REARDON: Ryder Cup – U.S. Preview
Since the schedule was adjusted in 2001 in the wake of 9/11, the U.S. has hosted the Ryder Cup matches in the same year the Summer Olympics are staged. (Presidential elections also line up and both parties’ presidents have a win.)
In 2016, the PGA Tour may find themselves challenged trying fit the Open Championship, Firestone, PGA Championship, Fed Ex Playoff series, Ryder Cup and golf in the Olympics all squeezed into a space of a little over two months. But this conversation isn’t about four years from now in Rio. It is about two weeks from now in Chicago.
Earlier this month, American captain Davis Love rounded out his team announcing Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker as choices to join Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Matt Kuchar at Medinah #3.
The most striking contrast between the U.S. team and its European counterparts is in Cup experience. While the Europeans will trot out only one rookie, Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, the American squad will feature four first timers and three with only one Cup performance. In terms of world rankings the two squads are generally equal in prominence with all 24 players in the top 36 in the world.
In a way, this matchup reminds me of a mirror image of the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in Detroit with roles reversed. Both courses have major championship pedigrees and will expose players weakness. The Euro’s veteran presence is reminiscent of Hal Sutton’s squad from ‘04. The Americans were a strong favorite to recapture the Cup led by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Sutton, known more for his golf skills from the neck down, decided to go dream team, pairing Woods and Mickelson twice in the first day. The pairing never worked and set in motion the most one-sided American loss on home soil in Ryder Cup history.
In discussing his captain’s choices, Love talked about the right balance he saw in his team. With the exception of Zach Johnson and Furyk, the team has power off the tee, and with Watson, Bradley and Dustin Johnson they have top-end horsepower that only Colsaerts possesses for the Europeans.
On the greens, Love bolstered his twelve with Stricker and Snedeker joining Zach Johnson as three of the top five putters on tour, with Donald being the only European to match their prowess. With the addition of Furyk he filled an experience and leadership slot. Along with Mickelson and Woods, that trio has nearly as many Ryder Cup appearances combined as the entire European team.
Like any Ryder Cup group, with locked in qualifiers, the American have their question marks. The usually steady Kuchar has not been a leaderboard presence in some time. Until his tie for fourth in Boston, Mickelson had only one top ten since the Masters. Add to that, his new claw grip on the greens reminds one that it was about this time last year that he went to a belly putter and you know how well that went.
Perhaps the strongest recommendation for the U.S. team is on its major resume. Led by Woods fourteen wins, the Americans have 23 major titles, more importantly spread among seven different players. The Europeans total only four with McIlroy owning half.
As is almost always the case, each team has a player or two who are an enigma heading into the competition. For me the person with the most intrigue for the Americans is Dufner. I was completely off when I dismissed him as a player following his collapse at Atlanta and the PGA Championship a year ago. McIlroy and Woods will deny him consideration for player of the year and no one will single him out as golf’s personality of the year. Watching Dufner through the year, one can picture him earning the role of golfer in the remake of “Dawn of the Living Dead.” Imagine if you will seeing Tiger teaching Dufner how to fist pump in the team room Cup week. But he can play.
Finally consider for a moment pairings you won’t hear from Captain Love but would be on my wish list. In four ball, pair Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson and make Medinah play at 8000 yards. Put Simpson and Bradley together and quiz the gallery on which one is Webb and which one is Keegan. Pair Zach Johnson and Furyk and play the members tees. Put Kuchar with Dufner and wager if one will ever stop smiling before the other even cracks a grin.
Predictions are generally useless, and all the more when you consider this source, but I like the Americans, and I’ll quote you a number after we look at the Europeans.
Dan Reardon is Golf Editor at KMOX. He can be heard throughout the week on America’s Sports Voice.