News & Opinion

Perception falls short of Ryder Cup reality

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The first day of the 42nd Ryder Cup ended just before noon on the U.S. East Coast. At least, that’s when the last putt dropped in the afternoon foursomes.

In actuality, the foursomes ended at the turn when the U.S. was down a total of 15 holes in the four matches to the Europeans, a deficit from which the Americans never recovered (scores).

The U.S. recorded eight birdies and 19 bogeys over the 60 holes played in the afternoon. By comparison, the Europeans made 14 birdies and only nine bogeys to sweep the afternoon foursomes for the first time since the Ryder Cup was expanded to include continental Europe in 1979.

Why did it go this poorly for the Americans after they won the morning four-balls, 3-1?

Certainly, the Europeans simply played better, as the birdies-and-bogeys comparison would attest. But after the U.S. thrashed the Internationals, 19-11, last year in the Presidents Cup, the perception was that the Americans would continue that dominance this year in the Ryder Cup in France. With the U.S. facing a 5-3 deficit after the first day of the Ryder Cup, that perception is far from reality.

Other perceptions that don’t match up with reality:

Perception: Experience would be enough to carry Phil Mickelson in the matches.

Reality: It’s been widely written that Mickelson’s game was not ready for primetime – or, specifically, the Ryder Cup. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, U.S. captain Jim Furyk put the veteran left-hander out in foursomes, commonly known as alternate shot, a format in which every bad shot is magnified. Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau hit plenty of them in a 5-and-4 loss to Sergio Garcia and Alex Noren.

After the loss – a record 21st defeat for Mickelson in 12 Ryder Cups, dropping his overall record to 18-21-7 – Furyk defended the selection.

“Well, he's got a lot of experience; most experienced Ryder Cupper of all-time,” Furyk said. “I have all the confidence in both of those players, and I have so much confidence in Phil in his ability to take a young player like Bryson and help him out. Also, it's Phil Mickelson, major champion. He's got a lot of experience, and I put that confidence in him. And I'll be honest: I'd do it again.”

I hope he doesn’t mean what he said. Isn’t that the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result?

The only Mickelson who should be on the course today is his wife, Amy.

Perception: Garcia was a bad selection by European captain Thomas Bjorn, who should have taken Rafael Cabrera Bello or Russell Knox.

Reality: Garcia looked like the world-beater he usually becomes in the Ryder Cup. He and Noren recorded six birdies in 14 holes; the other three European teams made a total of eight. With this victory, Garcia’s overall record is 20-11-7, including 10-3-3 in foursomes.

“I have a lot of belief in [Garcia], and this was obviously a great day for him,” Bjorn said. “He got out on the golf course and played well, and I felt like I wanted to have him on the golf course this afternoon because the way he's been this week is exactly the reason I picked him.

“He's been fantastic in that team room. He's been with all those new guys. He's been talking. He's been in a great frame of mind. He just does really well when he gets into this event.”

Perception: Americans Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson pair well together.

Reality: Watson and Simpson lost a one-sided match to Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy, 4 and 2. In three foursomes appearances at the Ryder Cup, Watson is now 0-3-0, including two losses with Simpson; Simpson is 0-2-0. Conversely, they are 2-1-0 in four-balls, but they won’t play in either better-ball session during this Ryder Cup.

Perception: Americans Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas complement each other in foursomes.

Reality: Spieth’s record with Patrick Reed in foursomes at the Ryder Cup is 1-0-2, which, considering the Americans’ poor performance Friday, would have been a welcome relief to get at least a half-point.

Perception: Europe’s Ian Poulter is past his Ryder Cup prime.

Reality: Not only has Poulter got a lot in his Ryder Cup tank, but he makes his playing partners better. Rory McIlroy looked distraught after he and Thorbjorn Olesen lost to Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler in morning four-balls, 4 and 2.

Poulter came to the rescue, lighting a fire under McIlroy for the afternoon foursomes. After they spotted Simpson and Watson a 2-up lead through five holes, the Europeans rallied for a 4-and-2 victory.

“We know what Rory is, and we know what Poults stands for in the Ryder Cup,” Bjorn said.

Furyk acknowledges that he will have to make some changes in his foursomes pairings today, but will he use a butter knife or a scalpel?

It will be a fine line to walk, but that’s why he’s the captain.

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