OPINION

"What Europe must change to avoid another Ryder Cup battering"

European Ryder Cup Team 2021


It’s less than 48 hours after Steve Stricker’s side dismantled a Padraig Harrington-led Europe by a modern record 19-9 scoreline.



Whilst the US revels in a historic Ryder Cup victory, those of a European persuasion are being left to lick their wounds and wonder not so much how it went wrong but how it went so spectacularly wrong. 

There are plenty of people who will tell you the humiliating outcome had nothing to do with Europe and everything to do with the US, the Americans producing a simply indomitable, irresistible display of hitherto unseen brilliance.

That’s only half the story.

Of course the US played magnificently. Nobody with an iota of an understanding about the game would say any different. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some catastrophic errors made by the European team. In order to have any hope of ensuring that this year’s result takes its place in history as a one-off, a statistical anomaly, a freak aberration, then we would be not just remiss but irresponsible to ignore those mistakes.

And so, with no further ado, here are five lessons Europe must learn – and learn quickly – from the ‘Walloping in Wisconsin’...

Overhaul qualifying

On Sunday, September 12, 2021, the US Ryder Cup team (minus an injured Brooks Koepka) was at Whistling Straits on a reconnaissance mission that conveniently doubled as a team bonding exercise. At the exact same time, the European team was being finalised with the last qualifying event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth – an event that, on account of the double points it offered, meant that only five of the 12-man side had guaranteed their place on the team in advance of it.

Think about it: less than two weeks before the first shots were hit and more than half of the European side had yet to secure their spots. That’s an absolutely awful way to prepare. Qualification needs to finish earlier and, arguably, start later.

Also, if the Americans are going to have six picks, what are we doing with three? There should be an amended to the Captain’s Agreement that each will have the same number of picks. Whether that’s three, six, eight, twelve or none, it should be the same for both sides.     

• Ryder Cup: European player ratings

• Ryder Cup: USA player ratings

Trust in youth

Recent European captains have relied heavily upon the “tried and tested” cornerstones of past glories rather than put their faith in the next generation of European Ryder Cuppers. That’s been particularly obvious in the players that have picked but there have also been examples of that in the pairings that have been used. Why, for example, did Padraig Harrington only use Shane Lowry twice in the first four sessions? Couldn’t Darren Clarke have used Andy Sullivan, Matt Fitzpatrick and Chris Wood more in the first two days in 2016?

There would seem to be a belief that, when the chips are down, when the odds are stacked against, Europe’s best hope is to send out the grizzled veterans to “do what they do”. That’s a seriously flawed logic. Just look, for example, at Ian Poulter’s record since the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012. Played 10, won 3, lost 5, halved 2 – 4 points out of a possible 10. He has dined out on 2012 and his unquenchable passion for the contest longer than he perhaps deserved to and to the detriment of the cause. That’s not necessarily his fault. It’s not his problem that he keeps getting picked. But enough’s enough. It’s time to look to the future.

Reintroduce the Seve Trophy

A disclaimer: I know full well how difficult this would be. However, only a fool would suggest that it is not a huge miss to the European Ryder Cup team. Staged in alternate years to the main event, the Seve Trophy pitted the best golfers from Great Britain & Ireland against their Continental European counterparts.

It was effective, too, proving itself to be a superb place to blood future Ryder Cuppers. Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Peter Hanson, Oliver Wilson and Justin Rose are just some of those who played in the contest before making their Ryder Cup debuts, gaining invaluable experience in the process. It's also where Paul McGinley captained for the first time, the Irishman having spoken effusively about how significant that was in helping him prepare for taking the big job in 2014.

The event was unofficially discontinued after 2013 and, with the EurAsia Cup and Royal Trophy also apparently on an indefinite hiatus, there is nothing for would-be Ryder rookies to dip their toe in. The Americans, meantime, have the Presidents Cup. Say what you like about it but the 2019 edition of that particular match was where the formidable Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay partnership was formed.  Europe to no longer having some kind of equivalent match cannot be a good thing. 

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Appoint the right captain

The received wisdom is that the Ryder Cup captaincy is, in effect, a lap of honour for stalwarts of the match and, on this side of the Atlantic at least, a thank you for supporting the European Tour over an extended period of time. That needs to change.

Europe must get into a habit of selecting the right man for the job, not just choosing somebody because “it’s their turn”. Paul McGinley is a terrific example of appointing the best candidate. He treated it like a full-time job, devoting himself completely to the detriment of his own playing career. By contrast, Nick Faldo got the job in 2008 because he was “Nick Faldo, Ryder Cup hero and European legend”. You didn’t need to be a recruitment specialist to see how poor a decision that was.

The Ryder Cup has evolved beyond some of the values and principles that were in place 20 to 30 years ago. The status of the captaincy is one such example. If you want to give somebody a lifetime achievement award, give them a lifetime achievement award. But pick the right captain.

Padraig Harrington

Use stats... but carefully!

It’s common knowledge that statistics have become a huge part of the Ryder Cup in recent years. Both sides now employ the services of data analysts whose job it is to crunch the numbers and provide the captains will all of the information they need to make their decisions. However, how much faith should we place in those stats?

Paul McGinley used them to exceptional effect in 2014; Padraig Harrington less so this year. The murmurings from the European team room at Whistling Staits suggest that Harrington – one of the game’s most analytical minds – had an over-dependence on the stats to the chagrin of some of his vice-captains who felt that their contributions and observations were overlooked because they were anecdotal and not data-driven.

Stats should only ever be used to inform and influence decisions, not make them. There needs to be some room for nuance, not to mention a willingness and agility to react. How and when the numbers are considered going forward could prove crucial.

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Do you agree with Michael McEwan's analysis? Join or start the conversation on Twitter, tagging @BunkeredOnlineand @MMcEwanGolf

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