AUCHTERARDER, Scotland—Europe wins the Ryder Cup. Sound familiar? For the 8th time in the last 10 matches Team Europe claimed the ultimate prize in global team golf winning the 40th biannual matches at Gleneagles—16.5 to 11.5.
After Europe assumed a four-point lead after the first two days of play, the American squad was in need of a major momentum shift with the playing of the final 12 singles matches. American captain Tom Watson went with youth in the first three matches, going with rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed along with Rickie Fowler. Only Reed was victorious as Spieth squandered an early lead and Fowler was simply crushed by the world’s No. 1 player Rory McIlroy.
After that the only question was when the matches would end and Jamie Donaldson of Wales—playing in his first Ryder Cup matches—did so in the most emphatic way possible, stiffing an approach shot at the par-4 15th and not only vanquishing Keegan Bradley but also putting to rest the fanciful dreams only the most diehard of American golf fans could have had regarding a miracle come-from-behind effort on the final day.
The USA has not won in Europe since the 1993 matches at The Belfry in England and will have to wait till 2018 when the Ryder Cup heads to the greater metro area of Paris to end such a long record of futility.
The matches return to the States in 2016 and will be hosted by Hazeltine Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. Much will be made of the moves made by the respective captains—Watson for the USA and Paul McGinley of Ireland on behalf of Team Europe.
The reality is a far simpler story. The American squad was simply too thin across the board in order to handle the much deeper European team.
The lone bright spot for the USA was the play of rookie Ryder Cupper Patrick Reed. Reed finished the matches with a 3–0–1 record. However, Team Europe was able to get fine playing from the likes of world top 10 Justin Rose, 3–0–2, and Ryder Cup rookies Victor Dubuisson and Donaldson who finished with a 2–0–1 and 3–1 records respectively. McIlroy also played well throughout the event although his record was a bit less impressive at 2–1–2.
But there are issues on the American side of the pond that need sorting out.
The selection time frame put forward by the PGA of America had the final captain choices made after the first round of the FedEx playoffs. Watson chose Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, and Hunter Mahan. Collectively the group finished with 2 wins, 5 losses and two halved matches. Would waiting until the end of the playoffs and then selecting the hot-playing Bill Horschle and Chris Kirk changed the result?
That is simply 19th hole post-mortems that will never be answered, but clearly picking players a few weeks prior to the Ryder Cup matches is not exactly the smartest move by the PGA of America and is one that likely will bear increased scrutiny for a future change.
There are also serious questions on how long the veterans of past Ryder Cups can continue. One of the more important dimensions at any Ryder Cup is having certain players fully capable at playing top tier golf with two matches in a given day. Phil Mickelson—a vocal critic in his post match press conference of how the USA team was handled—clearly ran out of gas during the day’s first round matches. Captain Watson saw fit to “rest” the 44-year-old Mickelson on Day 2 for the entire day—a first that has never happened in Lefty’s nine previous appearances in playing the matches.
There’s no question the results from the two days of foursomes matches proved to be the main difference between the teams. Europe claimed seven of eight total points and just when it seemed American momentum from the AM fourball matches would continue.
The dust will settle slowly over another biannual loss. The PGA of America decided to resurrect a golf icon in Tom Watson as captain. Clearly, Watson did not hit any shots or make any putts. That was up to the players and Team USA was wanting with but a very few exceptions on its squad. Whoever the next captain is for Team USA will need to re-examine if the team concept is something that American individuality needs to more fully understand.
Right now the competition is as one-sided as it ever has been. Losing can be an eye-opener so long as sober understanding is applied. The finger pointing showed by Mickelson immediately after the matches concluded shows more of a “blame someone other than me” approach. While Team USA now licks its wounds, while the champagne bottles are uncorked by Team Europe, the sounds of Olé, Olé Olé echoing in the background enveloping all of Gleneagles.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.