Ryder Cup Rewind
Ryder Cup 2021: The scariest part of the Americans’ blowout and 17 other parting thoughts
HAVEN, Wis. — The Americans embarrassed the Europeans and took great joy in doing so. The blowout was truly historic; the 19-9 score is the most lopsided victory since the Ryder Cup has been the United States vs. Europe. And there is so, so much to discuss. Here are 18 parting thoughts from Whistling Straits.
1: This is truly a new generation of Americans, and they have an edge that their preceding generation distinctly lacked. Guys like Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson were all terrific players—but they’re all too damn nice for this competition. Team clashes begs for a combativeness that prior American rosters simply couldn’t muster. But those guys have since been replaced by Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who chugged beers at noon on Saturday. (Was it disrespectful? Sure, but that was the point). Replaced by Scottie Scheffler, who couldn’t care less who you are. By Patrick Cantlay, who doesn’t seem to miss a pressure putt. By Collin Morikawa, whose bright smile and even demeanor obscure a desire to bury you. The Europeans held the mental edge for a decade-plus, but no longer. This American side is chalk-full of alpha males with chips on their shoulders. It’s a dangerous, dangerous dynamic.
Steve Stricker deserves a ton of credit for eschewing experience and trusting the kids. This is the culmination of a youth movement that’s the product of Tiger Woods, smarter instruction, forward-thinking course-management strategies and the cauldron of college golf. The 20-somethings are more polished than they’ve ever been, but their golf maturity hasn’t come at the cost of that youthful ferocity. They are a force to be reckoned with.
2: The Europeans, on the other hand, are facing a Task Force-level existential crisis. It’s possible we’ve seen the end of the old guard of Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood. Sergio Garcia played terrific this week, but he’ll be 43 by the time Rome rolls around and doesn’t have too many more of these in him. Who, then, will replace them? A quick look at the World Ranking doesn’t paint the rosiest picture; the best sub-40 European to miss out on this week are Robert MacIntyre, Guido Migliozzi, Rasmus Hojgaard, Victor Perez, Alex Noren, Thomas Detry and Matt Wallace. These are all nice players, but do they have the horsepower to compete with the Bryson DeChambeaus and Xander Schauffeles?
3: Another huge event, another huge performance from Collin Morikawa. He came into this week with questions about his form and his health, but it was clear from about the third hole on Friday morning that he wasn’t just OK—he’d brought his Royal St. George’s putting stroke with him. The stats don’t lie; Morikawa’s putting is his weakness. But he’s now rolled it beautifully in two major championship victories and a 3-0-1 Ryder Cup. Clearly, when the lights are brightest, the 24-year-old taps into a meditative focus that results in vastly improved putting. A big-time performer who continues to rack up the accolades and does so with class.
4: The victorious team’s press conferences at the Ryder Cup always produces comedic gold, and this one from the U.S. didn’t disappoint. A clearly inebriated Dustin Johnson volunteered to re-create the famous Moliwood bed picture and get a tattoo on his behind. Xander Schauffele chomped on a cigar. Justin Thomas responded to a question about a Tiger Woods text message with “Tiger who?” Morikawa couldn’t wipe a smile off his face as he nursed a giant bottle of Moet on his lap. And Jordan Spieth, in typical Jordan Spieth fashion, played adult and chimed in with thoughtful answers to give us scribes something to work with. We’ll be watching that presser on YouTube for years to come.
5: The hoodie has officially arrived. It’s been showing its face for a few years now and had a semi-breakthrough at last year’s PGA Championship in chilly San Francisco, but this was the proper coming out party. When you make it into the official Ryder Cup uniform—provided by Ralph Lauren, not exactly known for pushing the sartorial envelope—you’re officially a part of Accepted Golf Clothing. The hoodie is the new quarter-zip.
Team USA wasn't the only winner at the Ryder Cup. So was the hoodie.
6: From the audio file … part of the Masters’ mystique is the mysterious roars that echo through the pines at Augusta National. A player will hear the patrons explode ahead, but he won’t always know what hole it was from, who the protagonist was and what they accomplished. On the other end of the spectrum is the Ryder Cup, where distinct outcomes come with distinct noises. At Whistling Straits, it was easy to tell when the Americans, as the home team, hit one really close, which is slightly different from the longer-lasting but less-sudden cheer offered when they won a hole. It was also obvious from the mixture of cheers and jeers when a European hit a poor shot. Scattered applause meant a Euro hit a good shot.
