Rónán MacNamara in Rome
Take the foursomes out of the Ryder Cup and the result may have been different. But a 7-1 trouncing of the USA across both sessions was the catalyst for Team Europe’s magnificent victory on Sunday.
Consequently, the wait goes on for the United States of America who remain without a victory on European soil since 1993 following their seventh successive defeat on the road while it seemed they were best placed to end their famine.
USA to their credit did rally over the last day and a half drowning out European taunts of ‘sacked in the morning’ and ‘can we play you every week?’ The 16.5-11.5 scoreline doesn’t do justice to how closely fought the Sunday singles were as Europe came out on the right side of a couple of tight and crucial matches.
Rumours of dressing room unrest, questionable wildcard picks, the absence of LIV talent, poor preparation and eye raising pairings. Where did it go wrong for Zach Johnson and co?
Nine of Zach Johnson’s USA side had not hit a competitive golf shot since the season-ending Tour Championship in late August while Justin Thomas, USA top scorer Max Homa and LIV golfer Brooks Koepka all played in the weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup.
In contrast Luke Donald’s European charges arrived sharp and ready to tackle the cauldron atmosphere of the Ryder Cup. An arena where there is nowhere to hide the continent came ready to front up.
Each member of the European team teed it up at the BMW Championship in Wentworth earlier this month just a few days after a team bonding trip to Marco Simone. All twelve players played with each other for at least two rounds in Wentworth, per Donald’s request.
To put it simply, USA were just not at the races on Friday at all, particularly in the foursomes session where they were on the wrong end of a historic whitewash.
The Americans looked short of match practice and lacked any cohesion on the golf course. It’s unthinkable that these players would go five weeks without competing before a major championship so for Johnson to let the majority of his players arrive without competitive action is a terrible indictment of his captaincy – although he thinks otherwise.
“There’s something to be said about rest and recovering and getting your game in a position where you can compete. These guys have won a lot of golf tournaments with weeks off.
“I might reflect on some changes that I maybe could have done or nuanced or altered or whatever [but] I am not going to slight the preparation of these guys. Whether it was at home or here, I know they were working their tails off to retain and bring the cup back home.”
Johnson’s risky wildcard picks
Johnson’s captain’s picks were at best, questionable. The most controversial selection was Justin Thomas who had missed out on the FedEx Cup playoffs and made the cut in only one major this year.
JT though, justified his selection earning 1.5 points, the most out of the six wildcard picks and it would have been more if Jordan Spieth wasn’t so poor alongside him.
However, ZJ’s picks were hot and cold, wishy washy. Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Sam Burns and Spieth all registered a point but were poor overall while a pointless Rickie Fowler put in a disgraceful performance.
The decision to omit recent back-to-back PGA Tour winner Lucas Glover and Keegan Bradley looks a poor one now, while Koepka was the only LIV recruit leaving Dustin Johnson – who went 5/5 two years ago – at home.
Zach’s picks were based on the strategy of Ryder Cup history over current form. If that’s the protocol then heavyweight names like DJ and Bryson DeChambeau were possibly worth a call.
Taylor Gooch, a three-time winner on LIV Golf this year was also overlooked as was ‘Captain America’ Patrick Reed.
Whether Johnson felt these players were worthy of selection or whether he was trying to preserve a harmonious dressing room is unknown but there is no doubt that LIV Golf has weakened the Americans and killed the potentially great and dominant team they had in Whistling Straits.
“I maybe made some poor decisions… I’ll reflect at some point,” admitted Johnson.
While the USA were beaten 4-0 and 3-1 in the two foursomes sessions including a 9&7 mauling for Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler it is the Friday afternoon fourballs where the USA let slip golden opportunities to narrow the gap.
ZJ seemed to bench some heavyweight names for the Friday foursomes while Donald went top heavy, building his team around Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland.
Putting rookie Sam Burns in the first group of the contest was odd and it was even more questionable to see Koepka, Thomas and Spieth not appear until the afternoon fourballs.
To leave the PGA Champion on the bench and USA’s best pairing entering the contest is at best, baffling.
USA claimed a measly 5.5 out of the 16 points available across the foursomes and fourballs, letting slip three winning positions late on in the latter.
The Friday fourballs was a session where the USA should have won at least two matches having been comfortably up in three games but ended up losing the session and falling further behind.
From a European point of view, Donald built his team around Europe’s big three and getting a fast start in the foursomes. In the first three sessions Europe won the opening hole 5-0, winning 10-4 across the week while USA stumbled out of the blocks.