I love the Ryder Cup. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that for me, it isn’t just the best golf tournament in the world – it is actually one of the best tournaments in any sport. Why? Well, first and foremost there’s the incredibly competitive format itself. The rivalry between the two teams – the USA and Europe – is fierce, and unsurpassed in golf. It’s uniquely pressurised, as players who are used to playing only for themselves discover what happens to their game when they have the weight of the expectations of an entire continent on their shoulders.
Of course, this is a group of players who know each other well, who have toured together, and who have won and lost against each other over the course of the year. But there is something so purely raw and competitive about the Ryder Cup, with its complex team dynamics and the sense you get as a spectator that you’re getting to watch the 12 best European golfers taking on the 12 best Americans. That makes it uniquely irresistible. And the match play format really encourages these 24 players – who are fired up anyway – to really go for it and play aggressively.
And for me, the other big factor that makes the Ryder Cup stand out is the crowds. With the exception of a few notable American tournaments, golf fans are generally a fairly genteel bunch. Not at the Ryder Cup however – you’ll get chanting, cheering and just a fantastically rowdy atmosphere.
So, it’s a special event – but what have we got to look forward to this year? The top line is that the US might be the hot favourites – but for me, I think it is going to be fascinating to see how the new PGA Tour world number one, England’s Justin Rose, will play and the effect his new status will have on the outcome. He’s had quite a journey to reach the pinnacle of the PGA Tour, and in a sense there is nothing left for him to achieve in the game. If that helps to take the pressure off him a little now going into the Ryder Cup, and allows him to just play his own naturally brilliant brand of golf, he could make a huge impact for the European team.
A tough ask for Europe
But beyond Rose’s successful year, there hasn’t been much for Europe to cheer about. Out of the four Major titles, three are held by players from the US – and that, for most observers, doesn’t bode well for Europe’s top players. But there have been some signs of recovery. The recent FedEx Cup playoffs – which helps to determine the 125 golfers who will retain their PGA Tour playing privileges next year – saw a European resurgence of sorts, with Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Open champion Francesco Molinari and Jon Rahm all playing well. How much of this rise in form carries over into the Ryder Cup remains to be seen, but it is to be hoped that we might have a little more of a competition on our hands that some might think.
That said, this is an American team that I really like the look of. It is strong, right the way through all 12 players, with a lot of young, talented golfers. But there is also a wonderful blend of both younger and older players too, with old hands like Phil Mickelson and yes, Tiger Woods, who can bring the experience this team might need to get it over the line.
Europe are on home territory. Many of them will know the course in Paris well, and that familiarity might bring a small advantage (although I don’t doubt that the Americans will have done their homework too).
But for me, this European team is a real work in progress. There are a lot of young, strong players who are hungry for success on the biggest stage. And I really do firmly believe that this group of European golfers will experience Ryder Cup success. I’m just not so sure that they will do it this time around.