The Ryder Cup is one of my favorite sporting events. Throw a team format and some nationalism into golf and I’m hooked. I’m one of the few people who doesn’t think the Presidents Cup is big sideshow. But the Ryder Cup is clearly superior in every way. The history, the competitiveness, the patriotism–it’s all heightened at the Ryder Cup. It’s also nice that the US has taken on an underdog role. No one likes a foregone conclusion. So here’s a little preview…
Team Europe: For the 1st time since the days of Nick Faldo, the Europeans have the #1 player in the World in Rory McIlroy. But as far as feared players go, Sergio Garcia might be at the top of the list. The Spaniard always finds his putter in this event and after missing the 2010 contest–expect Sergio to be motivated to further his legacy. The Europeans also have some players like Lee Westwood who are struggling to find their form. Interesting tidbit–European stalwart Luke Donald has called Chicago (home of Medinah) home for years.
Team USA: The US team does not have a single player with a winning Ryder Cup record. Part of that is being on the wrong end of several whoopings, part of it is horrific putting. An eye toward the flat stick was evident with Davis Love’s captain’s picks choosing Brandt Snedeker, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk. The U.S. team could have the advantage on the greens for the first time in a long time. Interesting tidbit–Tiger Woods has won two PGA Championships at Medinah. The European team has 1 player that has won two majors.
The Course: Medinah #3 is big, old golf course that has hosted majors, but it has been tamed by Davis Love and the PGA of America. The rough is way down, the course will play a bit shorter and expect the setup to favor scoring and entice players into daring shots. The par-4 15th can play as a 280-yd par four, expect that hole to be one of the focal points of the event.
Key Format: Alternate Shot. Even in their darkest days the US teams has usually been able to hold its own (at worst) in singles. That’s where their depth has always shone through. And, the best-ball format has also been pretty kind to the U.S. Where the numbers get ugly is in Foursomes, or alternate shot. When these events get out of hand there is usually one session where a team sweeps, or nearly sweeps to seize momentum. A 4-0 session puts you better than a 1/4 of the way to a victory. The U.S. team needs to stay away from this type of momentum swing and foursomes is the most likely place it could occur.
The Pressure: One of the compelling things about watching golf on television is you see a manifestation of pressure. And, there is no bigger stage for pressure than the Ryder Cup. There is a special on the golf channel tonight at 9pm about the 1991 Ryder Cup, which was some of the most pressure packed golf ever played. The results…varied. Things are no longer quite that intense, but two years ago it was Hunter Mahan who fell victim to the heat with his stubbed chip at the K-Club. Someone is guaranteed to rise to the occasion, someone is guaranteed to buckle, and there will probably be some tears.
Most Important U.S. Player: Phil Mickelson. I expect Tiger to play well. I expect the U.S. rookies to run a little hot and cold. The U.S. veterans, the guys who have been getting their butts kicked for two decades need to step up this week and Phil is at the top of this list. Phil has a big influence on some of the younger guys on this team (Bradley, Simpson, Johnson) so you need him to up and going well this week. It could create a tide of momentum.
Most Important European Player: Ian Poulter. When the Europeans come out on top they always have a guy (at least one) who is playing well over his head. Poulter is a great candidate for this. He loves the event, is a match-play killer and a great putter. The emotional Poulter is capable of boosting the whole European team if he’s going well. You expect Rory McIlroy to play well, if Poulter rallies the 2nd tier–watch out.
My Best 4 US Better-Ball Pairings:
- Furyk/D. Johnson
My Best 4 US Foursomes Pairings:
- Z. Johnson/Dufner
The Pick: US 14.5/Europe 13.5. I’m almost certain this is going to be a close one, and you want it to be close. Any lead bigger than 9-7 heading into singles and you start needing an incredible rally. In years past, picking the US team was all heart and no brain, but I think they are good enough this time around to handle Europe, who may be at their peak form.