Monday After Paris

The 42nd Ryder Cup is in the books with the U.S. losing convincingly. Team U.S.A. hasn’t won in 25 years on the other side of the Atlantic, six straight times since their win at the Belfry in 1993.  

The Americans couldn’t seem to hit a fairway particularly when it counted with tee shot after tee shot finding deep lies in deep rough and making a mockery of what has been called the bomb and gouge mentality. The net effect was this neutralized the U.S. players length advantage and then there was the putting. As good as they were Friday morning in the four ball matches with three wins the remainder of the day and through Saturday and then Sunday singles Americans couldn’t make the crucial putts and the Euros could.

Whichever side you were rooting for the action this year was captivating as usual. If you love golf and haven’t been to a Ryder Cup put it on your list for September 2020 when the venue will be Whistling Straits-Straits Course in Kohler, Wisconsin.

Prior to the actual start of play and having to fill hours and hours of coverage plus write thousands and thousands of words my media colleagues predictably engaged in the usual speculation. First it was about who the captains’ picks would be, then whether Paulina Gretzky was going to show up with Dustin Johnson and finally to what the makeup of the parings might be.

Many in the media seemed obsessed with naming the “hottest players” but informed observers know there is no such thing. In fact, it changes from tournament to tournament and even from day to day not to mention within a single round. But, as with much of the pre-Cup coverage they have to talk and write about something.

Once the opening ceremonies started it was evident the producer had some idea about what the fans would like to see and hear. That was accomplished about three minutes in with the fly over by French Air Force fighters. In the view of many the English rock band Kaiser Chiefs and French singing star Jain missed the mark as was conspicuous by the players staring at their shoes and fans just staring.

Master of ceremonies David Ginola did an OK job, but the former Premier League player and current host of France’s Got Talent was a confusing choice having no discernable connection to golf but then probably Carson Daly was busy.

Fans in costume have become a standard feature of the Ryder Cup and some are clever but two small requests. Please NBC, showing obviously inebriated male Euro fans in skirts is going too far not to mention the really terrible head gear they wear. One bright idea, though some may argue, is the ubiquitous Heineken four-cup beer carrier but it certainly saves trips back and forth to the beverage tent.

Truth time – in an earlier column I predicted a U.S. win by a 15-13 score which obviously shows how much I know. The guess was predicated on four factors.
Comparative world ranking which the U.S. was clearly higher, putting stats which showed the U.S. as superior and that there were four rookies on the European squad versus three on the U.S. team. Also factored in was Francesco Molinari couldn’t keep playing as well as he had when he won the British Open and that Sergio Garcia was having an unspectacular year after his Masters win in 2017.

My feelings were so strong Team U.S.A. would dominate that after making my initial surmises based on the foregoing the venue was factored in for at most two points and probably more like one point for Team Europe.

Boy, was I wrong. It was obvious who putted the best and the record of those I suspected as low-performers or non-performers was a huge factor. Molinari went 5-0-0 and the team’s four rookies were a most respectable 7-6-0. Even Sergio managed 3-1-0.

Contrast this with the U.S. rookies at 6-5-0 and the veterans Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were collectively posting 0-6-0.

Oh well, paraphrasing fans in other sports, “There’s always the next in two years.”

Ryder Cup – USA Over Euros

Ok, the real hype can begin now U.S. Ryder Cup team Captain Jim Furyk has made three selections leaving one pick which he will reveal that on Sept. 24. European team leader Thomas Bjorn picks Wednesday completed his roster so let’s take a look at the two squads and make a guess who will prevail at Le Golf National outside Paris.

Team Europe is complete: Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen, Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.

Team USA: Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson and Tiger Woods. That’s only eleven with a player to be named later, in two weeks but let’s assume Tony Finau gets the nod.

It’s best to have some backup to rationalize any guess as to the winner and longtime observers know Ryder Cups comes down to a simple formula. Sinking putts plus making birdies equals taking home Samuel Ryder’s trophy.

We looked at strokes gained putting rank and birdies per round rank for PGA Tour events this season. However, several of the European Team members don’t play fulltime here so European Tour results were also researched and the best ranking used. As an example, Fleetwood is number 193 in SGP on the European Tour and number 77 on the PGA Tour so his PGA Tour rank was used.

That analysis shows the U.S. Team has a clear and significant advantage in both strokes gained putting as well as birdies made per round.

Moving on to a different measurement and though some feel the Official World Golf Rankings are flawed they do give an idea of how players stack up and again show the U.S. with at least some advantage. The top three in the OWGR are Americans (Johnson, Koepka, Thomas) with the lowest ranking being Woods at 26. The Euros can claim the 4, 5 and 6 spots (Rose, Rahm, Molinari) but they have two at 30 or over (Garcia and Poulter).

