By Sam Belden
It’s almost here. In less than 24 hours, the Ryder Cup will begin, and for three days, we’ll be treated to some of the most intense and exciting moments in all of golf. Here are five things to keep in mind as the action unfolds.
Europe has won five of the last six Ryder Cups–If you’ve been following this week’s major stories in pro golf, then you’ve probably been hearing this all week, but it bears repeating. Since the turn of this century, the European squad has absolutely dominated this exhibition. America’s lone win came in 2008, when Captain Paul Azinger thoroughly outfoxed his European counterpart, Nick Faldo, who was later heavily criticized for some of his decisions. Among those five European wins is the 2012 Miracle at Medinah, where Team USA had a four point lead heading into the final day but lost it entirely by the time play wrapped up. Two years is a long time, but the American wounds from that loss are still relatively fresh, and they’ll be after redemption.
Europe has a better frontline, but the USA is stronger top to bottom–No one is denying that the stars of Team Europe are fearsome–Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose are all in the world’s top six, while Martin Kaymer won both the Players Championship and the US Open this year. Good as the American front four of Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler is, they’re at a disadvantage. But here’s the thing: Europe’s weaker players are really weak. They include unproven rookies Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher and out of form veterans Lee Westwood and Thomas Bjorn; furthermore, Ian Poulter, the legendary Ryder Cupper, hasn’t posted a top 10 since June. The Americans don’t truly have any weak links; they boast a solid, balanced team that will work well together. It will be interesting to see what happens with Europe frontrunning and the Americans playing a more measured style with their pairings.
The hottest American golfer isn’t even playing–By now, you’re aware of Billy Horschel. The 27 year-old American won the last two events of the PGA Tour season and wound up hoisting the FedEx Cup and cashing a check for ten million dollars. Unfortunately, his wins came after Captain Tom Watson announced his captain’s picks for Team USA, so even though Horschel has been the hottest player in the world for almost a month now, he’s stuck at home. That’s not the worst thing in the world–he’s not the first hot golfer to be snubbed a captain’s pick because of the scheduling, and he won’t be the last. Just keep in mind that a European win this week doesn’t necessarily say that European golf is currently stronger than American golf–especially if it comes down to a small amount of points. The USA’s best player isn’t there to help.
The rookies will be a factor–Six Ryder Cup rookies will be playing this week: Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed for the Americans and Jamie Donaldson, Stephen Gallacher and Victor Dubuisson for the Europeans. They may be first timers at this competition, but they’re all veterans of the world stage, so they’re ready for the prime time. Spieth, Walker, Reed and Donaldson are reportedly going to be playing in the very first session on Friday morning; no word yet on Gallacher and Dubuisson, but they’re sure to get plenty of playing time. American fans should be happy about this; it gives them a fan to see three European players who don’t spend too much time on the PGA Tour (although Dubuisson has earned his Tour card for next year).
Team USA will win by a score of 15-13–Okay, I guess that’s only speculation, but I really do think that the Americans have a really good chance to pull of the upset this week. Team USA is a strong, balanced team that will work together well and has the right attitude for match play; at the helm is Tom Watson, one of the great golf minds of all time. Meanwhile, Team Europe looks good on the surface, but they have a lot of issues underneath the surface. They could do it, but they’ll need to overcome the fact that a quarter of their team is badly out of form. This is America’s cup to win.