News & Opinion

U.S. shows moxie needed to beat Europe

Now that everyone has washed the champagne out of their hair and the singing has concluded from the recent Presidents Cup, it’s time to think about the next hurdle for the Americans in team golf: the Europeans.

The Ryder Cup will be played in France in September. Unlike last week’s matches at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J., where the crowds were partisan and the course offered a familiar setup for the Americans, Le Golf National near Paris will present a different challenge.

Not since 1993 has a U.S. Ryder Cup team won in Europe, and many of the losses in succeeding years have been convincing European victories.

Dating to the Europeans’ pivotal triumph in 1985, when they ended a 28-year U.S. hold on the Ryder Cup, momentum has swung dramatically in the biennial series. Europe has won the cup 11 out of 16 times, posting a 10-5-1 record in that span. 

The U.S. has not won consecutive matches since 1993, when the Americans triumphed at The Belfry in England after having prevailed two years earlier at Kiawah Island, S.C.

After a blowout 19-11 victory Sunday against the Internationals at the Presidents Cup, the American squad appears to have the right stuff to turn the tide in the Ryder Cup. Although the U.S. should field a squad mostly intact from last week, recent history has shown that victory against Europe – especially in Europe – is a tall order.

“The team they faced over there has a lot of experience on that golf course,” U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk, who was an assistant to Steve Stricker in New Jersey, said Sunday. “One of the things that I think Europe has done very well is, they seem to pick venues that they're very comfortable with, that guys know very well. They have had the French Open there a couple times, and I think having that home-court advantage is a big deal.”

At Liberty National, the U.S. 12 were better top to bottom than the Internationals, by any measure. Talent – and especially talent that is on form – should be able to overcome any perceived home-course advantage by an opponent.

Yet, the Europeans generally have been regarded as the less-talented bunch in Ryder Cups – measured by world rankings, major titles and overall victories – yet have found a way to win.

Furyk will inherit a nucleus of at least five players: Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. He also likely will have Phil Mickelson, who has found the match-play elixir. Mickelson, who would be 48 at the Ryder Cup, has gone 8-1-3 in his past three international team events.

Furyk said that his understudy role in New Jersey gave him an insider’s view of his potential roster.

“Really, it's a lot about just getting to know some of the players better that I didn't know,” Furyk said. “Matchups, pairings, personalities. We had five guys on this team [Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Kisner and Thomas] that never have played in one, and I thought they all played great. We learned a lot about their strengths and what they're good at, and I was proud of all of them how they played. The hardest part about being a captain this week for all of us – and for Strick, particularly – was we had to actually sit people.”

Furyk found a natural pairing in Fowler and Thomas, who went 2-0-1 as a team in the Presidents Cup. They complement the strong pairing of Reed and Spieth, who have gone 8-1-3 in international matches since being paired together in the 2014 Ryder Cup. 

Yet, the Americans still have issues to solve. Spieth has not won a singles match in five cup events, losing to Jhonattan Vegas, 2 and 1, on Sunday to fall to 0-5 career.

Of course, it would be easy to say that with the U.S. needing only one point from among the 12 singles matches that the outcome effectively already had been settled. But on the eve of his match against Vegas, Spieth didn’t sound as if he were facing an insignificant round.

“I would certainly like to get a win column in these singles matches,” Spieth said. “I think Leish [Marc Leishman, Spieth’s singles opponent in the 2015 Presidents Cup] is one of the most underrated players in all of golf, and he played really well two years ago [in a 1-up victory against Spieth]. I ran into Graeme McDowell [in a 2-and-1 loss in the 2014 Ryder Cup] with some heroics, and I had Graham DeLaet hole a bunker shot in 2013 [in a 1-up loss in the Presidents Cup]. And Henrik [Stenson, who beat Spieth, 3 and 2, in the 2016 Ryder Cup] was playing the best golf at the end of the year as anybody in the world. I've not had a fair share of luck in those, but I haven't deserved a win in any of those matches, either. I'm looking forward to going out tomorrow and trying to put a win in the win column.”

That didn’t sound like a disinterested competitor.

Thomas also lost his singles match, to Hideki Matsuyama, as the U.S. dropped a singles session for the first time since 2013, but only the third time in Presidents Cup history.

After last week, this analysis also could be considered nitpicking. Of course, none of it will matter if the U.S. team shows up in form in Paris next September like it did in New Jersey last week.

But that’s a big if.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli