As the stands are taken down following Ryder Cup week in Kohler, Wisconsin, Team USA have climbed back to the top of the golfing mountain after regaining the trophy with an emphatic 19-9 victory over Europe at Whistling Straits.
Beating their opponents across the pond by a record 10-point margin, the strongest American side in the tournament’s history were not undone by the burdens of pressure on home soil, instead rising to the occasion to eclipse their 1981 victory at Walton Heath.
Boasting 12 players all inside the top 25 in the game, Steve Stricker‘s men were the dominant force from the opening tee shot of Friday’s foursomes and only briefly did Europe threaten a comeback.
US teams of the past have boasted big names before and spectacularly failed, but such was the sheer talent at their disposal on this occasion they could not fail to deliver and the US did so in heavyweight fashion.
A statement victory
Even before the week began on the shores of Lake Michigan, the hosts were overwhelming favourites to regain the Ryder Cup on home soil, but to do so in record fashion is quite the feat.
Leading 6-2 and 11-5 after the opening two days, the chasm between the sides grew across the weekend.
Having been on the receiving end of a five-point plus defeats four times since 2004, this was a sweet moment for the US.
If Collin Morikawa‘s half point versus Viktor Hovland sealed the formality of reaching the magic 14 1⁄2 point mark, the US pushing on to a 19-point total was mighty impressive.
Stricker outstretches Harrington limitations
Prior to the 43rd edition of the tournament, only one US captain had sampled victory since 2010, with Davis Love III‘s winning troupe taking victory at Hazeltine in 2016. Victory here for Steve Stricker was sweet indeed.
A player with winning experience in 2008 at Valhalla, the 54-year-old in his native Wisconsin looked at home just a few hours from his native Madison, proving to be one of the most likeable US captains in recent memory and his players reveled in his leadership.
Stricker was blessed with a plethora of talent for sure, but with the pressures of expectation, the threat of friction from within the camp threatened to interfere, but it was nowhere to be seen,
Instead, the winning team photo was a picture of harmony across the weekend in the Badger State – even the much-publicised rift between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka was put to one side with a final day embrace after victory was secured – to Stricker’s and his vice-captains’ huge credit.
Whilst Harrington was a popular choice in the European team, the Irishman was always swimming against the tide of abundant quality the US had in their ranks and it would unfair to point the finger of blame in his direction given the circumstances.
But nevertheless, the Dubliner joins fellow Irish company in Darren Clarke as the only other man to skipper a losing European team in the last 11 years, which given his own stellar Ryder Cup record will sting.
In short, Harrington came up against opposite number with more options and flexibility, with the further disadvantage of leading a side which is now heading toward something of a transitional period.
Stricker meanwhile, was enjoying the crowing moment of his career. As Stricker poignantly noted during his closing speech as he gleefully received the trophy, “I’ve never won a major…this is my major”.
Experience finally catches up to Europeans
For Europe, it was a chastening week.
Having won four of the last five Ryder Cups before arriving at Whistling Straits, the men in blue remained with an air of optimism under Harrington, but by Sunday, a sizeable reality check had set in.
Whilst the Americans were banking on their sheer personnel muscle in Wisconsin, the visitors had pinned their hopes on a continuing trail of experience, but by the end of the weekend, it was the latter outfit that looked a very tired and weary band.
In truth, a lack of form across the European team was telling, and after the same group of players had experienced so many successes and often emotional victory, it was a difficult week for many for swallow.
Not least Rory McIlroy, who despite salvaging his weekend with an impressive win against Xander Schauffele in Sunday’s singles, was unable to recapture his form of previous Ryder Cups, with his 54% win ratio taking a hit.
Indeed, when the Northern Irishman was interviewed course-side by Sky Sports’ Henni Koyack, McIlroy’s seven-year shortcomings were painted in excruciating manner, and his dismay was rather a metaphor for what will surely be the end of a special European era.
It was perhaps rather significant that all three of McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood – now with 24 Ryder Cup appearances between them – all brought home a point apiece in on Day 3, but as part of a team failed to make inroads against their rampaging opposition. Paul Casey also failed to take a single point from his four games.
It was ironic then, the shining stars of the European challenge in Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm rekindled the spirit of Seve and Ole on the Straits Course, but having won all three of their matches together, both lost in singles competition.
These combined failings against the best players in the world were telling.
As the US celebrated, European faces understandably portrayed a rather different emotion; a picture of gloom at the presentation ceremony.
This was still a very good European side, but one which contains just two major winners since 2017 and that statistic came home to roost.
The question moving forward now is in what direction can this defeated bunch go, but more importantly, who do they turn to to match up to their rivals?
Europe must seriously up their game in 24 months’ time, but even with the fans next time in their corner at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club, there is some serious work ahead.
Indeed, it could be some time before the Ryder Cup is prized away from American clutches and back in European hands.
US could dominate for years
Conversely, the US pack look spritely and full of vim in the midst of the biggest and most youthful talent pool perhaps in US golf history. It was however, the experienced head of Dustin Johnson that stole the show.
Guiding Team USA’s ship through the weekend, winning all five of his games, DJ rather bucked his previous Ryder Cup record of nine in 16 losses since 2012.
For the South Carolinian, five was indeed the narrative of the week, as in his fifth competition, the 37-year-old was the eldest of the group by some five years. At the other end of the age spectrum though, his foursomes and fourballs partner Collin Morikawa was an equal menace to Europe.
No fewer than seven players brought home 2.5 points or more at Whistling Straits, and it was the complete all-round US team performance, with the full quota of personnel claiming at least a point towards the final winning total.
That same display could be an ominous portent for what might come next.
Johnson and Morikawa will surely be in Italy when the US defend the trophy in 2023, but so too will Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, coupled with a rapidly-improving Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay.
In summary, it would not be a surprise to see the majority of the same team reassemble in the shadows of The Eternal City in two years time.
And looking at the bigger picture, this latest US team may well be on the verge of a golfing dynasty.
The 2021-22 PGA Tour season continues through October.
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