The ‘Ryder Cup’ has evolved into one of the most revered and eagerly anticipated global sports events. The three-day event, beginning this year on 28 September, has become synonymous with unwavering passion, bitter rivalry and partisan atmosphere. Amidst raucous crowds, European players compete ferociously against their American counterparts and vice-versa. In the heat of intense battle, some golfers rise to the occasion and play beyond their usual limits, whilst others falter and shrivel up in the proverbial pressure cooker. For one week biennially, players and fans abandon their typically restrained decorum and let loose amongst unparalleled excitement and drama. Put simply the ‘Ryder Cup’ is a golf competition, but not as you know it.
An event steeped in rich history, ‘Team USA’ dominated the early ‘Ryder Cup’ encounters against their British and Irish opponents. But since their opposition was expanded to include the whole of Europe, this US dominance was first arrested and then entirely reversed. Whilst the USA may be the current holders, Europe have won eight of the last eleven ties and the US are without a win on European soil since 1993. Evidently, the magnitude of the task facing the current US team is significant notwithstanding that they do appear a stronger and more unified outfit this time round.
Central to the hype and anticipation surrounding the upcoming Europe/ US battle is the compelling evolution of both sides’ structures and systems. The respective teams have learned from past mistakes and remodelled their qualification processes to ensure that the best twelve players were ultimately selected this time round. For example, there was no repeat of Billy Horschel’s omission in 2014, where the then recently crowned FedEx Cup champion was left out of the US team due to Captain Tom Watson selecting his wildcards before the Playoff events. Horschel duly won two of these events and was the most in-form player on the planet, and his absence substantially hindered the US team. However, such a scenario could not arise again given that both sides pushed back announcing their wildcards until the first week in September. Moreover, increasing the number of picks to four allowed each Captain to attain his desired blend of form and experience, whilst the reweighting of the qualification points system to favour more recent events precluded players from hanging on to a place based on good results from nearly a year previous, à la Andy Sullivan in 2016.
Furthermore, the efforts of Keith Pelley (CEO of ‘The European Tour’) in incentivising US-based European players, like Paul Casey, to become eligible for ‘Ryder Cup’ selection meant such top players could once more qualify for and, no doubt, bolster ‘Team Europe’. Essentially, both teams’ improved systems eliminated the prospect of having unwanted absentees and has ensured both teams will arrive in Paris with their best possible consortium.
‘Team USA’ are the undisputed favourites to lift the coveted golden trophy. Nine of its players are major champions, with all of them occupying places in the top twenty-five of the world rankings. Utterly dominant in the most recent Ryder and President’s Cups, the Americans appear to have found a camaraderie and togetherness unmatched even by the renowned European spirit. The establishment and implementation of the ‘Task Force’ (in which US golfing icons collaborate and pool knowledge to decide on policy and strategy) has worked tremendously and transformed the dynamic of ‘Team USA’ to embody positivity, harmony and high-achievement. The US have found a template which allows their stars to blossom and, aided by the resurgence of the great Tiger Woods, will be formidable opponents.
The European side does not possess the same depth of talent as their US counterparts. Nevertheless, global superstars Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari will command the respect of any opponent, whilst the emergence of Jon Rahm, a truly world-class player, in the last two years is a major boost to European hopes. With five rookies on the team, Captain Thomas Bjorn’s selection of Garcia, Stenson, Casey and Poulter as wildcards will lend valuable experience to complement his novices’ youthful exuberance. Undoubtedly, Bjorn will hope that the very tight and highly challenging layout at ‘Le Golf National’ will work to his team’s advantage. The golf course rewards accuracy and precision; qualities which his team have in abundance and which are sometimes lacking from the all-out power game of the American players. Consistent, pure ball-striking is of particular importance in the foursomes matches and, as in 2010 and 2014, the Europeans must dominate these sessions to stand any chance of victory.
The ‘Ryder Cup’ is a truly unique sports event which rarely fails to match the anticipation and hype it engenders. But the modern-day meticulous planning and preparation makes this upcoming edition feel even extra special. Both sides have exhausted all avenues to give themselves the best possible chance of securing victory and, whilst the US have the stronger personnel, Europe will be confident that the the likes of Poulter and Garcia will once more lift their games to levels rarely seen outside of this biennial competition. Moreover, the boisterous European crowd will do all they can to motivate their heroes and test the temperament of the US players. Such intangible, variable factors like passion and intensity render predicting outcomes virtually impossible. The only thing guaranteed is high-level drama and unrivalled sporting theatre. And so, may the curtain soon descend on ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’
By Jack Stokes – Sports Editor