I watched pretty much every minute of the Ryder Cup coverage and the eventual score of 16.5-11.5 probably doesn’t paint the true picture of a very memorable contest.
Europe never looked back after their flying start on Friday morning.
Momentum is huge in the Ryder Cup and they prevented the United States getting any sort of impetus – until a period on Sunday when they finally started to fight back.
The United States were unable to put any red on the board on Friday, which was huge.
There is enough pressure on players, captains and vice-captains during a Ryder Cup but that dreadful start would have heaped even more on Zach Johnson and his team and it wasn’t until Saturday when they finally won one of the matches.
Key players turned up
Two vital areas for Europe were, firstly, how the big three of Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Jon Rahm played.
If they were going to have any chance of winning back the trophy they needed their main men to be on top form.
They all played fantastic golf and were pivotal in Europe’s victory.
Secondly, Europe needed the rookies to contribute – and they did.
They managed to find good pairings for the Ryder Cup debutants – either with very experienced players such as Justin Rose who played with Robert MacIntyre or by finding players who would complement each other, such as Ludvig Aberg with Viktor Hovland. They also used data to find pairings that would work well.
Wentworth helped forge bonds
One shrewd move by Europe was to have the pairings playing together at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.
If you look back at the pairings, Rose and MacIntyre played with each other over the first two days, as did Sepp Straka and Shane Lowry, Hovland and Aberg, and Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton. This would have helped the players get to know each other a bit better before heading out to Rome.
Luke Donald did an excellent job with the captaincy, especially when we remember he was a late substitute for Henrik Stenson following his defection to LIV. Luke inherited a European team that was looking to bounce back after a massive defeat at Whistling Straits. It was a side in transition because a lot of experienced players had moved on – and a year ago I’m not sure many people would have been expecting Europe to win.
A team effort
Luke assembled a great team of vice-captains. Jose Maria Olazabal brought an emotional link to the past to ignite a spark in the team, especially Jon Rahm. Nicolas Colsaerts was there to bridge the gap with the younger members of the team.
Thomas Bjorn brought in a huge amount of experience from his time as a player and a captain. He would also be able to help fellow Dane Nicolai Hojgaard.
Francesco and Edoardo Molinari gave some Italian representation on the team, and it’s always beneficial to have players from the host country involved, with Edoardo playing a pivotal role in producing the stats and data that was so key to many of the decisions around wildcard selections and the pairings for foursomes and fourballs. It was very much a team success, although Luke deserves a lot of credit for putting it all together.
Donald for Bethpage?
It will be interesting to see what happens with the captaincy looking ahead to Bethpage Black in two years’ time. When you win it can be easier to walk away with huge pride in what you have accomplished. Winning a Ryder Cup away from home is becoming increasingly difficult. Only one of the past nine matches have been won by the away team.
Preparing for a Ryder Cup away from home is a completely different challenge and therec probably isn’t a natural successor if Donald decides he doesn’t want to do it again.
Plenty to ponder for USA
It is always easier to pick holes in the masterplan after a defeat.
There were a few alarm bells early on. The USA arranged a scouting trip ahead of the Ryder Cup which was important but all 12 players didn’t attend.
The Americans often seem to lose the charm offensive or media battle, which puts them on the back foot. The element of team bonding didn’t seem to be there. They didn’t seem to be as cohesive a unit and all of that adds up.
The match was lost in the team element – the foursomes and the fourballs. The USA were so far behind after the first two days they were going to require a landslide victory in the Sunday singles.
Whether the issues about Patrick Cantlay refusing to wear the hat because of a dispute over being paid were true or not, it was a distraction.
It was also surprising that Cantlay organised his wedding for the day after the Ryder Cup.
I certainly wouldn’t do that. If you won the Ryder Cup you would probably still be feeling the effects of the celebrations – and if you lost you could be feeling very down. Not ideal on a wedding day!
Tactics were spot on
Luke drilled into the guys the importance of playing three-hole matches, then to reset and go again. The aim was to get off to fast start and it worked. A lot of the European pairings got off to quick starts and didn’t look back. They kept pushing forward to victory.
The Joe LaCava incident
The incident involving Joe LaCava was disappointing. Patrick Cantlay’s caddie was arguing and gesturing towards Rory McIlroy as he was lining up a putt to tie the match on the 18th green after his player had holed a long putt of his own.
It was exceptionally poor, especially from an experienced caddie. This would have only acted to spur on Europe for the Sunday singles.
A furious Rory McIlroy confronted a Team USA caddie in the car park, after he was spotted waving his cap in McIlroy's face when lining up his final putt on 18… 😳 pic.twitter.com/N0SaDg7AsS
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) September 30, 2023
A week to remember
It was an incredible week for Robert MacIntyre.
Pairing him with Justin Rose was a masterstroke.
You don’t know how a rookie is going to react to being in that cauldron until they are there. Justin helped him along, especially on day one. It gave Robert time to bed in and as the week went on he settled into it and became stronger and stronger.
You could see Bob was a bit upset after not playing as well as he would have liked on day one and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bit of man-management with Luke, Olazabal or Bjorn having a chat with him to remind him of why he was on the team.
He ended the week on a real high with 2.5 points out of a possible three and now he can push for other Ryder Cup teams knowing he has played in one and was undefeated.