With the Ryder Cup in Rome barely one week away, the overriding question – as plain as the red, white and blue on the Americans’ team uniforms – is whether this trip overseas will end a 30-year winless spell for the Yankee Doodle Dandies.
As heavily favored as the Americans were earlier this year, the narrative has changed in recent weeks with the new-look European team heading to Marco Simone Golf Club riding a wave of momentum, as well as some of the hottest players in the game.
Just last week, seven of Europe’s 12 players finished T10 or better at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, an indication of the form captain Luke Donald’s team will carry to Italy.
The Americans, meanwhile, have been quieter, though Justin Thomas and Max Homa had top-10 finishes last week at the Fortinet Championship, the only competitive start by any U.S. Ryder Cup players since the Tour Championship last month.
Is there anything instructive to be taken from the American struggles overseas?
They have lost the last six Ryder Cups played on European soil by an average of 4.3 points, a huge margin over 28 matches. The Americans have come within a point of winning twice – in 2010 at Celtic Manor and 1997 at Valderrama – but those are exceptions. Three times, the U.S. has lost by at least five points, including in 2018 near Paris when the Europeans won, 17½-10½.
Six American captains – Jim Furyk, Tom Watson, Corey Pavin, Tom Lehman, Curtis Strange and Tom Kite – have come home empty-handed. Watson was the last victorious U.S. captain overseas, winning at The Belfry in 1993, only to have his encore performance turn into a disaster at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2014.
The Europeans’ advantage in foursomes play is real. They have won an average of 2.8 points in every session over the past six matches played overseas compared to 2.1 points in four-ball matches. The Europeans also have an edge in singles play, averaging 6.5 points in singles overseas since 1997.
Here’s a look at the Americans’ struggles since 1993:
1997 Valderrama, Spain: Europe 14½, USA 13½
In the first Ryder Cup played on the continent, the Europeans ran out to a five-point lead entering the Sunday singles before the Americans stormed back.
Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer and Costantino Rocca combined to go 9-3-1 to help captain Seve Ballesteros win in his home country.
2002 The Belfrey, England: Europe 15½, USA 12½
This one came down to the Sunday singles after both teams won eight points through the first two days.
European captain Sam Torrance front-loaded his lineup, sending out Colin Montgomerie, Sergio García, Darren Clarke, Bernhard Langer and Pádraig Harrington as his first five while U.S. captain Curtis Strange stacked his strongest players for the final matches.
As it turned out, the Europeans won 4½ of a possible six points in the early matches, staking them to a lead the Americans could not overcome.
2006 K Club, Ireland: Europe 18½, USA 9½
This was a full-on rout, with the Europeans winning all five sessions, including an 8½-3½ score in the singles.
Captain Tom Lehman’s team lacked depth, with Ryder Cup rookies Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry and Brett Wetterich posting a combined 0-3-4 record.
2010 Celtic Manor, Wales: Europe 14½, USA 13½
In a competition spattered with mud due to heavy rains that forced a Monday finish, the Americans nearly pulled off a stirring comeback victory.
Down three points entering the singles matches, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson delivered 3½ of a possible four points in their singles matches, leaving Europe’s Graeme McDowell and American Hunter Mahan to decide the outcome in the anchor match. McDowell closed out Mahan, 3 and 1, to win a fourth straight Ryder Cup on European soil.
2014 Gleneagles, Scotland: Europe 16½, USA 11½
This Ryder Cup was a complete failure for the Americans, who not only lost a lopsided competition but it was made worse by Phil Mickelson’s sharp public criticism of captain Tom Watson in the team’s post-match press conference.
“(Phil) has a difference of opinion,” a defiant Watson said. “That’s OK. My management philosophy is different than his.”
Watson’s old-school approach did not sit well with several of the players, and the tension increased in Scotland. It finally boiled over when Mickelson, without directly naming Watson, said the Americans had gotten away from a formula that had worked well in their 2008 Ryder Cup win at Valhalla.
“He has a difference of opinion,” a defiant Watson said. “That’s OK. My management philosophy is different than his.”
It led to the creation of the Ryder Cup task force, which brought a more consistent approach to team leadership on the American side.
2018 Le Golf National, Paris: Europe 17½, USA 10½
The Europeans took the lead on Friday afternoon with a 4-0 sweep in foursomes play, staking them to a two-point advantage entering Saturday. The Europeans doubled their lead on Saturday, sending them into Sunday with a comfortable advantage.
Francesco Molinari became the first European to post a 5-0 record, winning four team matches with Tommy Fleetwood in what came to be known as the “Moliwood” pairing.
The American frustrations could be summed up in one statistic: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau went a combined 0-9 in France.
Top: Tommy Fleetwood and the Europeans were flying high after the 2018 Ryder Cup. Photo: Tom Jenkins
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