Ryder Cup 2021: Why Europe will win the Ryder Cup | Golf News and Tour Information
HAVEN, Wisc. — The stage is set for a frolic, starting with the stage itself. It’s a very big game. Whistling Straits will play around 7,400 yards in this week’s Ryder Cup, and USA captain Steve Stricker appears to have paid Mr Mower for his overtime. The gross is negligible so America’s big dogs can gorge themselves with impunity. Add in a raucous home crowd, and with this still ongoing pandemic guaranteeing virtually no European supporters on site, things could be all but over by Saturday afternoon.
If only golf were that simple. What if I told you that the underdog European team could absolutely win this week? Would that blow you away?
The US is the heavy favorite this week – somewhere around -180 in the betting markets – for all the reasons discussed above. They will have the fans on their side. They have a distance advantage, which will be exacerbated by a relatively benign course setup. They also have the best golfers by virtually any metric. The average world ranking of the 12 Americans here is 8.92, which is downright staggering considering that a team made up of the top 12 players in the world would have an average ranking of 6.5. The lowest ranked player on the American side, Scottie Scheffler, would be the fifth highest ranked European. Padraig Harrington’s side have an average world ranking of just over 30. That’s a mismatch on paper.
Only the articles are based on 72-hole stroke play events over a two-year period. Match play golf is a whole different beast, not to mention anything having to do with having a partner. Consider Rory McIlroy as a case study. He enters this week in 15th place in the world, behind 10 of the 12 Americans. That’s great, but McIlroy led the PGA Tour in birdie average this year. In the hypothetical official world ranking in match play, the guy who would make the most birdies would certainly not be 15th.
“The Ryder Cup is a very, very, very different dynamic to 72-hole tournaments over a two-year period,” said 2014 Ryder Cup-winning European captain Paul McGinley. “It’s a race. It’s a sprint.
The world rankings chasm wasn’t that dramatic in 2018, but Jim Furyk’s team (11.2 average ranking) still held a substantial advantage on paper over Thomas Bjorn’s team (19.1) and the States States were crushed. World No. 1 that week Dustin Johnson went 1-4-0 while world No. 24 Henrik Stenson went 3-0-0. At the 2019 Presidents Cup, the USA team’s average world ranking was 12.2 and the international’s was 40.75, and the USA needed a fairly substantial comeback on Sunday to avoid a embarrassing defeat. Tiger Woods has entered a Ryder Cup ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the world seven times and has a combined score of 13-17-2 in those weeks.
All that to say: the world rankings mean almost nothing in this event.
Oh but the course! The course will play in the hands of the Americans, just as Le Golf National became the 13th European player three years ago. Of course, as far as it is still possible. Whistling Straits is barely Hazeltine and definitely not Valhalla. These courses were open, tree-lined, wet and beefy park layouts with well-maintained bunkers – an extreme version of your ordinary PGA Tour layout. Friendly bomb and gouge. It is not so. If you drop someone on the eighth tee without any context, they would swear the body of water to their right is the Atlantic Ocean. Hell, the other course in this resort is called the Irish. And while the Strait isn’t a true links, with grass soft enough to make it hard to play the ball on the ground, it’s aesthetically the closest you’ll find in the United States: near the water, almost no trees in play, rough fescue, nasty bunkers everywhere, wind always a factor “Doesn’t look like a typical American golf course,” said Rory McIlroy.
“You have to control the ball in the wind,” explains Jordan Spieth. “You have to hit different types of shots from the tees, and then if you position the ball well, you have these complex greens that are sort of – there’s not a ton of slope, but they’re subtle so you can actually feed the ball into the hole slots. It should be a really exciting match play course because you can get in trouble, but you can also birdie just about every hole with the right shot. That’s hard and fair, and then if we see it in a bit colder, windier conditions, that could be a one-time test too.
Even if the wind doesn’t blow, if Stricker gets his wish and this place plays as little as possible, Europe still has a big chance. The old stereotypes of Europeans being pea shooters plowing their way around golf courses no longer hold true in the modern era of Trackman. All Europeans other than Bernd Wiesberger play the majority of their golf in the United States. The European core group, the guys who will play four or five matches, will likely include Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood and Tyrrell Hatton. This is not a case of bewildered young people staring at the tallest mountain they have ever seen.
“The best players in Europe are the same as the best players in the world, which are the same as the best players in the United States,” says Harrington. “It’s not that different.”
“I think my guys are pretty good anyway if there was no wind. They are used to playing golf around the world and the quality of their ball striking is there. No, we are not dependent on a windy week at all.
As the undisputed underdog, Europeans have the luxury of playing with house money. If they come down early, that’s okay. If the Americans come down early, things will start to move quickly. Oh no, it starts again. How’s it going again? Because of guys like Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, who take great pleasure in spanking the United States and have done so many times.
“I think the three of us are very passionate about the Ryder Cup and we hold it in very high regard,” said Westwood. “We give everything when we are involved.”
Compare that sentiment to that of Brooks Koepka, who told Golf Digest that Ryder Cup week is “a bit strange” and complained about team meetings taking away his gym time. His apparent Ryder Cup apathy isn’t the only distraction for Stricker’s side this week – there’s the Brooks-Bryson fiasco, Koepka’s health and Morikawa’s recent struggles. Granted, Europe has its fair share of guys on the wrestling bus, but the group couldn’t stop laughing during their team photo and seem to have settled in remarkably quickly.
“When we travel a lot from outside of Europe and to the United States or other places, there’s kind of a… we’re foreigners and we’re trying to prove ourselves. I think there’s an element to all of this, that we’re here to give credibility to the European Tour and the European players…to be honest my team right now the vibe is exactly where you would like it. Literally, I don’t want to mess up from here.
We’re not here to say that the Europeans are definitely going home with the Cup; we say it’s basically a toss up. Their players are more than good enough, golf is a strange and chaotic game, and Americans are weighed down by expectations. Prepare (and bet) accordingly.
Alright, let’s say it: Europe 15, USA 13
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