Remember When: 2016 Ryder Cup
The Americans needed a win. It had been eight long years since a raucous scene at Valhalla for the U.S. Ryder Cup contingent. What had followed was another stretch of three straight losses, including a Sunday collapse at Medinah and a sound defeat at Gleneagles that birthed a task force.
Back on home soil and led by the man who watched the trophy slip through his fingers in 2012, the Americans came through in memorable fashion. There were highlights on both sides, including some of the most memorable match performances in recent Ryder Cup history. All told it added up to a drought-breaking victory that felt dearly needed to swing the biennial momentum back in the other direction.
Let’s take a look back on the key players and turning points from a memorable week at Hazeltine – one that may not be too far in the rear-view mirror but will be remembered for years to come:
The last time the U.S. Ryder Cup team gathered, it resulted in ripple effects that reverberated for years.
Soon after the Ryder Cup task force was created and led to a decision to hand the baton back to Davis Love III, who captained the team in 2012 that suffered a brutal final-day loss at Medinah. Leading the Europeans was former Open champ Darren Clarke. Clarke had an opportunity to guide his squad to a fourth consecutive win, a chance that Sir Nick Faldo had fumbled at Valhalla in 2008. But the Europeans were oozing with confidence heading into a road game, having won six of seven matches overall since 2002 while causing their opponent to re-think their entire process.
For the second consecutive Ryder Cup, the Americans fielded a roster that didn’t include Tiger Woods, who was in the midst of multiple back surgeries. Instead, the team was led by reigning U.S. Open champ and world No. 2 Dustin Johnson, while Jimmy Walker leapt onto the squad in the 11th hour with his PGA Championship win at Baltusrol. The Europeans also boasted a pair of current major champs: No. 4 Henrik Stenson, the top-ranked Euro after his triumph at Royal Troon, and Masters winner Danny Willett. Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy weren’t holding onto major hardware but were forces on their respective sides, each ranked inside the top 5.
Willett was one of six rookies for the visiting team, a group that also included Thomas Pieters (who would go 4-1 on the week). The Americans brought with them just two rookies: Ryan Moore, who had narrowly missed out on a win at the Tour Championship, and Brooks Koepka, who was still a few months away from winning the first of his four majors.
The Turning Point
Needing to give the home fans something to cheer about, the Americans got off to an ideal start by sweeping the first four matches. The Euros quickly trimmed into that deficit, getting to within 5-3 by nightfall on the opening day, but by the end of day two they were still facing a 9 ½ to 6 ½ hole heading into Sunday’s singles. It was that final day when the Americans captured one of the most memorable points in recent history. Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy went toe-to-toe in Sunday’s opening match, lobbing haymakers at each other while thrilling the Minnesota crowds with birdie after birdie. The opening nine holes was one of the most electric in Ryder Cup history, and when Reed eventually held on to a 1-up win it set the tone for a watershed afternoon for the red, white and blue.
The Europeans won three of the first five matches Sunday (despite Reed’s heroics) to close the gap, but they won just one more match the rest of the way. The Americans got an important point from Rickie Fowler, who edged Justin Rose, while Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia played to an eventful draw where the two men combined to make a whopping 19 birdies. The home squad won five of the final six matches, and when Ryan Moore closed out his match with Lee Westwood it ensured that the Americans would get their hands on the trophy for just the second time this century. The ultimate margin, 17-11, marked the biggest win by the Americans since 1981.
Five years later, the legacy for this one is still being written. The Reed/McIlroy match still seems to be gaining lore, and both players could potentially be in the mix for a reprisal when the matches return to Hazeltine in 2029. For Love it was a sweet bit of vindication, as he (and many of his players) erased the pain of a near-miss at Medinah. Clarke’s squad seemed weaker in hindsight when none of his six rookies returned to the roster two years later in Paris, with just Matthew Fitzpatrick of the group teeing it up this month at Whistling Straits. The champagne-soaked celebration proved once again the power of home-soil advantage, as the Americans triumphed on a course that played into the strengths of their long-hitting stars while doing little to punish errant misses. It’s a trend they hope will continue next month in Wisconsin, while many of the European stars will head north with a score to settle.