So, Europe didn’t stand a chance. I think in the weeks leading up to this year’s Ryder Cup I must have heard this a million times. The accepted wisdom was that this US team was just too strong, too experienced, too Tiger-ish, for Europe to cope. How wrong we all were. (Well, at least I am able to say that I did predict Ryder Cup success for this European team – I just wasn’t expecting it to happen this year).
An incredible effort
‘Unbelievable’ is a much over-used word in sport, but I think that in this case, with this performance, we really did see a performance that merits the word. The USA weren’t just favourites – they were red-hot favourites, with a host of exciting young players and the aforementioned resurgent Tiger Woods. Of course, the Europeans had world number one Justin Rose in their ranks, as well as home advantage, but no one predicted the kind of beating that was meted out to the US team at Le Golf National this autumn.
After a strong start, a slight wobble in the middle and then an assured finish, Europe ended up winning back the Ryder Cup 17½-10½, the second biggest defeat the USA has ever had in the competition.
I want to start first though with what, for me, went right for the Europeans – because there is no doubt that this was a case of them winning it, rather than the US team simply throwing it away. Clearly, a huge amount of the credit for this remarkable win needs to go to captain Thomas Björn, who stuck his neck out to pick a few players – Sergio García in particular – who weren’t exactly in Ryder Cup winning form going into the tournament. But he stuck to his wildcards and won an incredible victory with their help.
It really struck me that Björn somehow managed to hit on the secret of getting the best out of his players, not just by some smart picks, but also by combining them well. The combination of Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter in particular worked brilliantly. After McIlroy and Thorbjørn Olesen were roundly beaten by Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler in the Friday morning fourballs, things were looking a little underwhelming for Rory, with the US leading 3-1. McIlroy had been nowhere in the morning, but combined with Poulter in the afternoon he was a new man. It was an inspired decision by Björn that helped Poulter and McIlroy lead the European team to end the first day with a 5-3 lead after a 4-0 whitewash in the foursomes.
Of course, there is also another man who certainly deserves a mention – the remarkable Francesco Molinari. Fresh from his win at the Open a few months ago, Molinari stormed through the final day of the Ryder Cup, winning a remarkable 5 points out of 5 to put him up alongside only four other players in history to have achieved such a result. Fittingly, Molinari even got to apply the coup de grace to a floundering Phil Mickelson and the US team on the Sunday, beating him 4&2 with the American finding the water on the 16th. It was just one of those weekends for the US team.
So what went wrong for the Americans? Well, despite getting off to a good start on that opening morning, they stuttered in the afternoon and never fully recovered. It may have been fatigue – Mickelson and Woods aren’t getting any younger – or it might have been the distraction of having Tiger Woods back stealing the headlines that disrupted the team dynamic. I also think that it came down to local knowledge – a factor that I though might have some impact, but not to this extent.
The Europeans were ultimately just a bit more savvy on the greens when it came to their putting, and that, I think, points to the real reason why the Europeans rolled over the Americans.
The preparation put in by Björn and his team really paid off -and was a stark contrast to the US team – only six of whom had even bothered to play on the course before. That simply isn’t good enough, and in the end, thanks to a fantastic effort by the European team, they were made to pay for their mistakes.