Pressure on USA to deliver on home soil
RYDER CUP:EVERY TWO years, the metamorphosis at the Ryder Cup is a strange one to behold. Players who, week-in and week-out, compete with a greedy, singular focus must adapt to a situation where they are part of a team. Rather than do their own thing, these multi-millionaires – for these few days – must bond and high-five and hug the very same players who, week-in and week-out, are their on-course rivals.
And, yet, somehow, it works.
For this 39th edition of the Ryder Cup – over the Number Three course here at Medinah Country Club on the outskirts of Chicago – the two teams, Europe and the USA, have performed their duties with some aplomb. Their hands are tired from writing autographs, their eyes tired from staring at menus as one official function after another has engaged them. In between, there has been some time for golf, nothing too tiring. Now, the serious business has arrived. It will be all golf.
A little spice has been thrown in the mix by the words from Ian Poulter and Brandt Snedeker. “Boy, do you want to kill them in the Ryder Cup,” said Poulter, only outmatched by Snedeker – speaking at the rate of a hundred miles an hour – who remarked, “I’m going to try to beat their brains in as bad as I can.”
Winning, as ever, is what sport – and especially professional sport – is all about and such attitudes as those expressed by Poulter and Snedeker encapsulate the viewpoint that the Ryder Cup, of all team events in golf, is the one which most engages the players. Winning really does matter.
And, on this occasion, the collective strength of the two teams is probably the strongest in the match’s history: all 12 players on the USA team are inside the world’s top-23, all 12 players on the Europe team inside the world’s top-35.
Most of the pressure is on the Americans to deliver. The simple statistic which shows only two USA wins in the last eight stagings of the contest – to Europe’s six – is something which the American players find hard to take, never mind fathom. That this abject run has been subjected on them at a time when Tiger Woods – certainly the greatest player of his generation and some would attest of all time – and Phil Mickelson were in their prime only adds salt to the wounds.
In seeking to understand why Woods and Mickelson have experienced more pain than joy in these matches, Davis Love III offered the opinion that “they both came on to teams trying to win a whole bunch of points, they thought that is what they were supposed to do. Now, they just want to win. I can’t tell you how many times Tiger and Phil have both said, ‘whatever you want us to do, we’ll do it’.”
But it also underlines just how far European golf has come in that same time. And, now, Europe have kingmakers of their own dominating world golf. Rory McIlroy is numero uno. Immediately behind him? Luke Donald! Lee Westwood! Justin Rose! Never, ever, has Europe gone into a Ryder Cup in such a position of strength. And yet, and yet . . . they are not favourites, for the very good reason that this American side – even with four “rookies” – packs a punch right the way down.
As Love described his newcomers, “they may be rookies here at the Ryder Cup, but they’re Major championship winners, they’re FedEx Cup winners . . . they’ve played a lot of golf, they’re comfortable, confident guys”.
On the flipside, Europe’s captain José Maria Olazabal – with only one rookie in his team, the big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts – has sought to maximise the amount of experience at his disposal. For sure, he’s had no problem getting his men ready and able for the task at hand.
And he anticipates a bigger role from McIlroy, in his second Ryder Cup. Olazabal is convinced McIlroy’s experiences at Celtic Manor will stand to him. “Once you’re a rookie, you really don’t know what to expect. You really need to be a part of it, to experience what the Ryder Cup is all about. If you’d asked me in ’87 before I played my first match, I didn’t have a clue of what was to come. It happens to everyone.”
Olazabal continued: “This is a very unique event, completely different to a regular event. Even to a Major. I’m pretty sure that Rory has a much better understanding today than he had in 2010, without a doubt.”
With the first two days involving foursomes and fourballs, the focus will –of course – eventually come down to the singles where the hankering – from the spectators – for a McIlroy-Woods top singles is something to behold. Don’t hold your breath. As Love acknowledged, “I definitely don’t want to be the first one to cross over into their room and start rigging pairings.” If it happens, it happens. Before then, the mix of foursomes and fourballs will, as ever, impact on the ultimate destiny of the trophy.
And the more serious concerns on form are lumbered with Olazabal, if the truth be told. Kaymer, in particular; but, also, Molinari’s lack of length off the tee on a big course and his sometimes fragile putting. On little things do outcomes depend.
Expect it to be close. And, yet, there is something about the American sense of bonding this time round that possibly gives them the edge. That’s if they can keep the tears in check. Messrs Love and Watson need to take a rain check until the fat lady sings.