HAVEN, WISCONSIN | Steve Stricker pulled all the right strings as captain, from his six wild-card picks to the course setup to the way he let the players shine without all that hokey motivational nonsense and deployed them to perfection. I mean, every single U.S. player won at least one match.
Pretty good for a guy with a personal 3-7-1 Ryder Cup match record who never won a major.
“This is my major,” Stricker said during the closing ceremony after the record 19-9 U.S. win in his home state at Whistling Straits.
On the other side, three-time major winner Pádraig Harrington will have to live with a lifetime of second guessing after a humiliating defeat. That’s just how it works, especially in Europe. It’s not fair; it just is.
It’s doubtful there were any strings Paddy could have pulled to change the result, but it’s safe to say he overvalued past history, underplayed guys like Shane Lowry and overplayed others like Tyrrell Hatton.
Ryder Cup is ultimately a zero-sum proposition – you win or you lose. But there are shades of gray in the details:
BIRDIE: Dustin Johnson. The first American since Larry Nelson in 1979 to go 5-0-0. The oldest man on the youngest U.S. team finally got his last laugh at Whistling Straits.
BOGEY: Rory McIlroy. Nobody took it harder than Rory that he let his teammates down in partner play, suffering the three most lop-sided losses, getting benched for the first time and helping dig an insurmountable hole. He’ll be hungry in Rome.
BIRDIE: Stricker’s tears. Despite drinking “a couple beers” to get through expressing his love and appreciation for his wife and daughters without crying during the opening ceremony, Stricks released the waterworks. Nobody since football coach Dick Vermeil could cry more in sports.
BOGEY: Matt “Fitzgerald.” Matthew Fitzpatrick has been so invisible in two Ryder Cups, going 0-5, that they couldn’t get his name right on the official transcript. His final approach into the hazard doomed Europe to its most ignominious defeat.
BIRDIE: Jordan Spieth. Sure, he was one of only three Americans with a losing match record (Tony Finau and Harris English the others), but that one amazing shot from a vertical wall when he nearly ended up in Lake Michigan will live in viral highlights forever.
BOGEY: Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood. If this was their last Ryder Cup as players, they walked off with consolation singles wins. But that simply wasn’t enough, and this loss will leave a bad taste until their captaincies.
BIRDIE: Rookies. Fresh tires are always better than retreads. The six U.S. first-timers went a combined 14-4-3. Patrick Cantlay and Collin Morikawa got 3.5 points each. That’ll do.
BOGEY: Sentimentalism. The formula has worked for a long time now, but Harrington painted himself into a corner when the qualifying free-for-all ended by insisting he would pick Poulter barring him “losing a limb.” Guys like Bob MacIntyre, Victor Perez, Guido Migliozzi or even Justin Rose never really had a chance.
BIRDIE: Spaniards. Of all the countries that came in with continental Europe, none has added more color to the proceedings than Spain. Jon Rahm and Sergio García made like Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal with a brilliant 3-0 partnership. Olé, olé, olé!
BOGEY: Overreaction. Brooks Koepka spoke candidly about all the extra demands and ceremonial obligations during Ryder Cup week that wear on him and his routine that brings out his best. You’d think from the overreaction that he’d killed everyone’s dogs. “If he doesn’t love it, he should relinquish his spot and get people there who do love the Ryder Cup,” said Paul Azinger. Not everybody has to genuflect. Get over it.
BIRDIE: Tattoos. Thomas Bjørn established a new unwritten rule by getting a tattoo after his European team won in 2018 in France. Harrington promised to do the same if his team won: “I’d have given up a lot more.” Stricker said “we may have a tattoo artist guy come in on Sunday night; one way or another,” against his wife and daughter’s wishes.
BOGEY: Long-driving prep. Bryson DeChambeau’s pre-Ryder Cup preparation was more focused on training for the Professionals Long Drivers Association World Championship two days after events ended at Whistling Straits. “My hands are wrecked from it,” he told Golf.com regarding his intense training that consumed two 90-minute speed sessions a day. We’ll forgive him this time.
BIRDIE: Make it Count. The European Tour has the best social media marketing team in golf, and it delivered another gem with its “Make it count” video heralding the rarity of representing its team in Ryder Cup and assigning all 164 players their own unique number in the roll call.