Who is currently playing well is also a huge factor and since the British Open won by Molinari no Euro team member has won on the PGA Tour. The best finish is a second by Justin Rose at the Dell Technologies Championship.

Other indications of the potential for the U.S. to dominant include that since Sergio Garcia won the 2017 Masters, Americans have won six of the seven majors played with Koepka taking three of them. The strongest competition is on the PGA Tour and to win, much less win repeatedly, is a perfect indicator for the strength of either side. There’s no question Team USA is tops by any objective measurement.

But what about subjective measurements such as heart, desire, maturity and reaction to pressure? Difficult if not impossible to quantify but anecdotally Mickelson is playing on his 12th team and not one of them won at a European venue. Lefty very much wants to correct that, has said so in public and will not hesitate to tell his teammates…probably several times how important a win in France will be to wipe away the blemish of over the pond losses going back to 1993.

Part of any consideration has to be the role rookies will play for each team and the Euros have five (Fleetwood, Hatton, Noren, Olesen and Rahm) while the U.S. has three (DeChambeau, Simpson and Thomas). DeChambeau after back to back FedExCup playoff wins is the hottest player on the planet will be a positive with whoever he is partnered. Simpson won The Players Championship and has a T-2 last month at the Wyndham Championship plus shot a 63 in the third round of the Dell Technologies last week. Thomas should perform well too with three wins this season, spending four weeks atop the OWGR and most recently a win at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in August.

The questions on the European squad not only include their rookies but the inclusion of Garcia by Bjorn. The fiery Spaniard has had a miserable 18 months since his Augusta win and nothing seen lately would make one think that was going to change.  

And that brings us to the wild card factor at this Ryder Cup. For the first time U.S. players will be faced with not just partisan crowds but a whole sports culture exemplified by international tennis, soccer and cycling but certainly not golf. It most likely things won’t become too ugly, but we could see something similar done such as the baiting by U.S. fans in the past of European stalwarts Garcia and Colin Montgomery. It will be a tough experience for U.S. players.

At the end of July, I wrote the early call was a U.S. win 16 to 12. That prediction hasn’t changed except the effect of the European fans wasn’t sufficiently factored in. So, though there is no way Team USA can lose the final score is now guesstimated to be 15 ½ to 12 ½ for Europe.

An Early Ryder Cup Call

At this writing it’s still two months until the Ryder Cup will be played at Le Golf National outside Paris. Italian star Francesco Molinari’s British Open win over two likely European Team and two possible American team members plus a final day push from Tiger Woods was the impetus for many to start speculating on team makeup and which squad will triumph in France.

Well, I enjoy speculating as much as the next guy and felt it might be worth the exercise to look at teamed picked based on the respective current Ryder Cup points list with Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) and PGA Tour putting rank used to select the captain’s picks. Obviously, this isn’t perfect but then no method is without flaws. What is true though is the OWGR shows how players have done against every other ranked player and because the Ryder Cup usually comes down to putting, the relative prowess of the two teams is relevant.

For all its shortcomings the OWGR is a way to compare players over the world’s professional events not just those on the European and PGA Tours but I have always taken them with a healthy dose of skepticism. Without belaboring the point, Rickie Fowler earned 48 ranking points for wining the Hero World Challenge against a field of just 18 players. If I was one of the world top 25 and didn’t get an invitation from the host who happened to be Tiger Woods that would really have upset me.

It’s hard to make a case for including limited field events in the OWGR calculations and the fact is two weeks later Justin Rose won the Indonesian Masters but due to the strength of the field earned just 24 OWGR points. Still it was a full field event not a just a dozen and a half however, they didn’t ask me if this is fair nor do I expect they will.

The other indicator for Ryder Cup performance is putting performance ranking and these statistics are fairly straightforward.

Team USA will be made up of the top eight in Ryder Cup points through the PGA Championship with Captain Jim Furyk having four picks. European Captain Thomas Bjørn will have the first four players on the Ryder Cup points list plus the top four on the World Points list and four captain’s picks. Since many of the European stars play much of the season on the U.S. tour the qualifications were modified. Team lists presume those qualifying on points will stay the same and the only leeway is in those tapped by the captains.

Two caveats. First is the information used was current as of the British Open and second my crystal ball broke in 1983. Here is my list of who will be on each team.

