The Ryder Cup is not just a massive tournament in the world of golf, it is one of the great events in the whole of the world of sport in general. The bi-annual competition between the United States of America and Europe allows sportsmen who spend their careers competing individually to experience the thrill of team sport. The players also get to compete in a partisan atmosphere sometimes more akin to a football match than a golf tournament.
As well as the novel type of competition the other joy of the Ryder Cup is the format. A combination of four-balls and foursomes takes place over the first two days involving eight players before all 12 compete in singles on the Sunday. The captains, who are greats of American or European golf and are appointed on a tournament by tournament basis, have big calls to make with pairings and the order in which they send players out in the singles which just adds another layer of intrigue and drama to this historic competition that was first held in 1927.
|2021||Whistling Straits||United States|
|2018||Le Golf National||Europe|
|2016||Hazeltine National Golf Club||United States|
|2012||Medinah Country Club||Europe|
2021: United States
Steve Stricker’s American Ryder Cup team was billed as the strongest of all time. To a man, they proved why they were deserving of such praise with the biggest margin of victory since the inclusion of European golfers in 1979. As several European players said after their 19-9 trouncing, Padraig Harrington’s men were simply beaten by the better side at Whistling Straits and there was not all that much they could have done about it.
The hope for American golf fans is that this win signals a real change. It was notable how many of Stricker’s players remarked on the different, much more positive atmosphere around the camp. This was the youngest American team ever. Although it was the oldest player Dustin Johnson who top scored with a perfect five points it certainly looked as though a group of players who had grown up witnessing galling defeats were desperate to right the wrongs of the past.
Gone was the individualism of years gone by and in came a real sense of a team. Afterwards we even saw Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau hug it out! The times they are a-changing! That new team spirit and wave of positivity helped the USA win the first two sessions 3-1 to make clear the size of Europe’s task. It wouldn’t get much better on Saturday for the tourists. There were bright sparks in the shape of the team of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia and singles wins for the experienced trio of Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood but it is now Europe’s time to go back to the drawing board in the hopes of getting things right for the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome.
The 2018 Ryder Cup was just the second to be held in Continental Europe as opposed to Great Britain or Ireland. Le Golf National in France was the chosen venue and the Albatross Course proved to be as good a fit for the European players as Hazeltine National had been for the Americans two years earlier. European captain Thomas Bjorn could scarcely believe the quality of the golf he witnessed over the three days which ended in a thumping 17½ to 10½ win for his team.
Victory was that little bit sweeter for Bjorn as he had been criticised for his captain’s picks ahead of the Ryder Cup. His decision to favour experience was rewarded with some very good performances from each of Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia. Garcia was a particularly bold call as he was short of form but he returned to his best in stunning style on the outskirts of Paris to become the highest cumulative points scorer in Ryder Cup history.
Garcia was not the story of the 2018 Ryder Cup though, that belonged to the partnership/bromance of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari. The pair won all four of their matches together on Friday and Saturday before Molinari became the first European player to end a Ryder Cup with a perfect record of five points.
2016: United States
After two very difficult editions of the Ryder Cup, the United States struck back with a vengeance in 2016. Taking every bit of advantage they could in terms of the conditions and course set-up at Hazeltine National, the USA strolled to a comprehensive 17-11 victory.
Led on the course by the likes of Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Brandt Snedeker, and off it by the much-respected Davis Love III in the role of captain, the USA were far too strong for Europe. The home team also drew inspiration from the recently departed Arnold Palmer in a similar way to the Europeans with Seve Ballesteros in 2012 although the man known as ‘The King’ would not have approved of the actions of some of the Minnesota crowd who overstepped the mark on several occasions.
To the European players’ credit, they refused to use the crowd as an excuse although there was an odd moan about the supposed easy set-up of Hazeltine National, especially for the singles. Still, all 24 players were competing on the same course and the United States were simply too good for their opponents.
The Miracle at Medinah in 2012 had an impact on the Ryder Cup long after Martin Kaymer’s much-replayed putt. It strengthened the idea that the Europeans play like a team who are more than the sum of their parts in the heat of battle. Similarly, the view that the United States players play as a collection of individuals who were unsuited to the demands of team golf was strengthened and that certainly seemed to be the case at Gleneagles during the 2014 Ryder Cup.
The fractious nature of the USA team was most obvious in the post-tournament press conference when Phil Mickelson reeled off a list of mistakes made by Tom Watson in the presence of the American captain. It was clear that there were problems in the camp long before that point though as Europe never really found themselves in any trouble. True, it was the tourists who won the first session but the hosts put that right in Friday’s afternoon foursomes and maintained their lead until Jamie Donaldson’s sublime pitching wedge into the 15th green confirmed the inevitable.
That the competition was too one-sided to make this a classic Ryder Cup owed much to Paul McGinley. He took his job as European Ryder Cup captain incredibly seriously, going deep into the stats but also creating the sort of environment in which Europe’s players could thrive and enjoy themselves.
The Ryder Cup has produced some of the greatest moments in golf and Martin Kaymer’s winning putt at Medinah Country Club is right up there with them. It wasn’t so much that the German was faced with a particularly tricky putt. It wasn’t even the final action of the competition. But by holing out to beat Steve Stricker, Kaymer ensured that Europe would retain the Ryder Cup and therefore complete one of the best comebacks in sporting history.
The United States’ dominance over the first two days of play meant that the hosts needed just 4½ points to win the Ryder Cup. That deficit could have been even greater were it not for Ian Poulter’s inspirational performance on Saturday. He won his morning foursomes match alongside Justin Rose and then the afternoon four-ball with Rory McIlroy while Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald were the only other European pairing to earn a point on the day. That left the scores at 6-10 heading into Sunday’s singles.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who had been inspired all week by the memory of his great friend Seve Ballesteros, got his picks spot on as Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Paul Lawrie created a tide of blue on the scoreboard by winning the first five matches. An American fightback followed but the experienced Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood both won to leave the stage clear for Kaymer. While the European players and fans began celebrating what has become known as the Miracle at Medinah, Francesco Molinari completed the job by halving his match with Tiger Woods which secured this historic and entirely unlikely win.