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RYDER CUP

Finally. The time has come for the 2021 Ryder Cup. The world’s greatest biennial golfing extravaganza (triennial due to last year’s pandemic delay).

Doesn’t it feel like a decade ago that Moliwood helped to guide Europe to an emphatic victory at Le Golf National?

Europe will be aiming to continue their recent dominance against a heavily favoured American side.

This seems to be something of a recurring motif in recent Ryder Cups. You have to ask yourself a simple question: are the European players simply more motivated to win this competition?

Social anthropologists will point to the fact that America values a more individualistic work ethic. That could explain why the Europeans are able to foster such a cohesive collectivist spirit in the face of overwhelming odds.

I apologise for that rather academic digression. I just struggle to understand how some of these American sides haven’t dominated this Ryder Cup.

And don’t just take my word for it. Brooks Koepka said as much in a recent interview, saying “I don’t want to say it’s a bad week. We’re just so individualized…It’s the opposite of what happens during a Major week”. I’m sure Steve Stricker is delighted with this.

Recent History

Let’s not wade too far into the murky waters of ancient history.

All you really need to know is that the Ryder Cup was first staged in 1927 and USA utterly dominated the event for the first 60 years or so.

United States have an overall lead of 26-14-2. However, Europe have edged the competition 11-8-1 since 1979, when the old Great Britain and Ireland team was expanded to incorporate the other countries of Europe (a move that really should have been negotiated earlier).

Team Europe have won seven of the last nine editions.

Unsurprisingly, they have won their last six consecutive home editions of the Ryder Cup. But they have also forged a highly creditable away record, winning four of the last editions on American soil.

Obviously, the States punished Europe during their last trip to Hazeltine.

The Format – 2021 Ryder Cup

For any Ryder Cup aficionado, the format is as time-tested and predictable as an All-Blacks Rugby Championship victory.

Two teams of 12 play out 28 match-play ties over three days, with 14 and a half points needed for victory (14 will be enough for Europe to retain the title).

Each of the first two days will feature one four-match session of fourball and one four-match session of foursomes.

All the players will then compete in twelve singles matches on Sunday.

The Course – 2021 Ryder Cup

The Straits Course, Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin

Designed by Pete and Alice Dye and opened in 1998, the Straits Course is one of two courses at the Whistling Straits golfing complex.

The Straits is a links style course hugging the shores of Lake Michigan.

It was inspired by the dramatic, rugged links of Ireland.

It hosted the 2007 Senior Open as well as the 2004, 2010 and 2015 editions of the USPGA Championships.

Strangely enough, none of those USPGA Championships were won by an American: Singh won in 2004; Kaymer won in 2010; Jason Day romped home to victory in 2015.

The Straits Course certainly follows the recent trend of American Ryder Cup courses.

Europe has traditionally chosen to host the Ryder Cup on fairly tight, tree-lined parkland courses. This tends to play into the strengths of a side known for accuracy.

The Americans have tended to favour a bombers paradise, clearly recognising their physical superiority and opting for high testosterone affairs. Hazeltine was a perfect example of this. Little wonder that it was Belgian bomber Thomas Pieters who shone brightest for Europe in 2016.

At almost 7,400 yards, this par 71 is very much one for the bigger hitters. I think you should also look for players who are able to hit a lower trajectory in windy conditions.

Isn’t it curious that in order to find a links style setup in the Ryder Cup you generally have to be playing in America?

While they will benefit from their greater length, don’t discount a European side who will feel confident on links layouts.

