SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Thirty-seven months ago, Phil Mickelson orchestrated his own private mutiny after the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles, Scotland.
The U.S. had just been badly defeated, 16½-11½, in a third consecutive loss to the Europeans. The future looked bleak for the Americans.
Mickelson openly questioned captain Tom Watson’s strategy and leadership. It’s clear three years later that many in the team room that night felt the same way.
PHOTO BY ALEX MICELI
U.S. captain Jim Furyk, meeting the media Tuesday in France, would like to get his hands on the Ryder Cup and keep it for years to come.
Jim Furyk, who will captain the Americans in the 2018 Ryder Cup here at Le Golf National, played in the 2014 matches. Now, he is the beneficiary of Mickelson’s outburst and hopes to parlay that uprising into the first American victory overseas since 1993.
“I think what we were trying to do is accomplish more of a longterm success, how are we going to do in the text 10 Ryder Cups, the next 20 years,” Furyk said Tuesday during a 2018 Ryder Cup preview session, touching on the goals of the PGA of America’s task force after Gleneagles. “Let's talk about trying to have a winning record in the next 10 Ryder Cups. Well, in order to do that, we eventually have to win on foreign soil.”
That will be a tall order, considering that Le Golf National, in the southwestern suburbs of Paris, has hosted the French Open 25 times, and annually since 2002.
Although most European players have competed on the course, few Americans have seen it. That would make for a solid home-team advantage.
“Large greens that are 50 yards deep, have different pockets and areas,” Furyk said. “I almost try to attack in the practice rounds: front of the green on Tuesday, middle of the green on Wednesday and back of the green on Thursday. Try to break it down.”
Meanwhile, what might his European counterpart, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, be doing?
“They know the golf course,” Furyk said of the Europeans. “When they go in there Tuesday morning [of Ryder Cup week], they are working on golf balls [for foursomes play]; they are working on pairings; they are working on other things other than trying to learn the golf course, and that will be first and foremost for my team early in the week.”
Add the partisan European fans and the Americans will have their work cut out for them.
Furyk hopes that some of the American candidates will make the trip to Le Golf National for the French Open in late June, three weeks before the British Open, or some other time before fall.
For Bjorn, the road to the Ryder Cup will be a much easier commute. He won’t concede that his team will be favored to win a ninth Ryder Cup in the past 12 events, but he likes the Europeans’ momentum.
At Hazeltine National in 2016, European captain Darren Clarke struggled with a squad that, on paper, did not rival the U.S. team. Six Europeans ranked outside of the world top 30 compared with only one American. The average Official World Golf Ranking of the players: 16.33 for the U.S. to Europe’s 27.75. Even with six rookies, Europe also fielded an older team. The result: the U.S. won, 17-11.
As a vice captain in Minnesota, Bjorn is painfully aware of that European team’s foibles. He expressed pleasant surprise at how even a year out, his team’s makeup will look decidedly different.
“I looked at the world rankings,” he said. “I've got 10 players in the top 20, and the 21st player is European, as well. You tell me a time where there's been 11 Europeans in the top 21 in the world. It might have happened, but it is not something that you see very often.”
In this century, only the 2006 European team, which won at the K Club in Ireland with eight players among the top 21, has even been close.
One of those highly ranked Europeans is Englishman Tyrrell Hatton. A winner of the past two European Tour events, Hatton, 26, has improved to No. 17 in the OWGR and made a statement that he is ready for the Ryder Cup stage. Bjorn clearly is listening.
“He's just in a good place, and there's certain players that come around that you kind of go, Well, that's going to happen eventually; it's just a question of when it's going to happen, and that's kind of everybody that played with him kind of sees that it's there, so you are just waiting for that moment,” Bjorn said. “There's still a long way to go, and I don't make anything about that he's going to make it, but he's certainly put himself in a good position to make it. And then we'll see what then the next 12 months look like, but he's an exciting player and a lot better than people probably think is he.”
Of the top 11 Europeans in the world ranking, three – No. 5 Jon Rahm, No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood and Hatton – would be rookies.
As Bjorn noted, the matches are still 12 months away.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli