Martin Vousden on the 2018 Ryder Cup

Thought for the Day
The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do

It’s almost time
The 1981 American Ryder Cup team is widely considered to be the best there has ever been, but this year’s version might push them close. That US vintage of 37 years ago had 11 members who were, or would become, major champions. They were: Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Raymond Floyd, Bill Rogers, Jerry Pate and Larry Nelson. The only one to end his career without a major was Bruce Lietzke, and that was because of a lack of application rather than talent. He would take several weeks or months away from the game and return as competitive as if he had never been away but he disliked, and therefore avoided, the weekly grind of tournament golf.

The current American team cannot quite match that pedigree but it comes frighteningly close. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson have all tasted victory in at least one of golf’s grand slam events. That just leaves Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau major-less and all three have had a pretty good season.

In contrast, Europe has five major winners – Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia, and the last two of these have done nothing this season to instill us with a bucketful of confidence. They will be joined by strong performers such as Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey and Jon Rahm, along with the relatively unknown qualities of Thorbjorn Olesen, Tyrell Hatton and Alex Noren. So on paper, we’re about to get our arses kicked.

Thankfully, these contests are not decided on paper but before we look at the positives we need to consider some of the negatives and one in particular – Sergio Garcia. Like Darren Clarke before him, I think Sergio struggled throughout his career to win a major and now that he’s done it an understandable subconscious easing off his foot off the pedal has taken place.

Since that wonderful Augusta triumph 17 months ago he has done nothing of note and his selection by captain Thomas Bjorn has rightly provoked a great deal of comment. Surely Rafa Cabrera-Bello has done enough, both in his previous Ryder Cup appearance (where he was undefeated, winning two and halving one), and this season, to justify selection. And if you’re wondering, he’s currently ranked 30th in the world. Bjorn says that he opted for Sergio because of his experience, and the passion and commitment he brings to the team room but just as these competitions are not won on paper, they’re not won in the team room either. The captain said he wanted experience to counter-balance the five rookies in his side but we won at Celtic Manor in 2010 with six debutants, as did America at Valhalla in 2008, also with half-a-dozen newbies. Surely it makes more sense to use your wild card picks on players who are demonstrably performing well now (like Cabrera-Bello) than what they have achieved in the past – sometimes the dim and distant past.

Incidentally, for all you statistics nerds (of whom I consider myself a soulmate), 20 of the world’s top-ranked 25 players will be at Le Golf National next week. The four outsiders are Tyrell Hatton (ranked 26th), Sergio Garcia (28), Ian Poulter (34) and Thorbjorn Olesen (44). You will have noticed that all four are on team Europe.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Europe has so often gone into the Ryder Cup as underdogs that it has almost become our default position and contradicting the naysayers and gloom-mongers like me is almost compulsory. In addition, it’s a home fixture for Europe and you have to go back to 1993 to discover the last time America won on foreign soil – and in contrast, since then we have won in America three times.

Another beacon of optimism is the fact that Justin Rose, probably the strong man of Europe in the last two Ryder Cups, has just become number one ranked golfer in the world. It may not seem like much but the psychological lift that this can give to his team-mates, and himself, cannot be under-estimated.

Also, Le Golf National is a strategic course where accuracy is more important than distance, and as the Americans have far more bombers in their ranks than us, one of their potential strengths is diluted. And historically we always thrive in foursomes, where keeping the ball in play is key.

Unfortunately, none of that will butter your parsnips and we’re going to get our arses kicked.

Quote of the Week
It is really a great thing to know that although a man can be paid for playing a game he loves, he can at the same time play for the honour of his team and his country
Samuel Ryder

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