HAVEN – The U.S. Ryder Cup team, fueled by magnums of Moet champagne, put on a show in the winning team’s news conference Sunday evening that almost topped what they had just done to Team Europe at Whistling Straits.
The 12 American stars, who had just won the Cup by a record 19-9 margin, acted like frat pledges at a kegger, except they were wearing Team USA uniforms, not togas. They joked and giggled their way through the 30-minute presser – there may or may not have been some slurred answers – which concluded with Justin Thomas insisting that Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau hug it out.
And so, the former antagonists grinned, held the Ryder Cup trophy and embraced. Like Ryder Cup rookie and non-PGA Tour winner Scottie Scheffler running over world No. 1 Jon Rahm in singles, 4 and 3, earlier in the day, this was something that no one saw coming.
It was a lighthearted moment, but the symbolism should not be lost on anyone. This U.S. team, with eight players ranked among the top 10 in the world, may be the strongest in Ryder Cup history. But it’s also a tight-knit group with great chemistry, fostered by the perfect tone set by captain Steve Stricker of Madison.
Is it a coincidence that Stricker led the U.S. Presidents Cup team to a 19-11 victory four years ago – a record margin of victory in that event – and followed it up with this blowout of Team Europe (three years after the Europeans dusted the Americans, 17½-10½, in Paris)?
His formula is one that every U.S. captain going forward should seek to emulate. But what is it? Stricker, 54, is not a vocal, in-your-face leader. He is not into firebrand speeches, motivational videos or parading celebrities into the team room. His style is to communicate, to prepare, to simplify things for his players and to turn them loose.
“You know, I don't say a lot,” he said. “I'm not a guy with a lot to say a lot of times. I'm a guy of very few words, really. But I think about things when I do say them. I guess I do a lot of prep. I do a lot of studying of these guys. I know them very well. I've played a lot of golf with some of these guys over the years. I know their personalities. I just tried to make it easy for them, is really what I wanted to try and do, and that was kind of my way back in 2017 on the Presidents Cup team, as well, and make it relaxed.
“I really had nothing planned for the week, no speeches from anybody, no videos. I mean, we all know it's a huge event as it is. We don't need to have some famous person of highest stature come in and tell us how important it is and we need to get fired up and do this and do that. Everybody knows how important it is, and they want to win.”
To borrow a football analogy, Stricker’s players would run through a brick wall for him. Before he could answer a question about whether he’d consider someday captaining another Ryder Cup team, Dustin Johnson said, “One hundred percent,” and Jordan Spieth added, “That's a yes from us. To be fair, in 2017 it was a very similar position as far as the dominance goes. Strick has a pretty good record.”
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who played in his sixth Ryder Cup and beat Xander Schauffele, 3 and 2, for his lone point in an otherwise forgettable week, indirectly praised Stricker when he said the U.S. finally had a team that could match Europe in passion and commitment.
“Obviously, I mean, there's phenomenal talent on that team,” McIlroy said. “A lot of young guys, and I think the most important thing for the U.S. team is a lot of young guys that are great players have bought into the Ryder Cup. I think that was probably missing in previous generations.”
But if we’re being honest, and with no disrespect to Europe, this Ryder Cup was a mismatch in talent. The Americans – with an average world ranking of 8.9 and 13 major championship titles among them – won four of the five sessions convincingly, including 8-4 in singles. Only a 2-2 tie in Saturday afternoon fourballs gave the Europeans a tiny sliver of hope.
“I could see it in these guys' eyes (Saturday) night when we left the course, after just saying a couple words, I could tell they felt like there was unfinished business, and they came out and they were ready today,” Stricker said. “They played great, and I could see it in their eye that they wanted it all. They wanted more.”
2021 Ryder Cup: Team USA match records
|Xander Schauffele *||3-1-0||3|
|Scottie Scheffler *||2-0-1||2½|
|Daniel Berger *||2-1-0||2|
|Jordan Spieth *||1-2-1||1½|
|Tony Finau *||1-2-0||1|
|Harris English *||1-2-0||1|
The U.S. took an almost insurmountable 11-5 lead into singles and then won seven of the 12 matches, with two ties. After McIlroy won his match, the scoreboard turned red. Three straight matches went to Americans – Patrick Cantlay over Shane Lowry, 4 and 3, Scheffler over Rahm and DeChambeau over Sergio Garcia, 3 and 2.