OB: Official threats. Koepka and Daniel Berger tried to get relief out of a bush near some piping that in no way impeded Koepka’s swing. García was having none of it and neither did two rules officials. “If I break my wrist, it’s on $%@! both of them,” Koepka said, pointing menacingly at both officials. Not a good look.
BIRDIE: Phil Mickelson. Credit to Phil for actively dismissing arguments to receive a captain’s pick to play in his 13th Ryder Cup despite his historic PGA Championship win. “I haven’t had a top-10 outside of the PGA. You can’t take somebody that is that inconsistent,” he said a month before accepting a low-profile vice captain’s role.
BOGEY: Access. Imagine a media outlet paying a lot of money to cover the Ryder Cup in person receiving this. “Media are prohibited from approaching players on their own, and you are asked to avoid any one-on-one media interviews or conversations while on the golf course or between practice facilities/clubhouse. Only approved rights holder media will be allowed on-course interviews.”
BIRDIE: Zinger. Paul Azinger delivered a great line when Koepka and Berger took down Lee Westwood and Fitzpatrick, 2 and 1, in Friday’s foursomes: “That’s the first win of the season for Florida State.” Ouch.
BOGEY: Patrick Reed. “Captain America,” or whoever runs the @PReedgolf Twitter account, raised eyebrows with its long string of “likes” to tweets criticizing Stricker – including one that called the U.S. captain a “coward” – for not picking Reed for the 12-man team. There was no such passive pouting on the accounts for Webb Simpson, Kevin Na or Kevin Kisner.
DOUBLE BOGEY: GolfFACTS? The burner Twitter account associated with Team Reed was still pouting right up to Ryder Cup week, declaring “Anyone who is PICKED to be on Ryder Cup Team, should have had to automatically qualify w/points for a previous Ryder Cup Team, in order to be eligible to be a ‘pick.’” Play hard, Patrick. You’ll need to.
BOGEY: Premature celebration. There’s no problem with Justin Thomas and Berger shot-gunning beers, but perhaps lunch time on Saturday – even with a 9-3 lead and an afternoon off – is not the right time to act like it’s over. Save it for Sunday next time.
BIRDIE: Brooksies! DeChambeau and Koepka made nice, hugged it out and delivered for the U.S. team despite all their various dustups. As L.A. scribe Sam Farmer said, DeChambeau was a physics major who had to take a chemistry test. He passed.
BOGEY: PGA VIPs. Every Ryder Cup it is ridiculous how many special guests are allowed inside the ropes. Michael Jordan is 6-foot-6 but he gets access in front of the folks who actually paid for a ticket. He’s one of just hundreds littering the holes with every group.
BIRDIE: Norm-stradamus. Comedy fans mourned the loss of unique genius Norm Macdonald just a week before the Ryder Cup after a long, private battle with cancer. But golf fans missed his prolific straight golf Twitter commentary that included predicting with eerily specific accuracy Europe’s unlikely comeback at Medinah in 2012. RIP Norm.
BIRDIE: Cheeseheads. Credit Harrington for initiating a charm offensive with the hostile American fans by pandering to the locals with some practice-round uniforms trimmed in Packer green and gold with players wearing cheeseheads and throwing them into the crowds.
BOGEY: Da Bears? While Harrington courted the local Wisconsin fans, homegrown hero Stricker admitted during opening ceremonies that he’s really a Chicago Bears fan. That drew some jeers. “That didn’t turn out so good,” Stricker said.
BOGEY: American tweed. While the European team walked out for the opening ceremony in sharp dark blue Armani suits, the Americans showed up wearing brown tweed jackets that looked like they came from Bob’s Wisconsin Big & Tall Discount Barn.
PAR: Steph Curry. Move over inside the ropes, M.J. The two-time NBA MVP and three-time champ was an official “insider” for NBC and Sky Sports coverage as part of “global talent partnership” deal with Curry’s production company Unanimous Media, producing original content for Golf Channel’s “Live From” production.
BIRDIE: Tito’s. Naming “America’s original craft vodka” as the official supplier of the Ryder Cup is a choice nobody but Grey Goose can quibble with – and a good reason to take the shuttle to the golf course instead of drive.
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