Rows add spice but course the key to Ryder outcome
As the fallout continues from their heavy Ryder Cup loss, I’m almost expecting to wake up and read that the Americans had an 18-man brawl (12 players, skipper Jim Furyk and five vice-captains) in a McDonalds along the Champs-Elysees after Patrick Reed’s girlfriend squirted ketchup at Jordan Spieth.
First, we had Masters champ Reed pointing an accusatory finger at Spieth for supposedly not wanting to play with him and also at Furyk for twice leaving him on the bench.
And then several sources reported that ‘Bash Brothers’ Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka had to be separated in the European team room after nearly coming to blows, a feud that a French journalist claimed had started on the flight over.
The latter one seemed strange given that the two were later paired together and Koepka was quick to call bullsh*t on the claims in his press conference at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland earlier this week.
It’s hard to know where fake news starts and ends these days but what we do know is that the Americans weren’t afraid to come out and admit that the course set-up in Paris put Team Europe 1up before a ball was hit.
Phil Mickelson is bound to have a negative view given that he sat out three sessions and lost both his matches at Le Golf National but the veteran probably spoke for a few of his American teammates when coming out with a withering analysis after he’d returned to the home comforts of California and started with a bright round in the Safeway Open.
“The Europeans did a great thing,” said Mickelson. “They did the opposite of what we do when we have the Ryder Cup here.
“The fairways were 14 to 16 yards wide. Ben Hogan, who is the greatest ball-striker of all time, had a five percent margin of error. So if you hit the ball 300 yards, which we all hit it more than that, you need to have a 30-yard wide fairway to be able to hit it.
“The fact is they had brutal rough, almost unplayable, and it’s not the way I play. I don’t play like that. I’m 48. I’m not going to play tournaments with rough like that anymore, it’s a waste of my time.”
It’s a little sulky but Mickelson hit the nail on the head when saying Europe pulled off a smart move by narrowing the fairways and growing the rough.
Former Ryder Cup skipper Paul McGinley highlighted a further nuance, saying that Thomas Bjorn had also set the spectators back from the fairways so the American bombers couldn’t get the benefit of lucky, back-in-play bounces off the gallery as they do week in, week out on the PGA Tour.
The manipulation of the conditions is now a huge factor in Ryder Cups but it still gets rather overlooked. The practicality of it all just isn’t as sexy as a bust-up in the losing camp.
There’s an idea – almost taken as fact – that the Americans just don’t have the same team spirit as the Europeans. It holds water to some extent and yet no-one mentioned it when Paul Azinger’s pumped-up U-S-A scored a convincing 16.5-11.5 win in Kentucky in 2008. And it simply wasn’t a thing when Davis Love led his team to a 17-11 romp at Hazeltine two years ago.
The Americans have team spirit alright; the difference is that it’s a more fragile team spirit, prone to falling apart quickly when things go wrong away from home.
What erodes that togetherness more than anything is American golfers used to having it all their own way on the PGA Tour being set a very different examination paper in Europe.
Altering course set-ups is the chief weapon of a European Ryder Cup captain these days and American skippers are picking up on it too rather than just relying on raw talent and the woolly notion that “we have the best players”.
And, more and more, it’s starting to show in the final results.
If Europe’s hadn’t have pulled off the incredible Miracle of Medinah – the clue is in the title – the last seven Ryder Cups would have been won by the home team.
That’s pretty compelling evidence that it’s becoming harder and harder to win on the road and the USA away drought will be 29 years by the time they tee it up at Marco Simone G&CC in Rome, Italy in 2022.
Before that, the Americans will bid to win the Ryder Cup back at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin and it’s a no-brainer how they’ll set that course up.
As it stands, the par 72 already measures in at a whopping 7,790 yards and when it staged the 2015 US PGA Championship, monster hitters DJ, Koepka and Finau all finished inside the top 10. Also host in 2010, Bubba Watson lost a play-off which Johnson should have been part of but for a rules violation at the final hole.
Come 2020 we could be looking at something around 8,000 yards with barely no rough.
Rows, spats and bickering don’t do any favours to these super men of golf but course set-up is the Ryder Cup’s real kryptonite.
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