Team USA
Qualifying on Points: Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson
Captain’s Picks: Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Tiger Woods, Xander Schauffele

Team Europe
Qualifying on Points: Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Paul Casey
Captain’s Picks: Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Thorbjorn Olesen, Matthew Fitzpatrick

Some comments and rationalization about the captain’s picks. Furyk will pick Lefty and Tiger almost regardless of how they are playing and since Woods is already one of the team’s vice captains it will save a set of uniforms. DeChambeau and Schauffele are the best of the young talent but its tough to leave veterans Matt Kuchar or Kevin Kisner out unless of course one of them wins the PGA.

The European Team’s first big question is can Molinari continue to be the world beater he has been the past six weeks? Chances are the answer is no…the same answer as to whether McIlroy’s putter will show up and whether Rahm can control his emotions. Poulter is a pick for the same reason as Sergio. Bjørn needs them and though Sergio is playing poorly Poulter won the Houston Open the week before the Masters. In any event you can’t imagine a Euro team without them.

With Ryder Cup experience an important factor the European team appears to have a disadvantage with five rookies (Hatton, Fleetwood, Rahm, Olesen and Fitzpatrick) versus three for the USA (Thomas, DeChambeau and Schauffele) and this might be a big difference. Team USA has an average OWGR of 15.5 to 19.1 which again may be an indicator of performance. In putting, which is often the difference in winning and losing, American’s have a definite edge with an average rank in total putting of 58.9 versus 69.3 for the Europeans. This could help to make up for the European fans who are expected to be a loud and partisan.

After all this that passes for analysis my guess is Team USA retains Samuel Ryder’s cup 16 to 12.

The Presidents Cup Exhibition

It was fun. Fans saw a lot of quality shots hit by a couple dozen of really good golfers…some even deserving the often loosely applied label of world-class. Even the weather cooperated the final day of the Presidents Cup, an exhibition masquerading as intense competition.

It was clear even before the teams were named this was going to be a rout. The International squad just didn’t have the horsepower of Team USA. But of course, they haven’t had it for any of the twelve Presidents Cups with the exception of 1998 when a Peter Thompson led squad beat up on Jack Nicklaus’ twelve and oh yes, I almost forget, there was a tie in 2003

The U.S “Dream Team” so dominated this year it was just one-half point short of clinching the trophy at the close of play on Saturday. Had that happened, Nick Price’s Internationals would have been even more embarrassed but it also would have put the PGA Tour in an uncomfortable position with sponsors and fans.

As it was the twelve Sunday matches were almost pointless, a mere half point from being totally pointless and analyzing the Presidents Cup over its entire 23 year run leads to an inescapable conclusion.

It is just an exhibition. It is not a true competition with the gut wrenching drama of the Ryder Cup, though of course the PGA Tour would like it to be.

Things have been modified over the years starting with going from three to four days in 2000 but the basic format has been fourball and foursomes play capped the last day mano a mano single matches, just like the Ryder Cup.

Potentially thrilling except it isn’t when, as happened this year, a team’s only hope to salvage some semblance of pride is to win the majority of the last day singles matches. The International Team did but it’s hard to believe the U.S. players were really fired up with such an immense lead after day three.

So what’s the remedy or do we relegate the Presidents Cup exhibition to silly season status? There aren’t any options for improvement by expanding the inventory of eligible players as was done in the Ryder Cup when Europe was added to the team composed of Great Britain and Ireland. Frankly there aren’t many golfers outside the U.S. and Europe who are ready for prime time so creating an All-South America Team or All Africa Team and even an All Western Pacific Rim Team would seem to be futile. Additionally any plan impinging on perceived Ryder Cup prerogatives would be impossible to implement, after it is the Holy Grail of international team competition,.

My proposal some will call ridiculous or even ludicrous but change is needed to give the Presidents Cup relevance, to make it a true competitive tussle and save it from the oblivion of just another golf exhibition. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The idea would be to expand both teams by adding female professionals from the United States and around the world, including obviously Japan and Asia to both squads. How many? I don’t know, but the inherent attractiveness of male/female mixed pairings would be unique if not downright compelling for advertisers and fans.

Spice things up by awarding points (definitely not dollars) to participants, i.e., Race to the CME Globe for LPGA players on both teams, FedExCup points for PGA Tour members and even Race To Dubai points if an international is on the European Tour. Points could be allotted just for getting picked with more for each match won and more for winning the Cup.

Players couldn’t help but be enthusiastic plus and a couple of badly needed things would be accomplished. First the Presidents Cup would be rescued by giving fans something exciting and different to watch but more significantly female professionals would be showcased holding their own playing with and against the men.

The time is now for stirring the pot to fix the Presidents Cup…anybody have email addresses for Jay Monahan and Michael Whan?

