Youth serves up a resounding victory at 43rd Ryder Cup
There was a historic element to the 43rd Ryder Cup, with the U.S. Team setting a modern-era record for largest winning margin after a 19-9 thumping of an overmatched European side on a perfect Sunday afternoon along Lake Michigan, at rugged Whistling Straits.
Beyond that, there was a distinct freshness to this victory, too. A bigness. Much the way those sentries in tall fuzzy hats switch positions in front of London’s Windsor Castle, this held the feel of a changing of the guard for American golf. This victory was in Wisconsin, but it bodes well for future Ryder Cups on tap in Italy, and Bethpage, N.Y., and Ireland in six years.
So many new faces in the U.S. Team room had never even competed in the Ryder Cup, let alone held that little gold 17-inch Cup, the trophy that makes grown men cry. This U.S. Team did not carry the usual scar tissue of Ryder Cup setbacks, nor the ghosts of Ryder Cups past. They hadn’t watched Ian Poulter holing crucial putts and Sergio Garcia pumping his fist and doing snow angels in the fairway. Now that they’ve put their hands around that Cup, none of them want to let it go.
Eight of the 12 players on U.S. Captain Steve Stricker’s Team are in their 20s. A majority of the team has been playing golf with or against each other since grade school. Think about that. There exists a strong bond, and closeness, much like that enviable one the always-loose Europeans show us.
“They are going to be formidable opposition from now until I'm probably not playing Ryder Cups,” said Europe’s Rory McIlroy. That sounds daunting.
When the U.S. lost in Paris three years ago, a few of these U.S. team members were still in college. This is a fresh slate of competitors, a group that shares two very important things in common: They not only give full buy-in to representing their country every year in a Cup competition, but they absolutely, to a man, hate to lose. In anything.
“I felt like as a whole we came together and did something amazing,” said Bryson DeChambeau, who went 0-3 in Paris and was a rock this week, finishing 2-0-1. He took down the previously unbeaten Garcia in his Singles match on Sunday, 3 and 2. “This is a start to a new generation. I think we are going to be doing some incredible things moving forward.”
Over breakfast early Sunday, the mantra wasn’t just to win, but to win big. Ryder Cup rookie Patrick Cantlay (3-0-1) urged his teammates to aspire to get to 20 points, and “send a message.” Message received.
After being on the losing side in four of the last five meetings against Europe, and nine of the last 12, the U.S. took control of this Ryder Cup in the very first session and never let up. There was a brief time on Saturday afternoon, in the second Four-Ball session, when Europe put some blue on the board. But even then, the U.S. was sitting nicely on a 9-3 cushion. The U.S. fought hard to stem the Euro rally, got out of the session 2-2, and took a commanding 11-5 lead into the Sunday Singles.
From there, it was a complete blitz. No team ever had come back from more than a four-point deficit to win, and it wasn’t happening on Sunday. Europe needed to get up in the early matches for mere sake of hope, to grab any sort of momentum, and the young bucks on Captain Stricker’s determined side weren’t having any of it. Cantlay, playing second, got up in his match early. DeChambeau, playing fourth, drove the green at the 364-yard first hole – we repeat, he drove the green at the par-4 first – rolled in his 41-footer for eagle and led early, too. Collin Morikawa, batting fifth, the youngest member of the team, would lead at the turn, 2 up. He’d tie Viktor Hovland and notch the clinching half-point in the process, finishing his first Ryder Cup 3-0-1.
But there was no more emphatic flair sent from the American squad than what 25-year-old Scottie Scheffler – self-described as the team’s only “true” rookie – was doing in Match No. 3, head to head, against world No. 1 Jon Rahm of Spain. Rahm not only was his team’s leading points earner, but its emotional leader, and he’d been stronger than iodine through two days of team sessions.
Scheffler birdied the first, then the second, then the third, and birdied again at the fourth. He had a slight hiccup at the par-5 fifth, rinsing his second shot, but came right back and knocked down a 15-footer for birdie at the short par-4 sixth.
Did his teammates see what Scheffler was doing to the best player in the world? You bet they did.
“It was amazing to see that. That was the only thing I was looking at, to be honest,” said Dustin Johnson, the world No. 2, who answered a disappointing showing in Paris three years ago (1-4) by making history at Whistling Straits, going 5-0.
Johnson, at 37, was playfully nicknamed Grandpa by his younger teammates, but was the only U.S. player to go all five matches. Since 1979, only two other Ryder Cup players – American Larry Nelson (The Greenbrier, 1979) and Italy’s Francesco Molinari (Le Golf National, 2018) – have finished with perfect 5-0 records.
The tiniest sliver of chance for Europe ended with Rahm going down to defeat in the team’s third slot. Rahm fought hard, but could only stretch the match to 15 holes, losing 4 and 3. Scheffler, a captain’s pick, finished his first Ryder Cup 2-0-1. Riding momentum, U.S. players behind Scheffler kept marching in with victories.
“We all saw it,” Jordan Spieth, a fellow Texas Longhorn, said of Scheffler’s prowess on the large electronic boards that lit up the course. “We knew it was happening. If you looked at one thing on the board, you saw that.”
Spieth didn’t putt like his usual self, and the result was a 1-2-1 mark for the week. But he didn’t have to carry more than his weight. Nobody did. This team had a tight bond and didn’t lack for strength, with nine of the top 11 players from the Official World Golf Rankings. They had a powerhouse, and for three days, played like it. That hasn’t always been how it unfolds against that pesky and talented European side.
Stricker even said after the winning team’s press conference that DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka approached their captain to tell him if it were in the best interests of the U.S. Team, they wanted to pair together. Stricker and his assistants discussed the possibility, but smartly didn’t want one pairing to overshadow the bigger picture of what was happening here. This wasn’t about two guys. “Twelve strong,” Stricker said.
For Stricker, winning a Ryder Cup in his home state of Wisconsin is a crowning achievement. He is a quiet and unassuming man, the kind of guy who still walks old ladies across the street, and he made sure this Ryder Cup never was about him. He had the horses and wanted to do everything he could to let them run. He didn’t consume the team with inspirational videos and fiery speeches. Not his style. The winning team’s conference was so jovial that the only tears the emotional Stricker spent late Sunday were from laughter.
“It was really just getting out of their way,” Stricker said. “Let them go. Provide an atmosphere and camaraderie that they enjoyed and wanted to be a part of. They all want to win, and it showed.”
It showed. Now comes Italy in two years. Amazingly, the U.S. has not won a Ryder Cup on the road since 1993. You know how Spieth and all his twentysomething teammates view that? Unfinished business, that’s how. Spieth’s words. Whistling Straits was a steppingstone to bigger days, he said.
“It's one thing to win it over here, and it is a lot easier to do so, and it is harder to win over there,” said Spieth, who was competing in his fourth Ryder Cup. “If we play like we did this week, the score will look the same over there in a couple years. That’s what we're here for.”
Can this be the line in the sand for a U.S. Team that has been befuddled and puzzled by recent results in the Ryder Cup? Even as the sun dipped at Whistling Straits Sunday, things seemed awfully bright. Different. Big.