The United States record in the Ryder Cup has been abysmal in recent years. I have seen various explanations for this, but none seem to be particularly compelling. To me, it has always seemed that the Europeans want it more. Their intensity level seems greater than that displayed by the Americans. The exception to this was the Paul Azinger coached team. Zinger epitomized intensity during his career, and brought the same competitiveness to that team. It remains to be seen if David Love can build a similar attitude, but he seems to be paying attention to history. His decision not to name Bubba Watson to the team with his first set of choices would support this opinion. Bubba definitely deserves to be on the team based upon performance and talent, but I question his focus at times. I think the selection of J.B. Holmes was great, and would love to see Daniel Berger get the final spot. I will take intensity over experience; especially since the team is already loaded with players who have competed in multiple events, and the Euros are very inexperienced.
Although the final team has not been selected, I am confident this will be the year the Cup returns to the States. Home field advantage and experience favor the American team, but the respective players also line up well. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed should anchor the squad. Both are incredibly intense and playing good golf at this time. Spieth might have had an off year, in his opinion, but he generally shines under the bright lights (back nine of the Master’s aside). Reed has been at the top of his game, and the Ryder Cup is very important to him. Michelson loves the competition. If he gets the right partner to keep him under control, I expect a bunch of points. Zach Johnson will grind it out. I really believe the length issue is overrated. If distance is a factor, it will be great to have Holmes. I expect him to perform well also.
This brings us to the talented, but less intense group headed by Dustin Johnson. With Jason Day having trouble hitting fairways, DJ looks like the best in the world right now. The suddenly hot putter makes him almost unbeatable, although I would prefer a more intense approach. Brooks Koepka falls into the DJ category with respect to being “laid back”, but incredibly talented. I would probably pair them together, and then let them loose. The fun-loving Ricky Fowler concerns me a bit. He has not been playing well, and seems to be more bothered by pressure situations. I am hoping that he can get on a roll. The good news is that a triple bogey is no worse than a bogey in match play; and Ricky has been particularly susceptible to the blow up hole. I am also concerned about Jimmy Walker, but his performance in the PGA was encouraging. I still question whether he can hold up under the pressure. He is intense, but also too self-critical (same can be said for Spieth, but he seems to shake it off better). I am not sure what we will get from Brant Snedeker and Matt Kuchar, but both are experienced and had good years.
Love will probably be pressured into taking Bubba with the last choice. If so, I expect little, but it may not be needed. If Berger performs well in Atlanta this week, I would definitely toss him on the team. Even if he does not do well this year’s Ryder Cup, he should be a regular contributor in the future.
Meanwhile, the European team is loaded with question marks, and does not have the enigmatic Ian Poulter, who only seems able to hit a great shot if it matters in a Ryder Cup. His absence alone hurts the team. The best player, Rory McIlroy, has huge putting problems. Further, he looks like a guy who is not enjoying the game these days. If his talent does not carry him, I expect he will be the biggest disappointment. Stenson is cold blooded, but has injury issues. Martin Kaymer runs hot and cold, and like Stenson, does not seem to be a “rah rah” guy. Lee Westwood has great experience, but has had a mediocre year and also seems quiet. Without Poulter and G-Mac the Euro’s have lost a lot of their soul.
Ryder Cup rookies Danny Willett, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Mathew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood, Thomas Pieters and Andy Sullivan may have their moments, but I do not expect them to hold up over the entire tournament.
The two players who are most likely to perform well are veterans Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia. Along with McIlroy and a healthy Stenson, I feel these are the only four who would have made the American roster.
While talent has never been the ultimate predictor of victory, the combination of experience, home field and presence of a more intense squad should work to the U.S. advantage. My prediction is the Americans win in a mini-rout at Hazeltine this year.
Weekly Observation: The FedEx Cup finals followed by the Ryder Cup makes the next two weeks the best in golf. Who needs the NFL?
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He is in the process of completing the story of his journey to play America’s top 100 courses. Please visit this website regularly for more (im)practical information.