All this is to say that the European fans were greatly missed. Their famous Ole! Ole Ole Ole, Ole, Ole! chant was co-opted by the Americans, with a Scheffler-inspired twist: Scot-tay! Scot-tay Scot-tay Scot-tay! The one positive of their not being here was the small European contingent that was present—vice captains, wives, players’ families, a few European Tour staff—felt a duty to make as much noise as possible. A roar from 10,000 united fans is undoubtedly electric, but there’s something uniquely inspiring about a Come on! from an isolated group of 20 in enemy territory.
7: One of many cool aspects of the Ryder Cup: players’ families are allowed inside the ropes, which isn’t the case on the PGA Tour. This access provides parents an unobstructed view as they ride the emotional roller coaster of watching their sons compete. On Saturday afternoon, as the light faded from Whistling Straits and the Europeans desperately needed any point they could find, Shane Lowry faced a 12-footer to finish off Harris English and Tony Finau. He poured it right in the center and yelled from his belly. His father, Brendan, directly behind him, went even crazier. A well-positioned photographer captured the priceless moment.
Not 10 minutes later, Bryson DeChambeau hit an 8-iron(!) from 219 to six feet, a dagger in the hearts of Tommy Fleetwood and Viktor Hovland. As it trickled toward the hole, DeChambeau’s mother, Jan, yelped with joy, hopped in place and high-fived anyone within a five-foot radius. As mothers do. It was a reminder that all these guys were once promising juniors with parents who lived and died with every shot. Now they’re the world’s best professionals with parents who live and die with every shot.
8: Sports analysis always involves a healthy dose of 20/20 hindsight, but the Ryder Cup takes this to the extreme. If Europe had won, we’d be talking about the Americans’ individualist mentality and the Europeans’ togetherness. Had Schauffele and DJ lost on Friday afternoon, we’d be hammering Stricker for breaking up the powerhouse bromance of Cantlay/Schauffele. But the Europeans didn’t win, and Schauffele/DJ didn’t lose, and so now the only second-guessing happening is directed toward Padraig Harrington. But a captain can only do so much without hitting a single shot all week. A phrase from the NBA springs to mind: It’s a make or miss league. The Ryder Cup is a make-or-miss competition. The Americans made, and the Europeans missed. That’s not Harrington’s fault.
It's easy to blame Padraig Harrington for Team Europe's struggles at Whistling Straits, but the loss isn't all on the Irishman.
9: Gimmes surfaced as a point of contention in this Ryder Cup. It was mostly from the Americans, who took issue with having to putt out some two- (and three-) footers while leading 9-3 in the afternoon four-ball session on Saturday. My colleague Joel Beall wrote in-depth about this strange match-play unwritten rule, but I’ll add a simple solution to avoid any of the petty putter-laying and dirty looks: simply abolish gimmes. They’re dumb to begin with. The main argument in favor of them is pace of play; but if it’s a true gimme—meaning there is absolutely no chance of a miss—then the guy should walk right up there and tap it in. It doesn’t take long.
10: Pardon the cheese, but the first-tee scene on Friday morning gave this Ryder Cup rookie chills—despite the fact that, according to my more seasoned peers, it didn’t quite live up to Paris three years ago. This was my first up-close look at the rare instance when golf looks like the other cool-kid sports: music playing, fans in jumpsuits, songs being sung horribly off-key, hyping up the home players and messing with the others. A few keyboard warriors took issue with some booing that went on, but as long as it’s nothing personal and not in someone’s backswing, bring it on. It’s part of what makes this week so delightfully different.
The first tee at Whistling Straits might have been slightly less animated, but still had all the feels.
11: Speaking again of the fans … two chirps stand out as the funniest heard all week. The first came just after Harris English’s opening tee shot in the Friday’s four-ball session: “Harris! I’ll have my taxes in by Tuesday!” The second you can use on your buddies this weekend. Tommy Fleetwood stood over a 35-footer in Saturday’s four-ball session. Immediately after contact, with the ball a solid 30 feet from the cup: “Never had a chance! Never had a chance!”
On the flip side, the worst/most cringeworthy interaction happened Friday afternoon, right after Tyrrell Hatton and Jon Rahm battled for a half-point in their four-ball match against Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler. A visibly drunk fan stood at the front railing of a grandstand right of the green and yelled JON! JON! JON! Until Rahm, only a human, looked his direction. “YOU SUCK!”
It wasn’t particularly personal, and Rahm knows being heckled by an opposing crowd means they respect your ability. (They weren’t yelling this at Bernd Wiesberger.) But, like, really? That’s the best you got? Telling the best player in the world that he sucks, after he put his team on his back? Even his fellow drunk American fans groaned in disapproval. If you’re going to talk trash, you have to make it funny. Otherwise, it’s just … trash.