Finally, I want to take a swipe at all the critics, naysayers and so-called experts who criticized Steve Stricker for selecting Phil Mickelson as a captain’s pick. The eminent philosopher and mangler of the English language Yogi Berra put it well, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Two years ago when Captain Jay Haas tapped Lefty it was the same discordant chorus but at the age of 45 he accounted for 3 ½ points tieing for the most on the team. Mickelson this year played four matches and finished with 3 ½ points only one point behind point leader Dustin Johnson.

At an age when most players, if they even still have their Tour card, are cruising to the magic five-oh and the PGA Tour Champions, Mickelson stepped up and again silenced the know-it-alls who criticized his inclusion on the team. He was ranked fifteenth in FedExCup points with the top ten being automatically getting a spot. By comparison the other captain’s pick eleventh ranked Charley Hoffman had a record of 1-2-0…not exactly stellar.

As a friend of mine said referring to Lefty’s invigorated play the last month of the regular season and his record in the Presidents Cup, “There’s a reason he’s in the Hall of Fame.”

It’s Furyk vs. Bjorn


The selection of Jim Furyk as captain of the U.S. squad is the latest in the run up to the 2018 Ryder Cup to be played against the European team captained by Thomas Bjorn over the Le Golf National in Guyancourt, France, a suburb of Paris.

Comparing the two captains is an interesting exercise though it probably doesn’t offer any significant insight as to who will win the 42nd playing for Samuel Ryder’s trophy.

Bjorn, from Denmark, has been a stalwart of the European PGA Tour counting 15 wins in his career though has never won on this country in 116 starts and his best finishes in majors have been ties for second, twice in the British Open and once in the PGA Championship. At the age of 45 he has played on three winning Ryder Cup teams – 1997, 2002 and 2014 – and has the reputation of being very vocal with his opinions, sometimes to his detriment. In addition Bjorn has been a vice-captain for the Euros on four occasions including their loss last year at Hazeltine.

The Dane’s overall record 3-4-2 in Ryder Cup play is less than eye-popping but then neither is Furyk’s at 10-20-4.

Furyk has lots of Ryder Cup experience having been a member of nine squads, two of which (1999 and 2008) won.

At Hazeltine this past fall Furyk was one of Davis Love III’s vice captains but Furyk’s best Ryder Cup moment was undoubtedly his singles match on Sunday against Sergio Garcia in 1999. Ben Crenshaw’s team overcame a four point deficit the final day achieving an unlikely victory with Furyk’s 4 and 3 win over Sergio Garcia being a highlight.

At 46 years of age Furyk is still an active member of the PGA Tour giving him current knowledge of the younger players and the Pennsylvania native can still really play. At this writing he is 37th in the world ranking points and last year at the Travelers Championship shot 58 in the final round–the lowest score ever on the PGA Tour. He has won 17 times on Tour including the 2003 U.S. Open and to go with his 58 in 2013 became the sixth player to shoot a 59.

As far as a successful defense, it’s worth noting the last time an American team was able to do it was 1993 which coincidentally was the last time they won outside of the U.S.

If you are looking for early form 21 months out there aren’t any overwhelming nor outstanding factors except for perhaps one thing. The decisive 2016 win by Team USA over Team Europe 17 to 11 probably saved the Ryder Cup from a loss of interest by fans here in America as well as potentially a loss of player enthusiasm. After all, it’s tough to get up for a team that had lost eight of the last ten Cups.


Did Hazeltine Save the Ryder Cup?

Now that a few days have passed since the USA Ryder Cup victory a couple of points should be raised.

Forget the humiliation of four years ago at Medinah. Forget Phil Mickelson’s criticisms of Captain Tom Watson and the “Ryder Cup Task Force” formed after the Gleneagles loss in 2014. Forget Davis Love III was this year’s captain…it’s certainly tough to say anything against him since the team won. Forget Patrick Reed’s over the top enthusiasm matched by the likes of Rory McIlroy on the European team.

Disregard the pontificating by pundits with meaningless “in depth” analysis of the swings and psychology and personalities of players on the two teams.

And you can even remove from your memory the few boors among the 240,000 fans visiting Hazeltine from the practice rounds Tuesday through the finals on Sunday.

What made the difference and why Team USA won a decisive win is simple; they just out played (read that as out putted) the Euros.

The atmosphere of a Ryder Cup is dramatically different than any other golf event, be it a regular Tour event or even a major championship. No matter how exciting of how good the golf they just have don’t have the same energy and the same effect on fans.

However, if the U.S. had lost again at Hazeltine golf fans could have been saying, “To heck with it. I don’t need this.”

