Ryder Cup: Five things we learned at Hazeltine
Talismanic Rory McIlroy is Europe’s new Ian Poulter and 2018 course will be tougher
Rory McIlroy led the fight for Europe throughout the Ryder Cup. Photograph: Epa
1) The 2018 Ryder Cup course will be different from Hazeltine
It is Ryder Cup convention for the home team to preside over a setup of their choosing. In that regard, the USA can claim ‘job done’ in Minnesota. Afterwards, though, Justin Rose criticised it heavily, which tells us things will be very different in two years’ time.
“ I thought the setup was incredibly weak,” said Rose of the singles. “I thought it was very much a pro-am feel in terms of the pin placements. They were all middle of the green.
“I don’t quite understand that to be honest with you, [WE ARE]world-class players and we want to showcase our skills. We want to be tested. For example, the water holes out there, all the pins were as far away from the water as possible.
“The pin on 17 was an absolute joke. It’s a nine iron into the middle of the green and you stiff it. So with a match on the line, you kind of feel like you want to have something; you want a player to step up a little bit more than they have to.
“Even 18, if you hit a good drive down there, you’ve got a wedge into the green, and if you hit a wedge to the middle of the green, you’re within 12ft of the pin. So I just felt coming down the stretch, it was a little soft.”
The PGA of America’s top man, Kerry Haigh, hails from Yorkshire, too.
2) The Tiger/Phil dynamic lingers on
Phil Mickelson’s prominence in the American Ryder Cup team has been justified by their success this year. There is an undercurrent, though, of historic indifference between Mickelson and Woods which resurfaced when the 14-time major winner joined Davis Love III’s contingent as a vice-captain. As Mickelson controls all before him, is Woods playing his own game?
When asked on Sunday evening whether or not captaincy appeals, Woods was reluctant to answer. That he did eventually, and positively, raises the suspicion that he either really is planning a post-competitive career or he rather enjoys making Mickelson sweat.
“Seeing what our captain went through? That’s hard,” said Woods. “Yeah, I would love to do it. I would be honoured to do it in the future, if asked. But from the player standpoint of it, I like playing. I love these guys. I love being out there, in the fight with these guys. I was just in the fight a different way and had to do my role and had to my job in a different way, and it was pretty cool.”
3) Danny Willett has to reset his goals
When you have won the Masters, the world is your oyster. And yet, Danny Willett will harbour frustration as to what happened in the immediate aftermath.
“Shit,” was the Yorkshireman’s immediate reply when asked to assess his maiden Ryder Cup experience. “Really shit,” was the expanded answer. In black and white, this looks crass; in context, of both his brother’s needless jibes and Willett’s own smiling face, it was perfectly acceptable. He went on to defend his brother’s comments on Twitter, saying that he was, in fact, “correct” to criticise American golf fans.
Willett is a brilliant player. He has struggled to cope with the status he created with Augusta glory. Hopefully this Ryder Cup offers a line in the sand.
4) Rory McIlroy is the new Ian Poulter
Europe has a new on-course leader. McIlroy’s performances in the Ryder Cup were stellar enough before his embodiment of the team. Still only 27, and perhaps charged by a partisan Hazeltine crowd, McIlroy took on a role that was completely disconnected from the time he labelled the Ryder Cup an “exhibition.” The Northern Irishman was a force of nature, to his team’s benefit but also to the point where he became emotionally exhausted.
“Well, Poults wasn’t playing this time so we needed someone on the course to be doing what he does,” McIlroy admitted. “I took it upon myself to take on that role. I tried my best at it. I learned from the best; I’ve played with Poults a few times before, and it’s always fun and hopefully he’s back on the team in a couple of years in Paris and we can do this all over again”
5) Wildcards aren’t an exact science
The standard criticism of Darren Clarke will be that his captains picks were costly, on account of Lee Westwood’s poor performance. By contrast, the fact Ryan Moore sealed USA’s victory will suggest they had a perfect system. In truth, the wildcard process should be identical for both sides. It should also be done within the same timeframe. For those who criticise Westwood’s involvement, there is the antidote of Thomas Pieters’s brilliance. But if we assume Pieters was a sensible pick, then picking Russell Knox over Westwood would have taken the European rookie count to seven. That would not only have been a stick to whack Clarke with but an historical admission of defeat. The captain probably erred on the side of caution, but it would be tough to argue that it was that which contributed to the team’s loss against a vastly superior USA contingent.