12: Bryson DeChambeau couldn’t have asked for a better week. This always set-up well for him; a four-ball format where he could wallop away with relative impunity and a home crowd to provide only positive vibes. He’s developed into a proper showman and he relished the opportunity to flash his stuff. There was the 417-yard drive Friday at the par-5 fifth on a preposterous line. Equally impressive was him driving the first green and making an eagle to open his Sunday singles match en route to beating previously undefeated and Ryder Cup legend Sergio Garcia. He mingled naturally with his teammates, who embraced him as one of the group.
“Winning the Ryder Cup, this is possibly way better than any tournament I've won in my entire life,” he said Sunday.
One more thing: he wore a normal hat. A normal hat! Bryson looked 10 times better in the baseball cap, and he’d be wise to continue wearing it when he returns to the PGA Tour. When you’re coming off a week this good, why change anything?
13: One more Bryson item: Let’s hope we’ve finally seen the end of this silly, silly feud with Brooks Koepka. We likely haven’t, because DeChambeau hinted at “something fun” to come in the near future, but the two did hug it out both on the 18th green and in the winners’ press conference. A line from Tiger Woods springs to mind: “Winning takes care of everything.” Even childish social-media beefs, it turns out.
14: Watching the end of the Daniel Berger/Matt Fitzpatrick match, the final and ultimately inconsequential singles dual on Sunday, caused physical pain. Fitzpatrick clearly wanted a victory—for personal pride, to avoid becoming the first player since the 1950s to play in two Ryder Cups and earn exactly zero points, and to prevent the Americans from a record margin of victory. The soft-spoken 27-year-old led 1 up after 15. He then missed a four-footer on 16 to drop back into a tie. The two made matching 3s at 17 and both hit the 18th fairway. Fitzpatrick proceeded to hit a full chunk into the water with his approach and give the match away. He walked to the final green with his head down as a gaggle of American players drank beers and shot the breeze. A brutal scene. Only golf can make you feel so horribly alone during a team competition.
15: I’ve been lucky enough to watch a bunch of incredible golf in person over the last couple years, but considering the stage and the context, I’ve not seen a more impressive performance than Jon Rahm’s through the first two days this week. He was, simply put, an animal. The most impressive stretch among many impressive stretches came during Saturday afternoon’s four-ball session, when he and Garcia were dead locked with Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka.
Jon Rahm did everything Team Europe could have asked out of a World No. 1.
On the difficult par-4 15th, with Garcia already out of position, Spieth hit a sweeping draw from 200ish yards that trickled out to six feet. The Americans had the upper hand and looked likely to go 1 up with two holes to play … until Rahm had his say. He hit a laser just inside Spieth’s ball to silence a crowd ready to erupt. Spieth’s putt from virtually the same line broke right at the hole and missed; Rahm learned from the mistake and holed his. Euros, 1 up. Next came the par-5 16th, where Rahm tugged his tee shot into one of Whistling Straits’ bunker vortexes. He managed to advance his second into more sand around the green, but his ball came to rest just in front of a big tuft of grass. He’d have to take the club straight up and chop down like a lumberjack, which would pop the ball onto the green but make it impossible to put any spin on it. Spieth played his third shot first, a flop from left of the green that settled about 10 feet away for a birdie putt. Advantage, Americans. Rahm played next and played the sensible shot to 30 feet. He crouched to read his putt, walked around the hole to read it from the other side, stepped to it and brushed it right in the heart. Spieth missed. Euros, 2 up.
It may not sound like much, but it was the world’s best golfer playing golf at its absolute pinnacle. What a treat to witness.
16: The good people at the PGA of America provided us media folk with nifty little devices so we could listen to the broadcast or radio on the course. During the Golf Channel’s commercials, I’d switch over to BBC Radio. It was my first exposure to British radio, and it was an absolute delight. On Saturday, with Europe leading two matches and tied in another, the broadcasters spoke of an inevitable 4-0 American sweep. There’s nothing quite like English pessimism. And on Sunday, after the stone-faced but fist-pumping Patrick Cantlay finished off Shane Lowry, a different broadcaster delivered an all-time line that could’ve come straight from Hemingway’s pen: “Patrick Cantlay’s body celebrated the win, but not his face.”
17: Players discovered quickly that Whistling Straits’ rugged bunkers would present an entirely different challenge from the bright-white, powdery soft sand they’re used to on the PGA Tour. Under normal circumstances, these guys would much rather be in bunkers than greenside rough because they have a full arsenal of shots to work with. Chunk and run, high spinner, you name it. This week, there were pebbles and depressions to navigate. In other words, the bunkers acted like true hazards. More of this, please.
18: The Masters is the Masters, but the Ryder Cup is the most fun week in golf. For the fans at home, for the crowds on-site, and for the players. Rome can’t get here soon enough.