelson | Patrick Reed | Jimmy Walker | Brooks Koepka | Brandt Snedeker | Zach Johnson | Ricky Fowler | J.B Holmes | Matt Kuchar | Ryan Moore
The exclusion of Bubba Watson has become the most significant sub-plot leading into this year’s event. The number seven ranked player in the world has become a figure of some derision in recent years, with a surly demeanour that alienates him from his compatriots. I perfectly understood his exclusion from the side, but his subsequent appointment in an advisory role caught me off-guard. It almost seems as if Love was unsure of what to do with the big swinging lefty. Everyone in golf has been lamenting the meticulous preparation of Love for months, but this situation just strikes me as potentially toxic. Damaged egos don’t seem to be ideally suited to fostering unity and team spirit. Having said that, this US side looks hugely impressive on paper.
One look at the Fed Ex Cup standings will give you a real sense of where this American side is. Rory Mcllroy was the only member of this unit to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship - albeit that he did win in rather spectacular fashion. Jimmy Walker and Dustin Johnson both captured their maiden major championships this year, while Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth have remained remarkably consistent. Love has made some tactically adept picks for the side. J.B Holmes - with the second longest average driving distance on tour- will make a potentially formidable foursome partner on the long Hazeltine course. Matt Kuchar and Ryan Moore are crowd favourites - with that intangible ability to galvanise what will be an extremely partisan crowd.
There are some possible pitfalls to consider. Phil Mickelson has proved to be a difficult figure to assimilate into a team set-up while Ricky Fowler is yet to pick up a point in eight matches. There’s also an alarming amount of burden being put on very young shoulders in this side. There is obviously a huge network of support staff operating behind the scenes - including the spectral presence of one Tiger Woods - but ultimately it will fall on the shoulders of some young players in crunch moments. Being at home - a certain air of expectation hovers over this US side.
Rory Mcllroy | Danny Willet | Henrik Stenson | Chris Wood | Sergio Garcia | Rafa Cabrera-Bello | Justin Rose | Andy Sullivan | Matthew Fitzpatrick | Lee Westwood | Martin Kaymer | Thomas Pieters
Darren Clarke’s side has a surreal dimension to it. The oft-sighted pressure cauldron of the Ryder Cup can be cruel to even the most experienced campaigner - but to have six rookies in the side is almost unprecedented. Lee Westwood has stated that the rookies will be used sparingly - but there’s ultimately twelve singles matches that the likes of Fitzpatrick and Sullivan will have to negotiate. But there’s perhaps more steel in these ranks than initially meets the eye. Rafa Cabrera-Bello was hugely impressive in the HSBC match-play earlier this year, while Danny Willet capitalized on a Spieth meltdown to win the coveted green jacket at Augusta.
While the question of rookies is clearly pertinent, my issue rests with the more entrenched members of the squad. Lee Westwood has had an indifferent season. The same can be said for Sergio Garcia. And there are lingering questions surrounding the fitness of Open Champion Henrik Stenson. Rory Mcllroy is the one unquestionable titan of the side. His herculean feats in Atlanta could very well provide a springboard for this European side. Having a European player snatch the lucrative Fed Ex Cup in such dramatic circumstances is a fairly ominous portent for the US side.
I still believe that the exclusion of Russell Knox from the side could prove to be a costly error. Knox had a sensational year on tour, honing his skills in America while the likes of Wood and Sullivan graced the slightly less grandiose European stage. It’s hard to argue with the inclusion of Thomas Pieters, but perhaps Clarke would have done well to consider Knox’s experience in America.
Verdict: America 11/20
This could very well be one of the strongest American side ever seen in the Ryder Cup. There is a dynamic mix of experience and youth, with the likes of Reed and Holmes sure to embolden the home support. The European side seems undercooked and outmatched, clearly delineating the growing disparity that exists between the European and American tours.