The Teams (with number of Ryder Cup appearances) – 2021 Ryder Cup

USA – To Win Outright (5/10)
Captain: Steve Stricker
Vice-Captains: Fred Couples, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson

Automatic Qualifiers

Collin Morikawa (rookie)
Dustin Johnson (5)
Bryson DeChambeau (2)
Brooks Koepka (3)
Justin Thomas (2)
Patrick Cantlay (rookie)

Captain’s Picks

Tony Finau (2)
Xander Schauffele (rookie)
Jordan Spieth (4)
Harris English (rookie)
Daniel Berger (rookie)
Scottie Scheffler (rookie)

Let’s just deal with facts first. Steve Stricker has probably chosen the strongest ever side in Ryder Cup history in terms of OWGR. Scottie Scheffler is their lowest ranked player at 21 in the world golf rankings. Just to put that in perspective, only four of the European side are ranked inside the top 20 in the World Rankings. This is an exceptionally talented side that should theoretically win this week. This side is also packed with massive ball strikers. DeChambeau. Finau. Dustin Johnson. Koepka. Schauffele. I think that the decision to have six captain’s picks is far more sensible than the European strategy of three. It allows Stricker the space to look at form and not be stuck with some early season wunderkind who has gone drastically off the boil. This side is just jam-packed with heavy hitting talent. Furthermore, both Morikawa and Koepka seem to have shaken off some late health concerns.

This will be the first time in 30 years that neither Woods or Mickelson appears in the USA side. Perhaps this may actually help foster a greater sense of team unity. Having said that, the entire frat boy circus of DeChambeau and Koepka hasn’t exactly mollified American fears. Apparently, they have ‘squashed the beef’. But just imagine if things don’t go according to plan over the first two days. Remember DeChambeau’s disastrous debut appearance at Le Golf National? Speaking of debutants, there will incredibly be six first-time Ryder Cup players this week. Ian Poulter has publicly stated that Ryder Cup experience cannot be underestimated. One overriding theme that is developing this week is one of youth vs experience. The average age of the US side is 29.1 years while the average age of the European side is 34.6. But the experience gap is massive.

Three Key Players – Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith and Bryson DeChambeau

Dustin Johnson could be key to the American charge this week. The laconic American hasn’t always struck one as a team player. But he will quickly need to step into a greater leadership role this week with the playing absence of Woods and Mickelson. His Ryder Cup record isn’t amazing. His overall record reads 7-9-0. But a solid singles record of 3-1-0 tells you everything you need to know about DJ. He may prove essential to bring some calm to this potentially volatile bunch. And who can forget his performance in the 2010 USPGA Championship at Whistling Straits? He only missed out on a playoff due to a controversial two-stroke penalty.

This may seem slightly counterintuitive. Spieth is probably the shortest hitter on this side. But I think that his ebullient nature makes him the natural successor to Patrick Reed as team mascot this year. He has shown his value in recent Ryder Cup as a team man. He has an astonishing 7-2-2 record in fourballs and foursomes. The downside if that he is 0-3-0 in singles. I just have the feeling that we will see a few special things from Spieth this week. You must also remember that Spieth did finish runner-up to Day in the 2015 USPGA Championship here.

Finally, I have opted for DeChambeau. The burly American looked excellent during the FedEx Cup Playoffs. I think that he will be able to exorcize some Paris demons this week. This course just suits him to the bone. I’m sure all those guys out there (Koepka aside) will be desperate to be his foursome’s partner (could be the difference between playing a wedge or 5-iron into some of these pins).

Likely to Disappoint – Collin Morikawa

This is purely based on some of the lingering concerns about his back. Morikawa missed the cut at the Northern Trust Championship and revealed later that he had injured his back during his final round at the Tokyo Olympics. The Open Champion may have to be slightly side-lined this week.

Big Snub – Patrick Reed

Wow, this was a big call by Stricker. To omit Captain America himself: Patrick Reed. He said that it was mostly due to the health complications following Reed’s bout of double pneumonia. And I get that, especially with some lingering concerns over Morikawa and Koepka. But Reed is one of the rare success stories of American Ryder Cup golf over the past decade. Who could possibly forget his epic match against McIlroy at Hazeltine? He is a totemic figure who will surely be missed this week.

