After all the talk of American task forces, committee groups, captain’s picks, the inspirational energy provoked by the death of a US golfing legend in Arnold Palmer, and the rights and wrongs of how the course was set up, the result of the 41st Ryder Cup lay fundamentally and, finally, within the grips of the players.
By the time that Ryan Moore was holing out on the 18th green against Lee Westwood to mathematically secure the Ryder Cup for the American team for the first time since 2008 the contest was all but over. That the US victory procession then continued and culminated with a comprehensive 17-11 scoreline shouldn’t blind people to what was a fiercely competitive weekend of golf. Not to mention an intensely, and sometimes offensively, partisan crowd.
Friday morning saw the Americans come out all guns blazing in the Foursomes and whitewash the Europeans 4-0 in what is typically their strongest event. The ruthlessly efficient pairing of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed started proceedings against the previously impregnable pair of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson and set a powerful message out winning their match 3&2. The rest of the morning session saw the rookie Thomas Pieters being hung out to dry in partnership with an uncharacteristically poor Lee Westwood. The experienced pair of Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia were unable to hole a putt and the slightly unusual pairing of Rory Mcilroy and Andy Sullivan performed well until the latter found the water on the 17th tee to effectively hand the match to the Red, White and Blue army.
It is testament to the character of the Europeans that the Ryder Cup didn’t effectively finish there. The aforementioned Pieters found a suitable partner in the imperious McIlroy to win 3 points in the next 3 matches whilst Garcia and Cabrera-Bello continued the strong Spanish Ryder Cup tradition. Even the great Seve Ballesteros would have been proud of their comeback from 4 down with 6 to play in the Saturday morning foursomes.
Going into the Saturday afternoon four balls only 6 1/2-5 1/2 down represented a tumultuous momentum shift from the Europeans since the first round of matches however the afternoon saw a distinct change in fortunes. Lee Westwood continued to show less accuracy with a putter than a drunkard on a shooting range and it culminated with the miss of a three-foot putt on the final green to hand victory to the Americans on a plate. Silver service et al.
9 1/2- 6 1/2 to the Americans going into the final day singles was not an insurmountable total but a serious charge was required to give the Europeans but a sniff. What transpired, I’m happy to say, were two of the greatest Ryder Cup matches ever played amongst the rest of the extraordinary quality of golf on show.
In the first match out Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy went at each other hammer and tongues but in the end the American came out with a 1up victory, whilst half way down the field Garcia and Phil Mickelson engaged in a true clash of titans. Between the two of them they racked up a staggering 19 birdies to see the match end, only fairly, in half a point each.
There was early hope for Europe with Stenson, Pieters and Cabrera-Bello all notching up early points but the McIlroy loss along with the defeat of Justin Rose 1 down to Ricke Fowler severely dented the momentum. Once Bruce Koepka had dispatched Danny Willet 5&4 and Brandt Snedeker had continued his impressive weekend streak by seeing off Andy Sullivan it was left to Ryan Moore to do the honours.
In the end, an inspired American team proved to possess to much power off the tee and skill on the greens to be truly threatened by a highly inexperienced European team. Of course in two years time the generational evolution of the Europeans will be almost complete and there will be less rookies in the ranks, however the Americans are not going anywhere fast. They are a team littered with major championships winners who are only going to get stronger before Paris in 2018.
That their victory at Hazeltine National Golf Club this time around was not just so convincing, but so surgically executed, should serve as a stark warning for the proceeding Ryder Cups. If Europe wants the trophy back, it will take a monumental struggle to manage it.