21 September 2016 (Pasadena, CA) Match play is a different beast. It is swift and it is fierce. Mano a mano. Not for the faint of heart. The mental side of the game and team strategy dominate. History, never forgotten. Bad blood, front and center. Let’s get ready to rumble. In 9 days the U.S.A. matches up against a European team that has won 8 of the last 10 Ryder Cups. That’s right, 8 out of the last 10. That is dominance and spans both the Tiger and Phil eras (neither Tiger nor Phil have a winning Ryder Cup record). Now team U.S.A. can boast an overall 25-12-2 record against their European foes but what have you done for me lately? Well for team U.S.A., they have panicked. Most recently creating a Ryder Cup Team Task Force after the 2014 debacle at Gleneagles, Scotland. 16 1/2 to 11 1/2 and a whole lot of swiping at team captain Tom Watson by the likes of Phil Mickelson. It was ugly. So a task force was created, it chose Davis Love III as team captain, and features four vice-captains: Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Tom Lehman, and Steve Stricker. The U.S. team features Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, and captain’s picks: Ricky Fowler, J.B. Holmes, Matt Kuchar and 1 TBD. And, that TBD demonstrates how in so many ways this team is already overthinking the process and the stress is beginning to show. Players such as Bubba Watson expect to be snubbed and are grumbling in the background. A host of other players fighting for that final spot are exerting a large amount of mental energy trying to qualify for DL3’s final roster spot and then will be asked to bring their A game Hazeltine. For Pete’s sake DL3, pick someone and move on. Dustin Johnson has asked not to be paired with Phil. And why was DL3 picked to captain this team after his recent Ryder Cup loss at Medinah (2012)? How about a captain with a little fire in their belly? Where’s Trevino? And don’t think that team Europe hasn’t noticed. Captain’s pick Lee Westwood has fired the first verbal blow by stating that Tiger Woods could be a distraction to the US team. Well played Mr. Westwood. And I have to say, why Matt Kuchar? Great player but match play does not seem to be his forte. He is 1-2 in the last three Ryder Cup and can we ever forget the 5-4 ass whooping Ian Poulter laid on him at Celtic Manner?
On the European side, captained by one of my favorite Irish players, Darren Clark and assisted by vice-captains Ian Poulter (how is this Ryder Cup assassin not a captain’s pick?), Padraig Harrington, Sam Torrance, Thomas Bjorn, and Paul Lawrie (hell, throw Monty in this group and I would put a few quid on this team beating the U.S.A.). The team features Spaniards Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera Bello (the spirit of Seve lives on), Irishman Rory McElroy, a host on Englishmen: Danny Willett (2016 Masters Champion), Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan, Justin Rose, and the aforementioned Lee Westwood (captain’s pick), Swede Henrik Stenson, and the remaining captain’s picks Martin Kaymer (Germany) and Thomas Pieters (Belgium). No drama, no task force, no late captain’s picks. Just a well proportioned mixture of veterans and rookies with a swashbuckling attitude ready to kick some U.S. arse (again). To quote the epic Led Zeppelin tune, the Immigrant Song…”We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow; Hammer of the Gods, will drive our ships to new lands, fight the hoards, sing and cry, Vahalla (Hazeltine?) I am coming!”That’s right, I’m calling it something like 15-13 Europe. Not trying to hate on team U.S.A. but they have to get out of their mental kitchen and send our own group of swashbucklers to go toe to toe with these link invaders. And I don’t mean send Bubba. My captain’s picks would feature Ricky Fowler, Keegan Bradley (he was a total badass in 2014) and the quirky Kevin Na (my version of a PGA knuckleballer with his snail’s pace). Man, what I would give to send a team of Trevino’s and Fuzzy’s to Hazeltine! And if we want to talk about team cohesiveness, the Euros don’t have the same kind of religious issues challenging their locker room chemistry (see my blog on Religion and Golf). So here we go again, Hazeltine, next week. My money is on team Europe.