Perhaps Tiger Woods' Ryder Cup record has been far from dominant, he's still an asset every U.S. captain has longed to have at his disposal. This year, who was that guy? Bubba Watson? Rickie Fowler? The rookies Jordan Spieth or Patrick Reed? It's not that Tom Watson didn't have some talent to work with. But compared to the Europeans, particularly near the top of the order, the Americans were decidedly lacking in heavyweights.
They stunk it up in foursomes
The U.S. lost 5-3 each of the first two days and the main culprit wasn't hard to find. While the team fared well in four-ball, the Americans didn't win any of the eight foursome matches, giving up a six-point edge in those two sessions alone. Jim Furyk and others said they couldn't pinpoint the reason for the struggles, but a lack of experience in that format certainly didn't help. Ryder Cup rookie Jimmy Walker, for instance, said he had played nine holes of alternate shot in his life before this week and that came earlier this year with a junior member of his club. Perhaps a little more practice playing this way in the next two years could go a long way.
They couldn't hold leads
Momentum is so key in Ryder Cups, and there's no better way to gain it than flipping a match. Throughout the week, the U.S. took the lead in a series of matches only to see that lead evaporate as the match went on. It continued into Sunday, when Jordan Spieth and Hunter Mahan accrued big leads in their singles matches but ended with only half a point between them. It sent the message that no matter what the Americans threw at them, the Europeans would, in the words of captain Paul McGinley, be a rock when the storm comes.
The depth of the European roster shined
It's one thing when players like McIlroy and Rose deliver. But when untested Ryder Cuppers such as Victor Dubuisson (2-0-1) and Jamie Donaldson (3-1) emerge as forces as well, it made the hill that much steeper for the Americans to climb. Throw in a solid performance by Lee Westwood (2-2), a Ryder Cup star who was still a questionable pick given his uneven 2014, and the U.S. just couldn't keep up.
Tom Watson's questionable decision-making
Of course, we'd probably be patting the eight-time major winner on the back had his team played better, but Watson made several moves that wound up backfiring. We'll start with taking Webb Simpson with his final captain's pick and then watching him get drubbed in the first match on Friday to set a bad tone for the week. Then there was the decision to sit Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth (vice captain Steve Stricker gets a lot of the credit for them being paired in the first place) after their dominant win on Friday morning, and then sit Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for all of Saturday. Throw in the fact that Watson, according to Mickelson, was averse to involving players in decision-making, and you had some internal tension that spilled over into Sunday's post-mortem press conference.
The loss was a self-fulfilling prophecy
It's not often that professional golfers find themselves inferior to anything, so when they're faced with a European team that's now won 10 of the last 15 Ryder Cups, it puts them in an odd predicament. Is the U.S. team really inferior to the European team? Maybe this year, on paper, but the margins are thin and the favorite tag is in constant flux. Yet the U.S. team was repeatedly hit with a narrative that the European team cared more, got along better, and wanted to win more. It may be rooted in truth, but it spiraled to such a point that they might have started to believe it.
The captain's picks came too early
Granted, there was a time when the captain's picks were made even earlier. But if the PGA of America was open to pushing the selections back to the day after Labor Day, what would have been the harm in waiting until after the Tour Championship? In two weeks, Tom Watson would have had the opportunity to take a red-hot Billy Horschel instead of a stagnant Webb Simpson, and he might have considered Chris Kirk over Keegan Bradley as well.
The veterans didn't deliver
Every time captain Tom Watson mentioned his rookies as being a "bright spot," he may as well have been saying his more experienced players let him down. Because they did. Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk have never been world beaters in this event, but neither played particularly well again, and Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson didn't win a point until Sunday. Add in Hunter Mahan, who blew a 4-up lead in his singles match just as the tide seemed to be turning in America's favor on Sunday. In contrast, the team's three rookies (Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, and Jimmy Walker) wound up as the team's three leading point earners. Their performance calls for some optimism going forward, but they're going to need help from their more established teammates if the U.S. is going to end the Euros' run anytime soon.
It was obviously a jinx. After all, it's practically an unwritten rule: you can't wear a sweater with a trophy you're trying win and expect to actually win it. The U.S. got away with it in 1993, the last time Tom Watson was captain, but the jinx kicked-in when they tried to repeat the trick at Gleneagles. Let's hope there's a new batch of non-cursed sweaters -- or better yet, no sweaters at all -- in 2016.