When Collin Morikawa birdied the 17th hole at 3:35 p.m., it assured him of a Cup-clinching half point. There were still seven other matches in progress, so all that was left unresolved was the final margin of victory.
Dustin Johnson beat Paul Casey, 1-up, to become only the fifth player in Ryder Cup history to go 5-0-0.
“That’s right, grandpa got it done,” said Johnson, at 37 the oldest member of Team USA.
Koepka beat Bernd Wiesberger, 2 and 1, Thomas beat Tyrell Hatton, 4 and 3, and Spieth tied Tommy Fleetwood. When England’s Matt Fitzpatrick hit his approach shot into the penalty area on No. 18 and eventually conceded the hole and the match to Daniel Berger, 1-up, Team USA had its record-setting 19th point.
Said Spieth, “We were told by a member of the team today that the record was (18½) points and that we should go out and try to get 19 points, and that's what we did.”
The only Europeans to win full points in singles were McIlroy and fellow cup veterans Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood.
“I've only lost one other (Ryder Cup), and it's dismal,” Poulter said. “You know, watching the (Americans) out on 18 enjoying themselves is something that you come into this week with visions of that happening for you as a team. We've got a great team this week, and we were outplayed. Every session was difficult. They did their job, and they made it painful for us today, and this one's going to hurt for a bit.”
European captain Padraig Harrington had to know early in the competition that his team was outgunned. The only way the outcome would have been different is if he could have played the Spaniards Rahm and Sergio together 10 times (they went 3-0 as partners).
“Everybody here gave 100 percent, and pulled together, everybody worked together this week,” Harrington said. “Nobody didn't give their heart and soul to this team. We don't owe anybody anything in that sense. They all tried. It didn't go right, but that happens in sport. Just remember, you know, if you want to have these glorious moments, you've got to put your head out there, and sometimes it doesn't go right. You get your head knocked off. That's just the reality of sport.”
Europe came to Whistling Straits – which once again proved to be a tremendous venue for championship golf – having won nine of the previous 12 Ryder Cups. But there is no question that a new era is dawning. Morikawa is 24. Scheffler just turned 25. Schauffele is 27. Thomas, Spieth and Berger are 28 and Cantlay is 29.
This nucleus of this team has the potential to play in a half-dozen more Ryder Cups.
“Guys like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, you know, the sort of heartbeat of that U.S. team, they really bought into the team aspect of Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups,” McIlroy said. “And having guys like that on the team, yeah, they are going to be formidable opposition from now until I'm probably not playing Ryder Cups, whenever that is, in hopefully 20 years' time.”
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson are in line to be U.S. Ryder Cup captains. Would Stricker consider an encore?
“I don't think it's going to happen,” he said. “It's mapped out and there's guys in positions to be the next captains. It was an unbelievable experience, don't get me wrong. I'm glad it's over.”
Over? For this U.S. team, it’s only just begun. In two years, they’ll do it again at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome. The U.S. hasn’t won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil since 1993. It’s about time that streak ended.
“I think that this is unfinished business,” Spieth said. “We needed to win this one, and I think it was a massive steppingstone for this team and the group that we have here that have really known each other since almost back to grade school to continue to try to work hard to be on these teams to go over there. It's one thing to win it over here and it is a lot easier to do so and it is harder to win over there.
“If we play like we did this week, the score will look the same over there in a couple years. And that’s what we’re here for.”
2021 Ryder Cup: Sunday singles matches
|1||Xander Schauffele||Rory McIlroy||EUROPE||3 and 2|
|2||Patrick Cantlay||Shane Lowry||USA||4 and 2|
|3||Scottie Scheffler||Jon Rahm||USA||4 and 3|
|4||Bryson DeChambeau||Sergio Garcia||USA||3 and 2|
|5||Collin Morikawa||Viktor Hovland||HALVED||TIE|
|6||Dustin Johnson||Paul Casey||USA||1 up|
|7||Brooks Koepka||Bernd Wiesberger||USA||2 and 1|
|8||Tony Finau||Ian Poulter||EUROPE||3 and 2|
|9||Justin Thomas||Tyrrell Hatton||USA||4 and 3|
|10||Harris English||Lee Westwood||EUROPE||1 up|
|11||Jordan Spieth||Tommy Fleetwood||HALVED||TIE|
|12||Daniel Berger||Matt Fitzpatrick||USA||1 up|