While the European hangovers persist and the Americans’ attempt to lose themselves in football and pumpkin spice latte season, the thought of what might happen two years from now when the Ryder Cup is played at Bethpage Black is already percolating.
It’s a little bit frightening.
If we have learned anything from previous major championships played at the course that prides itself on being tougher than rush-hour traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway, it’s that the New York crowds relish being raucous.
The Ryder Cup thrives on rowdy, on cheering for one side and ragging on the other. It’s golf’s version of a street fight, and it’s going to be a rager at Bethpage.
The fear is that it could become a circus.
The Rome version of the Ryder Cup had its moments last week, thanks to Patrick Cantlay’s hatless head, and it mushroomed into a regrettable moment when caddie Joe LaCava let his emotions get the best of him in an incident with Rory McIlroy. LaCava is a good person who made a mistake, and it will shadow him.
That’s the thing about the Ryder Cup: It’s all chants and singing and good fun until it goes too far.
Keeping a lid on it at Bethpage is going to be harder than dealing with McIlroy, Rahm and Hovland.
All these years later, there are those on the European side who still scold the Americans for their rambunctious reaction to Justin Leonard’s putt that swayed the 1999 Ryder Cup, missing the bigger point that after years of being told they lacked the necessary passion, the Americans were showing how much the event meant to them even if decorum suffered in the delirium.
Passion is the Ryder Cup’s fuel. All these years later, there are those on the European side who still scold the Americans for their rambunctious reaction to Justin Leonard’s putt that swayed the 1999 Ryder Cup, missing the bigger point that after years of being told they lacked the necessary passion, the Americans were showing how much the event meant to them even if decorum suffered in the delirium.
At Bethpage, the Americans will have the home-soil advantage, which may now be the single biggest factor in determining which side wins. In eight of the past nine Ryder Cups, the home team has won, so both sides can skip the analytics where that’s concerned.
Because a lopsided loss such as the Americans’ 16½-11½ defeat Sunday always generates calls for change (though it got uncomfortably close for the Europeans midway through the Sunday singles), there are some adjustments which the American side should consider, including:
- Go back to more qualifiers. The pendulum has swung too far in favor of letting the captain craft his own team. Either make it 12 captain’s picks and do away with the points list or go back to 10 automatic qualifiers. Base it entirely on the calendar year of the Ryder Cup. Sure, having six picks worked brilliantly for European captain Luke Donald, but having more automatic qualifiers would be better;
- Speaking of Donald, the Americans should hope he doesn’t get asked to reprise his role for Bethpage Black. Donald was a brilliant strategist and psychologist, and the Europeans would be wise to ask him to do it again. In defense of Zach Johnson, captains and/or coaches, are to some degree only as good as their players, and Johnson rightly expected his guys to perform better;
- Find a way to get American Ryder Cup players to tee it up before the event. The month-long gap didn’t hurt the U.S. team two years ago, but it seemed to make a difference this year. Assuming that the PGA Tour schedule is similar to what it is now, the U.S. captain should insist on his players teeing it up in the Fortinet Championship the way Donald got his players to the DP World Tour’s BMW PGA Championship before going to Rome.
- Eliminate the distractions. Whether the Cantlay hubbub was real or imagined – the Americans never showed anything that suggested there was an issue within the team and talked glowingly about their experience – go in with no distractions. Xander Schauffele’s father, Stefan, should have stayed quiet at the Ryder Cup instead of rattling on about player agreements and threatened expulsions. There is a time and place to voice those concerns but not during the competition. It’s not his place to bring it up anyway.
- Find new voices at the top. Maybe Tiger Woods captains the next U.S. Ryder Cup team, and that would be a good thing. But it’s time to move past the same set of vice captains being recycled. As much as they like being part of the Ryder Cup, at least a few of them probably think it’s time to let someone else do it. Webb Simpson was introduced at the Presidents Cup. Stewart Cink saw how it worked in Rome. What about Kevin Kisner?
Given the endless hype machine that surrounds us, the Ryder Cup is one of those rare events that consistently delivers. It did it again in Rome. Though it was a gut punch for the Americans, seeing what the victory means to the Europeans reinforced the unique magic of the Ryder Cup.
It is big, brash and beautiful. It turns single threads into a fabric, and it changes the lens on the game and the people who play it at the highest level. It’s worth waiting two years between Ryder Cups.
Both sides probably need the time.
Top Photo: Ramsey Cardy, Sportsfile via Getty Images
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