The Americans never felt more confident. The Europeans rarely felt so annoyed.
A two-year wait can feel even longer when it comes to the pride and passion only the Ryder Cup can deliver in golf. Both sides were eager for the next Ryder Cup outside Rome, for different reasons.
Team USA was fresh off its most lopsided victory over Europe at Whistling Straits and had reason to believe they would turn the series back in their favor with such a young, powerful squad. Jordan Spieth already was looking ahead as he celebrated that autumn evening in Wisconsin.
“If we play like we did this week, the score will look the same over there,” he said.
Tommy Fleetwood of England recalled how much it burned to see the Americans celebrate, speaking as if he could still smell the smoke from Xander Schauffele’s victory cigar mixed with the spray of champagne.
“All of us stood there and thought, ‘We want to get our chance back,’” Fleetwood said. “The flight on the way home, we were all a little tender and hungover, but we were already planning what we can do better at the next Ryder Cup to bring it back.”
The 44th Ryder Cup starts Sept. 29 at Marco Simone between two teams that don’t look the same from two years ago.
Some of that is a product of age — Europe had four players in their 40s. A lot of it is a product of eight players from the last Ryder Cup who defected to Saudi-funded LIV Golf, which kept Europeans off their team and set the bar extremely high for any Americans to return.
Brooks Koepka is the only LIV Golf player to make it back, and it took a PGA Championship title and a runner-up in the Masters for that to happen.
What hasn’t changed is the history against the Americans.
Five players on the U.S. team, including world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, were not even born the last time the Americans won a Ryder Cup on European soil. That was in 1993 at The Belfry, when Ryder Cup rookie Davis Love III made the cup-clinching putt. Love is now a 59-year-old assistant captain.
“It’s really wild,” Scheffler said of the six straight road losses with teams that were stacked with Hall of Fame players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, major champions like Love, Spieth and Dustin Johnson. “Such great players. Just proves how difficult it is. But we’ve got a lot of fresh blood on the team this year. Only a handful of guys have played over there. I like our chances. Ignorance is bliss.”
Even so, it’s tough to ignore 30 years of history, which suggests this is more than a coincidence or one team making a few more putts.
Europe prefers to set up the golf course to their strengths — thick rough to put a premium on accuracy, slightly slower greens to allow for more aggressive putts.
And then there’s the small matter of fans. The gallery was one-sided at Whistling Straits because of travel restrictions still in place from the COVID-19 pandemic. The volume at the Ryder Cup is unlike anything in golf, from the first tee to the 18th green, from the opening match on Friday morning to the final singles match on Sunday afternoon. It never ends.
“Just the mere fact that when you come to a hostile, foreign environment, it’s hard,” U.S. captain Zach Johnson said. “I don’t know why we haven’t (won). What I do know is that 2023 will be an opportunity of a lifetime, and that will be my message.”
FanDuel lists the Americans as slight favorites, which is nothing new. The U.S. team typically looks great on paper, suspect on European grass. All 12 of the Americans are among the top 25 in the world ranking. Three of them won majors this year.
That’s nothing new, of course. They had all 12 in the top 25 and three major champions in 2018 in France and lost. They had 10 players in the top 25 and three major champions in 1997 in Spain and lost.
“I think one of the great accomplishments in our game now is to win an away Ryder Cup,” Rory McIlroy said. “I think with just how partisan it’s become in terms of having a home field advantage, being able to set the golf course up in a way that benefits your team, I think the next team that wins a Ryder Cup on foreign soil, I think it’s a huge accomplishment.”
McIlroy was still a teenager in Northern Ireland the last time Europe truly owned the Ryder Cup in the mid-2000s. Starting with 2008, the home team has won every Ryder Cup except for the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012, when Europe staged an improbable comeback.
“We weren’t supposed to win in ’12,” McIlroy said. “Since then, the home team has won, each time pretty convincingly.”
The Americans return seven players from that record 19-9 win over Europe two years ago, which includes Koepka.
The PGA Tour has suspended players who joined the rival LIV circuit. The PGA of America runs the Ryder Cup — not the tour — though the only access to Ryder Cup points for Americans was the majors. That’s where Koepka thrives. He finished just outside the top six automatic qualifiers, and no one was surprised when Johnson used one of his six captain’s picks on him.
“He’s built for the biggest of stages,” Johnson said of Koepka, a five-time major champion. “And there’s no bigger stage than the Ryder Cup.”
For Europe, the effect was stronger. Henrik Stenson was stripped of his captaincy when he joined LIV, and Luke Donald took over only last August. Key players who joined LIV were in their 40s, including Ian Poulter. Missing from the European team for the first time since 1997 is Sergio Garcia, the leading scorer in Ryder Cup history.
Masters champion Jon Rahm wanted his fellow Spaniard on the team. Garcia made a last-minute effort, telling the European tour he would pay all his sanctions for joining LIV and play as many tournaments as needed. The tour told him he could not be reinstated until next year.
It was always going to be a transition year for Europe, and Donald used two of his picks on the future. One was 22-year-old Nicolai Hojgaard of Denmark. The other was Ludvig Aberg, the top college player this year. In four months as a pro, he already has a European tour win and a footnote in history: The only player to appear in a Ryder Cup before he plays in a major.
McIlroy played a practice round with Aberg at Marco Simone and was impressed.
“I was on the bandwagon before,” he said. “Certainly at the front row of it now.”
Marco Simone is the fourth course in continental Europe to host the Ryder Cup. The others were at Valderrama in Spain (1997), The K Club in Ireland (2006) and Le Golf National in France (2018). All of them produced European victories, a streak Europe would love to continue.
The Americans are desperate to end it, hopeful they can carry some momentum from a Ryder Cup in Wisconsin that now seems longer ago than two years.
AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf