The Ryder Cup, the bi-annual tournament between the best golfers from Europe and the USA is notorious for its rowdy atmosphere and great match play golf. This edition was no different.
This year’s tournament was hosted for the first time ever in France at the stunning course Le Golf National, which has more water hazards than any other course that springs to mind. Coming into the tournament the reigning champions from the USA were the favourites with a team that has registered 31 major victories and with all 12 players in the top 25 in the world rankings. Europe did have history in their favour however as they have won every home Ryder Cup since 1997.
Friday’s morning fourballs session went the way the bookies had expected as the USA raced into a 3-1 lead, with only the team of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood registering a point for Europe — more on them later. The afternoon foursomes were a different story, as Europe earned a four-point whitewash for the first time ever in a foursomes session. None of the matches reached the 17th hole as Europe totally outclassed the Americans to end the first day 5-3 ahead. From this point on, Team Europe never really looked back, each player playing with a steely determination and focus that the USA simply couldn’t match.
This would end up being an incredible weekend for European golf fans. Tellingly, each of Europe’s players registered at least a point and all their big hitters stepped up to the occasion. The tried and tested partnership of England’s Justin Rose, recently crowned FedEx Cup winner, and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson played some excellent golf to register an important two points in the foursomes sessions. Rory McIlroy has had an inconsistent year but his poor performance on Friday morning was quickly forgotten in the afternoon when he partnered Ian Poulter and hit form. Poulter has built up a reputation as Europe’s “postman” and whilst he wasn’t quite the main man like he was in Medinah six years ago, he delivered the goods once again with McIlroy and with a crucial point in the singles against world number one Dustin Johnson, perhaps a fitting end to the career of one of Europe’s strongest ever Ryder Cup performers.
Much was made of captain’s Thomas Bjorn’s wildcard picks, where he opted to back experienced players, but each pick paid off. Poulter and Stenson were strong and Paul Casey, returning after 10 years out of the competition, produced a solid point and a half. However, the most controversial choice given his atrocious form this year was for Spain’s Sergio Garcia. This pick proved to be inspired though as the 2017 Masters champion produced something of a renaissance, capturing three points and playing some of his best golf. Garcia is now Europe’s highest ever point scorer in the Ryder Cup.
Prior to the tournament there was some concern of how Europe’s five rookies would fare; only the Americans should have been worried. Tyrell Hatton earned a solid point with Casey and Alex Noren, French Open champion at Le Golf National, looked an accomplished Ryder Cup performer with his two points. The performance on Sunday by Spain’s Jon Rahm and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen was also strong as they bounced back from disappointments over the first two days to register crucial wins over American heavyweights Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth respectively.
And this is without mentioning the strongest performers and heart and soul of this European team. The unbeatable Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, or “Moliwood.” Fleetwood a debutant and Molinari a player who hadn’t registered a full point in his previous two appearances at the Ryder Cup tore up the field and won an incredible four out of four matches. This capped off a landmark year for Italy’s Molinari after he won his first major at The Open in July. His singles win over Phil Mickelson also made him the first European to register five points out of five and it was fitting that it was this point that clinched the cup for Europe. Molinari really was the MVP.
The contrast between the European performance and the USA’s was stark. The talent of this team is unquestionable but too many big performers didn’t step up. The hero of their 2016 victory at Hazeltine, so-called “Captain America” Patrick Reed, has criticised captain Jim Furyk for dropping him for two of the sessions. However, Reed performed terribly over the Friday and Saturday, so perhaps he should’ve examined his own performance before throwing his captain under the bus. Similarly, world number one Dustin Johnson failed to get a grip of the course after his Friday morning victory and the current US Open and PGA champion Brooks Koepka struggled with his putting in some big matches. Three of Furyk’s picks failed to register a point but the fault can’t entirely be put at the feet of the captain. Bryson DeChambeau has had an excellent year, but his stunted performances have earned him the degrading nickname “Bryson Deshambles.” Phil Mickelson will have wished he ended his Ryder Cup career at Hazeltine as he was a total passenger in this USA team, only playing in two sessions and being toothless in both.
This brings us to golf’s biggest icon, Tiger Woods. His remarkable comeback reached new heights the week before the Ryder Cup as he won the lucrative Tour Championship at East Lake. This form didn’t transfer to France however as Woods failed to register a point. This was not totally his failing as he was paired with the absent Patrick Reed in two sessions and the struggling DeChambeau in the other and they were outclassed by “Moliwood” each time. Woods had some better moments in the singles but the immense performance from Jon Rahm gave Tiger his 21st loss in Ryder Cup Golf. The exceptions to the rule were Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth who formed a strong pairing and earned three points together, Thomas also adding a point in the singles. Tony Finau also impressed on his debut, particularly when he dominated the unbeaten Fleetwood on Sunday. Former US Open champion Webb Simpson was also underused.
Despite the gulf in performance levels there were still one or two moments on Sunday where it looked like the USA could potentially mount a Brookline/Medinah-style comeback but Europe’s focus and resolve making big putts and bouncing back from mistakes ensured they deservedly won by 17.5 to 10.5. The home advantage played its part, this was a course the Europeans knew well and that suited their game. The home crowd were also magnificent as always at Ryder Cups, with the huge stands at the 1st and 18th being particularly memorable. However, Europe deserved the victory because they played the best golf. To a man they performed with a strong team spirit and all ego or worries over current form were pushed out of the way to produce the largest winning margin for any team since 2006. The USA looked to have turned a corner in 2016 but for all the efforts of their notorious Ryder Cup committee they return from an away Ryder Cup asking similar questions to the ones they have asked since 1997.
There is a sense of finality to this European victory with the likes of Poulter, Casey, Stenson and even Garcia likely only having one more crack at the tournament if any at all but the performances from the younger players and the hunger of an American team out for revenge should make 2020’s edition at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin another exciting prospect. The Ryder Cup is after all, in the words of Europe’s hero Francesco Molinari, “bigger than majors, this is everything.”