Europe – To Win Outright (2/1)
Captain: Padraig Harrington
Vice-Captains: Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, Luke Donald, Robert Karlsson

Automatic Qualifiers

Jon Rahm (2)
Rory McIlroy (6)
Paul Casey (5)
Matthew Fitzpatrick (2)
Bernd Wiesberger (rookie)
Viktor Hovland (rookie)
Lee Westwood (11)
Tyrell Hatton (2)
Tommy Fleetwood (2)

Captain’s Picks

Sergio Garcia (10)
Ian Poulter (7)
Shane Lowry (rookie)

This European side will have a mountain to climb this week. Let’s just have a look at their comparative OWGR average. The American side has an average OWGR of 9. Europe comes in at a lowly 30. One area where Harrington has a distinct ‘advantage’ is experience. His side will only feature three debutants this year. But one huge negative for me has to be their qualifying system. I’m much more in favour of America’s approach. Six captain’s picks will allow Stricker the flexibility to choose form players. Harrington will now have to deal with players such as Hatton and Westwood, with little or no form to speak of between the two of them.

One positive thing about Harrington’s emphasis on experience is maturity. This is a side that has really seen it all over the years. I doubt there’s any Ryder Cup situation that Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter haven’t confronted. And look, I’m sure not everyone in this teams sings kumbaya and sends each other personalized Xmas cards. But there just isn’t the same level of petty bravado in this European side. They seem much better suited to the enforced intimacy of this one strange week every two years.

Three Key Players- Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia

Obviously, the performance of Jon Rahm this week will be crucial. It’s actually hard to remember the time that one individual performer meant so much to their respective team. World Number One Rahm is the one reason that European golf enthusiasts hold some hope this week. Harrington was likely doing somersaults of joy after he missed the cut last week (get some extra rest Jon!). I expect his power and ball-striking to be a feature of the week.

Since his debut in 2010, McIlroy has played in an incredible 24 matches, winning eleven points and halving four. He is one of the most consistent Ryder Cup performers. I think the key to his success is enjoyment. I don’t think there’s anyone else who enjoys Ryder Cup golf more than McIlroy. I think he enjoys a break from the pressure of adding to that Major tally of 4. He is a huge driver who should thrive on this layout.

I think that veteran Ryder Cup stalwart Sergio Garcia will be crucial to European success this week. The Spaniard has been in brilliant ball-striking form of late and is one of those guys who can go toe-to-toe with these intimidating Americans. Lest we forget, Garcia is Europe’s all-time leading point-scorer with 25.5 points.

Likely to Disappoint – Ian Poulter

I know that Ian Poulter is Ryder Cup incarnate. But I think that this may be a step too far for the 46-year-old Englishman. Poulter is a full 10 yards behind the average driving distance on the US PGA Tour. I just don’t think he’s well cast for this test. I’m sure there will be moments. But I ultimately think that this course may wear him down.

Big Snub – Justin Rose

2013 US Open Champ Justin Rose must have thought he had a huge chance given his brilliant history of ball-striking. Rose is one of those European players who consistently plays well in America. The former FedEx Cup Champion has certainly been a victim of Team Europe’s decision to only have three captain’s picks.

The Verdict

Europe to Win Outright at 2/1

I know I have waxed lyrical about the strength of the USA side. But it all just boils down to numbers in the end. 2/1 for a side who have absolutely dominated this event in recent years is simply irresistible. Harrington just has to be careful not to overcook the likes of Westwood and Poulter. The foursome of Rahm, McIlroy, Hovland and Garcia are going to be vital this week. They may have to play in every session to match the brutality of America’s power. Tommy Fleetwood could resurrect a slightly flagging career with a return to the event that made him. I also think that Lowry was a positive choice by Harrington. While I did opine that Rose was slightly unlucky this week, I think that Lowry will bring a different energy to this group. Perhaps him and McIlroy will form a lethal Irish duo.

Side -bets

Top Teams Points Scorer (Europe) – Jon Rahm (33/10)
Top American Wildcard- Jordan Spieth (3/1)
Top American Rookie- Xander Schauffle (3/1)
Top European Wildcard- Sergio Garcia (16/10)
Top Combined Points Scorer- Bryson DeChambeau – (18/1)

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