With 2018 Ryder Cup one year away, U.S. looks toward snapping road slump
It’s the one-year warning for the Ryder Cup. And already many of the main storylines for next September in France are easier to read than the putts will be at Le Golf National’s Albatros course.
Three big factors: Location, location, location.
This 2018 Ryder Cup will be just outside Paris, 4,200 miles from Hazeltine, where the U.S. won big last year. Different hemisphere, far different burden, since the Americans going across the ocean trying to beat Europe in the Ryder Cup has become like visiting college basketball teams going into Cameron Indoor Stadium trying to beat Duke. Team USA has not won on the road since 1993, losing five times in a row, from Scotland to Wales to Spain. The Europeans swept to those five victories on home soil by a combined 19 points.
“A very tough atmosphere to win in, much like any other sport,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk said of life on the road in the Ryder Cup.
“It’s such a big difference playing home and away,” European vice captain Robert Karlsson concurred. “First of all, the spectators. The atmosphere is a huge difference. This time we have one (other) big thing as well. We’ve played on Paris National for many, many years. To have a course we know very well is also a big advantage.”
But then again...
There’s the new wave from the new world.
Americans won three of this season’s four majors, with Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open, Jordan Spieth’s British Open and Justin Thomas’ PGA. In order, their ages are 27, 24 and 24.
Patrick Reed was a hero of Hazeltine, leading the U.S. in scoring. He’s 27. At the moment, four of the top eight golfers in the world rankings are Americans -- Dustin Johnson at No. 1, Spieth No. 2, Thomas No. 4, and Rickie Fowler No. 8. Johnson is the only one over 30. Koepka is No. 11, and Matt Kuchar No. 12. As matters stand now, that would be the core of the U.S. team.
The top Europeans in the world rankings at the present are Jon Rahm at No. 5 and Rory McIlroy at No. 6. So if the Ryder Cup were today, the U.S. would be a strong favorite, on paper anyway. But as 2016 Team Europe captain Darren Clarke recently told The National in Abu Dhabi, “I don’t think what’s going on at the moment has any real reflection on what will happen next September.”
Also sure to be prominent in the conversion next autumn is the Ryder Cup past. Such as...
The U.S. hasn’t won back-to-back in a quarter century. That’s another symptom of the European dominance that has produced eight of the past 11 Ryder Cups.
The Americans rolled last year 17-11 – their biggest winning margin since 1981 – with impressive balance. Every player scored at least a point. Four Europeans were shutout.
The European star at Hazeltine was Thomas Pieters, who led both sides with four wins. He was one of six Ryder Cup rookies on the European team. The U.S. had two, including Koepka, who won three matches.
In the end, the heat will always be on the captains. So...
The sense that the new influx of top young players has tilted the Ryder Cup balance of power back to this side of the Atlantic puts the burden of expectation upon Furyk. He’s played in nine Ryder Cups and clearly must understand how hard the weekend can get. His playing record is 10-20-4. So can that kind of Ryder Cup mileage make a difference?
“I will draw on the experience from each and every captain,” said Furyk, whose leadership will likely be on the restrained, cerebral side. Outwardly fiery, he’s not. “For me to get into the room and get rah-rah and start yelling and chanting isn’t going to work.”
He’ll get a preview this weekend as one of Steve Stricker’s assistants for the Presidents Cup. And as one of Davis Love III’s vice captains at Hazeltine, he saw up close the American surge, and the balance that created it. “Some of the hardest things we had to identify was, we’ve got to sit four guys,” he said. “As a captain, that is definitely the problem you hope to have.”
He can look at the world rankings as easily as anyone else, noticing all the U.S. names toward the top, envisioning the force they could be, if their form holds. “If we sat here and we had to talk about how bad everyone was playing,” he said, “it wouldn’t be much fun.”
It’ll be a clash of friends next September, as Furyk and European captain Thomas Bjorn go back a ways. They walked a few holes together last year at Hazeltine, and as Furyk said, “chatted about the matches, chatted about the future.”
The future is here. As of Thursday, one year to go, and a Ryder Cup team to pick. It’ll fly by.