Forget everything except putting; that’s what wins Ryder Cups
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Forget everything except putting; that’s what wins Ryder Cups



Ignore which Ryder Cup team looks stronger on paper, who won “the last how many over the last how long,” and maybe take a close look at the number of untested rookies on each side (and who got left off), but most of all, watch for the hottest putters to take home the trophy.

Yes, Europe has won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups, and are defending champions after a 17.5-10.5 drubbing of the U.S. when the teams last met in 2018 Le Golf National in France, but none of that matters Friday morning.

As you look at the rosters and the golf course, here's what stands out.

USA ROSTER

Collin Morikawa Qualifier
Dustin Johnson Qualifier
Bryson DeChambeau Qualifier
Brooks Koepka Qualifier
Justin Thomas Qualifier
Patrick Cantlay Qualifier
Tony Finau Captain's pick
Xander Schauffele Captain's pick
Jordan Spieth Captain's pick
Harris English Captain's pick
Daniel Berger Captain's pick
Scottie Scheffler Captain's pick

The US hopes it never has to regret leaving who the press dubbed “Captain America” at the 2016 Ryder Cup and who is for certain a sure-fire Euro killer: Patrick Reed. Reed is a demi-god of match play, cinching crucial matches in the clutch ever since he and tiny Augusta State University took home two national collegiate championships at the expense of the greatest names in NCAA golf. He’s earned a green jacket, and not only has experience in the Ryder Cup, but he won arguably the most exciting match of the modern Ryder Cup generation byholding off a hard-charging, adrenaline fueled Rory McIlroy at Hazeltine. His experience might have helped.

That being said, US captain Steve Stricker was solid the rest of the way, almost following the points list to the letter, skipping only Reed and Webb Simpson, and even the most ardent Simpson fan – and I am one –  can defend his somewhat bland Ryder Cup record.

Webb doesn’t play with a lot of fire. You need that spark in a Ryder Cup to maintain pace and adrenaline with your opponent -- and sometimes your own teammates, too. They want to see that as well.

Dustin Johnson is the oldest player on the squad this year, but is he mature and wise enough to lead them? Conventional wisdom says no, especially after the news that he and hothead, yet uber-talented Brooks Koepka actually got in a nasty brawl on the plane that was taking the 2018 USA Ryder Cup team to the matches. Those are not leadership qualities.

EUROPEAN ROSTER

Rory McIlroy Qualifier
Jon Rahm Qualifier
Paul Casey Qualifier
Matt Fitzpatrick Qualifier
Tyrrell Hatton Qualifier
Tommy Fleetwood Qualifier
Viktor Hovland Qualifier
Lee Westwood Qualifier
Bernd Wiesberger Qualifier
Sergio Garcia Captain's pick
Ian Poulter Captain's pick
Shane Lowry Captain's pick

See the difference? Experience.

The Europeans play a longer game than the Americans. Our team mentality is too mercurial and too eager for quick fixes. Occasionally a new, younger player earns his way on to the team, then struggles in his first rodeo. If things stay this way going forward, the Americans may find they have overcompensated with too many fan favorites getting the nod over the hottest players at the moment.

***

Whistling Straits is an American golf course masquerading as a UK links. Rory McIlroy said it best in his pre-Ryder Cup presser:

“This is not a links course. It’s an American-style aerial course. No one is gong to be bump-and-running the ball onto these greens,” he remarked. And he’s right. Whistling Straits looks like a UK linksland and is hard by one of the largest inland bodies of water in the world, but it doesn’t play like a links.

Pete Dye would agree. Herb Kohler said to him, “I want you to make it look like Ballybunion,” and to an extent Pete succeeded, but much of Pete’s brilliance goes by the wayside. The course is perfectly balanced – an almost perfect copy of the routing of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. There are two par 5s and two par 3s on each side. The par 3s are designed evenly to test draw and fade on both the outward and inward nines, and a cunning crossover ensures that the only time you are playing into the interior of the property and away form the lake is either leaving from or returning to the clubhouse: Nos. 1 and 18, respectively.

