Long-knockers like Dustin Johnson could have a decided advantage, even if they don't always keep their tee shots in the fairway. (Getty Images)
Setup comes as a surprise for some, and could provide Team USA with an edge
After spending a couple days checking out the Twenty Ten Course, says Steve Eubanks, several players and observers believe that Team USA could benefit most from the way the Europeans have set it up.
By Steve Eubanks, Special to RYDERCUP.com
NEWPORT, Wales -- When asked about the setup for the Twenty Ten Course, Lee Westwood said, “I think Colin set this golf course up for long, straight, good drivers of the golf ball.”
If that’s true, advantage USA.
Why Montgomerie would want to get into a driving contest with the longest hitting team in Ryder Cup history is anybody’s guess, but after two days of practice, one thing is clear: the European captain definitely did not go out of his way to set up the course to favor his squad.
“I was shocked when I saw the setup,” Andy North said after his first trip around the Twenty Ten Course. “There are spots beyond 300 yards where it’s wide open. I don’t think Corey (Pavin) would have set it up any different.”
The American team has six players -- Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Jeff Overton, and Stewart Cink -- who carry the ball in the air more than 290 yards. Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler hit it long as well, but on a slightly lower trajectory. Four of the Americans -- Johnson, Watson, Mickelson and Woods -- fly their tee shots well past the 300-yard mark on a routine basis. This is a huge advantage when you’re hitting approaches to slow, flat greens like the ones at the Twenty Ten Course.
“I think it's a wonderful golf course,” Mickelson said. “It's in terrific shape, and the holes themselves have a lot of risk/reward, a lot of real big penalties if you mis-hit a shot and a lot of rewards if you pull off a shot. The par 3s are very challenging, shaved banks. The drivable par 4 seems like a risk/reward. This is going to be a great venue for match play where players can be aggressive without fearing the big number.”
The drivable par 4 Mickelson referred to is the 15th, an uphill, blind dogleg right. The front of the green is only 265 yards from the tee, and while it requires hitting the ball over a cluster of trees, as North put it, “Dustin can get a 2-iron there.” North, the two-time U.S. Open winner, stood on the 15th tee, shrugged and said, “Why wouldn’t you go for it? I could reach it. Heck, Corey could reach it and he’s the shortest hitter in America.”
Granted the rough is high, and perhaps Captain Montgomerie is expecting the long-hitting Americans to be equally wild off the tee. But as former Ryder Cup Captain Paul Azinger said, “Their guys are going to be hitting wedge seven to 10 times a round. Our guys are going to be hitting wedge nine to 12 times a round. When your opponent is hitting wedge three more times per round than you, you’re going to have a hard time beating that guy.”
And don’t forget, Europe has some bombers of its own. Rory McIlroy hits it as long and straight as anyone in the game, and Lee Westwood is a great driver of the golf ball. Graeme McDowell proved he could hit fairways under pressure when he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also won the Wales Open on the Twenty Ten Course earlier in the year.
The advantage the Americans could have is in their ability to advance the ball out of the thick, wet rough. It is easier to hit the ball out of heavy grass with a wedge than it is with a 7-iron, so being longer off the tee, even if slightly askew, is better than missing the short grass by a couple of feet well back. Plus, bigger, stronger athletes have an easier time muscling the ball out of the muck. On that front, Johnson, Woods, Mickelson, Watson, Ogilvy and Mahan have the upper hand.
Golf isn’t a game of brute strength, but if the expected rain comes in on Friday and the rough becomes like glued duck weeds, the Americans could have the edge. Everyone will miss some fairways under Ryder Cup pressure. When that happens, the advantage will shift to the longer, stronger players. And nobody from either side can beat Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods at arm wrestling.
“It looks as though Monty set this course up hoping the weather would go south and his guys would handle that better,” North said. Betting on bad weather is a risky strategy. It remains to be seen if it will be an effective one.