The reasoning is simple. Ask any baseball or football fan whose team never seems to win the big one. After a while, after the repeated emotional investment, the buildup in anticipation of a win then the heart break and dashing of hopes of yet another loss gets to people. They lose interest.

Case in point I was an avid Buffalo Bills fan until 1993 and the fourth Super Bowl defeat in a row. I never went to another game.

The potential was there for the same thing to have happened to the Ryder Cup if the US had lost again.

It was true back in 1979 as well when Jack Nicklaus suggested in order to make the Ryder Cup competitive, which it clearly was not, European professionals from the Continent be included rather than as it had been with a team solely from Great Britain and Ireland. That brought to the Ryder Cup a couple of the greatest ever. Seve Ballesteros started in 1979 and so did another young continental star in 1981, Bernhard Langer.

As they say, the rest is history. The U.S. before 1979 was 18-3-1 and since then is 8-10-1. How long would have golf fans in Europe supported their team if they continued to be trounced as Great Britain and Ireland were for 50 years?

The answer is they wouldn’t and neither would American fans if Team USA kept losing especially if Hazeltine had been the fourth loss in a row.

The frustration of the players and bad vibes from trying so often and not winning would be a major factor.

There was more than little of that in Mickelson’s famous (or infamous depending on your view) comments in 2014 but his words did help to change what needed changing.

The victory at Hazeltine may just have invigorated both U.S. players and fans and saved the Ryder Cup from suffering a monumental lack of interest.


A Fearless Ryder Cup Prediction


OK, here it is right at the top…the USA will win the Ryder Cup going away thus restoring both team pride and the Cup to these shores after what, as my English friend says, has been “a very rough patch.”

We are all familiar with the history–American dominance ended in 1983 and since Europe has won 10 matches and USA 4 with one tie.

The American team still has to choose four members making it very early for predictions but there are some significant things which lead to the conclusion Team USA will do the job for Captain Davis Love III.

First the players. Team USA so far has one rookie (Bruce Koepka) and Team Europe has six, half of Captain Darren Clarke’s squad. Though in the past some first timers have risen to the occasion, having so many on the team multiplies the odds the intense pressure will be a problem for the Euros.

Next is the American players desire to win on top of all those losses and after what can only be called a humiliation in 2014. Only Phil Mickelson has been on winning U.S. teams, 1999 and 2008, meaning the six veterans on the 2016 team have never hoisted the Cup. As an aside, Jim Furyk (Mr. 58) was also on the 1999 and 2008 teams so he may be a possible pick this year.

Thirdly is home field advantage. Not only will the greatest number of fans be cheering for the Americans but Hazeltine National Golf Club, this year’s venue in Chaska, Minn., is a quintessential American parkland design by Robert Trent Jones in 1962 with updates beginning 1991 by Rees Jones. The Euros are used to playing on this style course so the home field advantage is not the site but the enthusiastic thousands outside the ropes.

Finally, the secret (which really is no secret) to winning a Ryder Cup is making putts and by any measure the eight Americans on the team so far are much better on the greens than the 12 Euros. Considering the most likely four players that could be added to the U.S. team—Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar—Kuchar is 21st and Fowler 46th in strokes gained putting on Tour and both Watson and Holmes though ranked in the 130s have the reputation of being able to go low. So putting for a change will be a strength for Team USA.

We all know however, regardless of dressing it up with facts, predictions like this one are really from the heart not the head but like millions of other fans I will be glued to my television the end of September.

The Silver Putter


Next year is a Ryder Cup year and the 2016 contest between teams from the United States and Europe will be played over the storied Hazeltine Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. Team Europe is on a roll having won eight of the last 10 Cups with the Americans in 2014 being defeated by a score of 16.5 for the Euros to 11.5 for the U.S.A. at Gleneagles in Scotland.

Team U.S.A.’s most recent victory came in 2008 by the same score.

Golf fans are familiar with much of Ryder Cup history going back to 1927 but there a one recent tradition they may not know about and that’s the “Silver Putter.”

The Silver Putter was first presented to the PGA of America at the close of the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales by Ryder Cup Europe, in a case with plaques engraved with the names of all the past match venues. At the 2012 matches, played at Medinah Country Club (Illinois) it was accompanied by 24 silver golf balls, one for each member of the two teams. Meant to be both a reminder and link to the past, present and future matches, it travels to the host site with a ceremony similar to that of the Olympic torch.

Gleneagles has now presented the Silver Putter to Hazeltine, host venue next year, where it will be prominently displayed before being passed on to Le Golf National outside Paris, France, the 2018 site.