The dominant US team we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived. The Americans led every step of the way as they set the record for largest margin of victory at 19-9 and emphatically took back the Ryder Cup.
This week’s event at Whistling Straits was three years in the making and felt like a must win for the US following a European drubbing in Paris. And man did they deliver.
It seemed for years that the Americans consistently fielded the more talented team, only to lose to a seemingly more cohesive European team time and again. Entering the week, the US had won the Ryder Cup just five times in the past 38 years.
But this 2021 Ryder Cup team was a US team unlike any other. Six rookies made the squad compared to just three for the Europeans, but they weren’t just any rookies. They were world class players who were ready for the big stage.
Collin Morikawa arrived at Whistling Straits as a two-time major champion and formed a formidable duo with the team’s elder statesman Dustin Johnson, going undefeated in team play.
Morikawa then clinched the winning point for the US on the 17th hole of his singles match against Viktor Hovland, and Johnson defeated Paul Casey to become the first American to go 5-0-0 in a Ryder Cup since Larry Nelson in 1979.
We had an idea that close friends Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay would get paired together in their first Ryder Cup appearances. We knew their personalities meshed well, but they both turned into silent assassins for the US team.
The only “true” rookies on the team were Harris English and Scottie Scheffler, presumably the two biggest question marks for the Americans. English had a solid week going 1-1-0 with Tony Finau, while Scheffler had a breakout performance going 1-0-1 with Bryson DeChambeau and taking down world number one Jon Rahm in singles.
This week marked a changing of the guard for the Americans. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson weren’t on the team, leaving Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas to take over as vocal leaders.
Thomas and Spieth weren’t the most successful pairing on the course, but they felt like the heartbeat of Team USA. Spieth hit the shot of the week and almost fell into Lake Michigan on the 17th hole Friday.
Thomas hit several stellar long irons and club twirled his way around Whistling Straits. His putting stroke wasn’t at its best, but Thomas never missed a chance to rile up the crowd after a big make. He would certainly top the list of “players most likely to earn the nickname Captain America” going forward.
They were victorious in 2008 and 2016, but followed both with defeats two years later. It appears Steve Stricker has finally figured out the Ryder Cup formula. He changed the qualification process to give himself six captain’s picks and give him the flexibility needed to field the best team possible. He succeeded, forming an American group with an average OWGR of 8.9 that turned into the greatest Ryder Cup team of all-time.
Much was made of the chemistry issues that could plague the Americans this week, but Stricker and his team blocked out all the noise and chemistry was never a concern.
“I’m Speechless. These guys all came together. They had a mission this week,” Stricker said. “Brooks (Koepka) and Bryson (DeChambeau) wanted to play together. That’s how much they all came together. “This is a new era for USA golf,” Stricker said.
The best part of the Ryder Cup is the players who show different sides of themselves. Some players seem to feed off the energy of the event more than others.
Cantlay is normally quite reserved and stoic on the golf course, but he let out emotion that we have yet to see from him, fist pumping after every made putt and encouraging the crowd as they chanted "Patty ice" and “no hat Pat” all week long.
"In the moment and with the crowd behind me and feeling like everyone is totally on our side, which is what it felt like all week, it just makes it so much easier. And knowing that I'm playing not just for myself but for the rest of the guys, it just makes everything that much more important," Cantlay said.
DeChambeau, who had been the subject of endless ridicule from spectators all year, had them on his side this week. He gave them plenty of reason to cheer, as he had the moment of the week with his 417 yard drive on the 5th hole during his four ball match with Scheffler Friday. He then earned a tough win with Scottie Scheffler Saturday, then drove the green and made eagle on the first hole of his 3 and 2 victory over Sergio Garcia in singles.
He played to the crowd at the sixth, as there was a dull murmur of disappointment when DeChambeau pulled 3 wood at the short par 4. But the cheers quickly returned when he turned to the crowd and said “Don’t worry guys I’m still going for the green,” then hit it just left of the green and made birdie.
If there was anyone who deserved the adoration of the American crowd, it was DeChambeau, and he soaked in every second of it.
"I fed off every single shot. They were electric. It's an atmosphere you don't get very often but one that you can feed off when you do," DeChambeau said.
The 2016 victory at Hazeltine merely pressed pause on the European Ryder Cup dominance. It feels like this year's win has completely turned the tide. Just three members of this 2021 team (Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka) were on the winning side five years ago. Two members of that 2016 team (Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson) were vice-captains this year.
That team had plenty of names from years gone by. The likes of Brandt Snedeker, JB Holmes, Jimmy Walker, and Matt Kuchar were replaced with Morikawa, Cantlay, Schauffele, and other young guns that have ensured that the future of American golf is brighter than ever.
“I woke up this morning and I was trying to tell the guys -- this is going to be the next era of Ryder Cup Team for the U.S. side,” Cantlay said. “We have a lot of young guys and I think they are going to be on teams for a long time and I want to send a message.”
Even Brooks Koepka, who seemed less than enthusiastic about team competitions before this week, got on board. He even hugged it out with DeChambeau after the winning press conference while Justin Thomas serenaded them with "Why can't we be friends."
“It’s a different group of guys,” Koepka said. “It’s a lot more fun than in year’s past.”
Stricker has always been a no-nonsense guy. He said that a lot of the duties of being Ryder Cup captain made him uncomfortable because he doesn't like to talk. But Stricker was the ultimate player's captain, he knew they didn't need anything from him to win, he just wanted to get out of their way.
Stricker became the most innovative US captain ever not from what he did do, but what he didn't do.
"I just tried to make it easy for them, that's really what I wanted to try and do, and that was kind of my way back in 2017 on the Presidents Cup team, as well, and make it relaxed," Stricker said. "I really had nothing planned for the week, no speeches from anybody, no videos. We all know it's a huge event as it is. We don't need to have some famous person of higher stature come in and tell us how important it is and we need to get fired up and do this and do that."
Because of what happened in 2010 and 2018 immediately following US victories, it can be argued that this win means nothing until if and when the US retains the cup in 2023.
"If we play like we did this week, the score will look the same over there in a couple years, and that's what we're here for," Spieth said.
But for now, this US team will celebrate knowing they jumpstarted a new generation of American golf. Stricker didn't lift a major championship trophy as a player, but in typical Stricker fashion, he considers this win of equal importance.
“I never won a major, but this is my major right here,” Stricker said.