First, a disclaimer.
I’ve never wanted to be wrong about anything as badly as I do about this.
Trouble is, try as I might, I can’t see anything other than a US win in this week’s Ryder Cup. A convincing one at that.
Another disclaimer: this is no slight at the European side.
You’ll notice these are “reasons the US will win”; not “reasons Europe will lose”. I also have no scientific rationale for thinking the way I do. It’s pure gut instinct.
Well, gut and brain. Wherever possible, I try to listen to my head over my heart and, whilst my heart beats out a steady, constant refrain of “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé”, my head is already preparing for the sight of Steve Stricker, flanked by his beaming, Ralph Lauren-clad charges, holding aloft that brilliant little gold trophy on Sunday night.
Steve Stricker’s gentle demeanour belies an intense competitor who is one of the game’s most shred and astute leaders. Hugely popular and very much in the Ben Crenshaw mould, Stricker served noticed of his captaincy credentials when he led the US to a straightforward 19-11 victory in the 2017 Presidents Cup.
So complete was their dominance of the International side at Liberty National that they went into the singles requiring just a half-point to retain the trophy. Five of the 12 players on Stricker’s team that week – Johnson, Koepka, Thomas, Spieth and Berger – are on his side again in Wisconsin.
Speaking of Wisconsin, it so happens to be Stricker’s home state – the ultimate home game. Others might crumble under that pressure and the sheer weight of expectation but it’s hard to imagine Stricker suffering such a self-inflicted fate. He’ll get the ‘Cheeseheads’ onside and make them his 13th man.
Their home record is exceptionally good
Europeans love to remind you that nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups have been won by the ‘blue and gold’.
What that undeniable impressive number conceals is the fact that the three US wins in that span have all come on American soil and that, but for a ‘miracle’ at Medinah in 2012, they’d have won four of the last five contests in the United States. In fact, Europe has only won three times on Uncle Sam’s patch in the last 30 years.
In the ‘European Era’ (i.e. since 1979), the US holds an aggregate lead of 157.5-150.5 across 11 matches on their own patch, and that's despite one of Europe's handful of victories coming by a record-equalling scoreline.
Their players are on form
For the first time in a long time, it’s hard to find a weakness in the American side beyond the question mark that hovers over the fitness of Brooks Koepka.
Patrick Cantlay won the two most recent events on the PGA Tour; Tony Finau won the one before it; Xander Schauffele is the new Olympic gold medallist; Collin Morikawa won the most recent major; Koepka, Harris English, Daniel Berger, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth have also won on the PGA Tour in 2021; the side accounts for seven of the current top-nine on the Official World Golf Rankings; their worst ranked player is world No.21 Scottie Scheffler – and only three of the 12 Europeans are better off than him.
They are, as the kids say, vibin’
The ‘old guard’ is gone
Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson were the cornerstones of a loss-heavy era for the United States. Between them, they have a combined Ryder Cup record of 55-77-18, winning just 64 points from a possible 150 – a by-their-standards miserable 42.7% return.
Fortunately for Steve Stricker (whose own playing history in the match is equally ignominious), none of them are on his side this year. Instead, he has six rookies. His oldest player is 37-year-old Dustin Johnson. The ‘changing of the guard’ that the US has so badly needed for so long appears to have finally happened.
The scar tissue is gone. The slate is clean. The prospect is frightening.
No Patrick Reed = Good Thing
It might seem ludicrous to suggest that the United States could benefit from being without the 7-3-2 Patrick Reed, but the case is compelling.
So-called “Captain America” has been struggling for form and was recently hospitalised with pneumonia. Those are two big red flags for a side that cannot afford – and doesn’t need – to carry passengers.
Then there’s the ‘other’ stuff. The noise, if you will.
Reed is a controversial, divisive figure. He (and his wife and mother-in-law) had plenty to say in the wake of the 2018 Ryder Cup defeat in France, none of it conducive to harmony and goodwill.
You get the impression that ‘Team Reed’, his self-styled inner sanctum, views itself as the 51st and most important US state. The reality is that it’s a rogue nation, a renegade island where diplomacy goes to die and all roads lead to drama.
For all of his brilliance in this contest since his debut in 2014, Reed carries too much baggage for Stricker’s liking. Leaving this lone wolf to howl from the @useGolfFacts Twitter account feels like the right decision.
They're well prepped
Last week, whilst the European side was being finalised at the BMW PGA Championship, the US players and their caddies – with the exception of the injured Koepka – were at Whistling Straits with Stricker on a reconnaissance mission.
The captain also arranged a dinner for his six automatic qualifiers ahead of revealing his picks. In short? They’re doing all the right things, all of the simple things that good teams should do… things some past American sides have completely neglected.
It's taken multiple heavy defeats, one Task Force and no doubt many difficult conversations but it looks from afar as though the US might just be figuring out this Ryder Cup thing.
God, I hope I'm wrong.