In this feature we take a look at how the captains and the teams shape up and explain why America will win the Ryder Cup
The Ryder Cup is a strange beast. It is notoriously hard to predict, at times it defies logic and it certainly has a way of making heroes of previously unheralded players. That’s why we love it. But the 2016 Ryder Cup is even more intriguing as Europe, fielding six rookies, take on an American side brimming with experience, albeit losing experience. There is only one certainty – the next three days will surprise us all. You might think that makes any form of prediction rather foolish but as the build up reaches its crescendo, there are tangible signs of a US recovery. Could this be the year they finally stop Europe in its tracks? Quite possibly and here’s why America will win the Ryder Cup.
Davis Love III captained the US team at Medinah and there is logical theory that says you judge a Ryder Cup captain by what happens on the first two days. Of course, by the end of day two at Medinah the US team led 10-6. It was an almost, but not quite, unassailable lead. The score line however only tells part of the story. For the only time in recent Ryder Cup memory, the US Team played as a united force at Medinah. They bonded on and off the course. In both the fourballs and foursomes, Davis Love discovered pairings that clicked, sparking a tide of wonderful golf the Europeans were powerless to stop.
A good Ryder Cup captain needs to be someone happy in the background, working away in the shadow of the players. Davis Love III is not a loud, brash personality but calm and relatively quiet. He commands respect among his team because he has only ever let his performances on the course do the talking. Love will let his players take the limelight, instilling confidence in them away from the glare of the world’s media and then let his team take the stage. They like him for it and you can already see that.
Darren Clarke by contrast is a bigger personality who has loomed large over the European Tour for many years. What’s more his relationship with the press has, at times, been fractious. He also has the unenviable task of following Paul McGinley, a man whose deep thought and preparation were the hallmark of his success. The European players, almost to a man, praised the 2014 captain for his approach and many of those same players are competing in Hazeltine this week, comparing Clarke to McGinley.
The big talking point in the build up to this year’s Ryder Cup has been the six rookies on the European team. This is not necessarily the huge handicap it would appear – Danny Willett is the Masters Champion and the others all have plenty of experience playing in the US. Moreover, a successful Ryder Cup team needs rookies. It needs the energy and excitement brought by the first-timers. In contrast, the Team USA only has two – Brooks Keopka and Ryan Moore. The problem for Europe is this – man-for-man the US are stronger. They have all consistently competed in the big events for the last few years and their average world ranking is significantly better (although the system is weighted towards the US players, don’t get us started on that!) On paper at least, it is one of the best US teams we have ever seen. It blends youth and experience, power and control, calmness and excitement. There are numerous natural pairings staring at you. By contrast the rookies of the European team are unlikely to play together (the stats reveal this has rarely worked in the past). This leaves Darren Clarke slightly hamstrung by the make-up of his side. Experienced, successful pairings from previous Ryder Cups will need to be split to accommodate the new players in the team. Balancing this is the key factor to European success. If Clarke manages to do that well, he will go down as a truly great captain. The task at hand is huge.
That Task Force
I can think of no more American response to a series of sporting defeats than the establishment of a ‘task force’. It’s all a bit dramatic and possibly over the top but there are signs that some very important lessons have been learnt. That Davis Love already has Ryder Cup experience as a captain could be huge – the vice captains will get their turn to steer the ship in the years to come, learning lessons from this week along the way. Ryan Moore’s inclusion is a contentious one. Knowing that he is the 12th name on the team sheet might bring a little extra pressure on the shoulders of a rookie. However, Moore is a man in form. How many times in the past have we seen truly great players arrive at the Ryder Cup struggling for form and failing to deliver? Moore might lose or win his matches but one thing is for sure, he will be hard to beat.
Hazeltine is typical US Tour fare. Long, vast bunkers, enormous greens and plenty of water make it a challenge the players of the US Tour see week-in week-out. In addition, Davis Love has had the rough cut down to favour his team who are longer, at least on paper. The greens will be fast too – something we see a little less of over here in Europe. Of course, all of this only matters a tiny amount (both sets of players play the same events a lot of the time) but if there is an advantage to be had, the Americans have it and if this Ryder Cup is close, it could make all the difference.
A home crowd is an advantage in the Ryder Cup. When the momentum starts to flow in the direction of the home team, it can feel impossible to resist. It can feel as if 12 are taking on 12,000. This American crowd, will be desperate for a home win. Any chance to cheer will not be lost and the Europeans need to expect a rowdy opposition.
All of these factors combine to explain why America will win the Ryder Cup. If Darren Clarke and his inexperienced team manage to triumph at Hazeltine, it will be one of the greatest Ryder Cup wins ever.