“Moreover, all the drives, from the tee are strategic. Tiger Woods likes to say he likes to 'see it all,' see everything from the tee, but what I do to a pro is let you see some of the fairway, but not all of the fairway,” Dye said in a prior interview.

“Now once you’ve played the course, you know how wide it is and what’s out there. But even so, what you can’t see creates something in the back of your mind like doubt or fear. The mere fact that you know the fairway is there isn’t enough. When you can’t see all the landing area, you get scared or nervous or uncertain.”

And, of course, it will be a phenomenal match play course. Every hole is a potential disaster.

“Someone told me there were eight difficult holes and 10 impossible holes,” joked England’s Lee Westwood during the 2010 PGA Championship. “I’m still trying to figure out which ones are the difficult ones.”

That may have been hyperbole; the Straits Course can be had in fair weather. In 2004, Whistling Straits handed out sub-par rounds for the first three days like the Euro team handed out Green Bay Packers cheesehead hats to the crowd this morning. In 2015, Australia’s Jason Day used brute fouce to overwhelm Whistling Straits to the tune of a record 20-under total score for the four days. But in dirty weather or wind, the Straits Course is stingy.

“The wind is the tricky part,” Dye said in an earlier interview. “It changes all the time and it swirls. Normally it comes out of the southwest. Now the lake has a different temperature than the land, and when the prevailing wind comes in 8-12 knots, the temperature of the lake will reverse the wind. You can stand on the tee and feel the breeze coming one way, but look at the flag and it’s flying in the other direction…dead opposite.”

Dye went on to explain a little of the science to it, much like Bryson DeChambeau did at the Ocean Course for this year’s PGA -- except Dye wasn't anywhere near as much of a brainiac in the way he tries to explain it.

“The temperature of the lake is never over 60-65. Now when the wind comes off the land, it's one temperature, but when it hits the lake, I don’t know what causes it, but it reverses…," he said.

"I remember the last day Justin Leonard hit a great second shot to the 18th green, but the wind was swirling and there’s an opening to the left on the 18th green where the wind comes down a little tunnel from the adjacent ninth hole. Well, it knocked his ball down into the bunker and that cost him the tournament. In fact, I saw that a lot on 18 and at other holes too. When you have any green where you can’t feel wind on the tee, yet there is a opening of a tunnel down near the green, the wind gusting around will make the ball do weird things.”

So if we get wind, it could favor the Euros, who play in it far more often than their American counterparts, most of whom live in Orlando or Scottsdale, not Kent or Edinburgh.

FRIDAY MORNING FOURSOMES MATCHES

  • 7:05 a.m. CT:  EUR – Sergio Garcia/Jon Rahm vs USA – Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas
  • 7:21 a.m. CT:  EUR – Paul Casey/Viktor Hovland vs. USA - Dustin Johnson/Collin Morikawa
  • 7:37 a.m. CT:  EUR – Lee Westwood/Matt Fitzpatrick vs. USA - Daniel Berger/Brooks Koepka
  • 7:53 a.m. CT:  EUR – Rory McIlroy/Ian Poulter vs USA  Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffle

The Euros have an advantage in the foursomes and fourball formats since they play it more often and divide the team into pairings from each country. Note that the two Spaniards – Garcia and Rahm - are together as are the Englishmen Westwood and Fitzpatrick. Since Sweden’s Henrik Stenson is a vice captain and was not selected to play, Norway’s Viktor Hovland is a bit of an orphan, so put him with Casey, the wily old vet.

Still, at the end of the day, it comes down to putting. With Dye’s greens well-protected, but somewhat benign within their confines, the Americans have no reason not to prevail. The flattish greens play to their advantage, but if the wind blows on Sunday, then switch it up and take the Euros.

MY PREDICTION: USA 15, EUROPE 13

About the author

Jay Flemma

Jay Flemma

Starting with a blog and a dream, Jay Flemma launched his first sports-writing website in 2004. Some 13 years and 25 major golf championships later, Jay has won multiple national sports writing awards. Besides GNN, his work has appeared in numerous books as well as on-line at Cybergolf, PGA.com, GolfObserver, GolfChannel.com and many other sites and print magazines. When not trying to find a lost golf ball, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet, sports and trademark lawyer in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.