If the words “Ryder Cup” were not affixed to this event, if it was merely the Hazeltine National Golf Club Team Matches, what transpired this past weekend in Chaska, Minnesota would have been utterly predictable. Team USA had much the better players. Captain Davis Love III had gotten all hyperbolic and called it the best team ever before play began, overlooking a 1981 team that boasted eleven major championship winners. This squad had only five.
Team Europe had four outstanding players, a couple of scuffling veterans, and a bunch of guys even the most ardent golf fans would need to Google to identify. The Americans were playing on its home course, set up the way they wanted, and had a home crowd at its back. Plus, they had three days of perfect weather and a soft track that the Europeans would be hard pressed to recognize back home.
Yes, every advantage favored Team USA. A victory would have been a foregone conclusion had the words “Ryder Cup” not been on the marquee and the past events not told a different story. And if there were any indication that 2016 would be crazy, then all one had to do was point to a heckler showing up Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson by draining a 12-putt that they had been struggling with, on his way to pocketing Rose’s $100 bill.
The Americans got off to a fast start on Friday morning by sweeping the four foursomes (alternate shot) matches. This is the seldom-played format that gives the U.S. team the most problems, as it accentuates the more cohesive European team (“stand shoulder to shoulder”) unity. Staked to a 4-0 lead victory should have been inevitable from the get-go, as no team in Ryder Cup competition that started the competition with a Friday foursomes sweep had ever lost.
But this was the American team, and this was the Ryder Cup, and there was all that baggage from recent failures. Sure enough, the Europeans picked up half that ground in the afternoon Four-Ball, crushing the Americans in three matches that never saw the 17th hole. The Europeans gained another point in Saturday foursomes and eventually pulled all the way to even after the first Saturday Four-Ball when long-balling Thomas Pieters waxed Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, 3 & 1. And it also saw the beginning of Rory McIlroy transforming from nice guy to fiery guy before our eyes.
But the U.S. team ground out gutty wins in the final three matches, especially in the key anchor match where Patrick Reed, the American’s own firebrand, almost single-handedly took down the European powerhouse team of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, 2 & 1. The Americans once again had a commanding lead, 9.5 to 6.5, that should have drained all drama from this event. But this was the Ryder Cup and the Americans had lost it from an even more comfortable seating last time around.
European captain Darren Clarke did what he could with the cards he was dealt. He front-loaded his lineup with his top stars and hoped for the best with his lesser lights in later matches. Unfortunately for them, it was a false hope and the Sunday singles played out almost exactly as it looked like it would on paper. The Europeans covered the scoreboard with blue flags in the early play, although the U.S. picked up a surprising point when Rickie Fowler overcame Justin Rose and earned another when Reed outlasted McIlroy in the defining match of the 2016 Ryder Cup.
But few of the early fireworks – including Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson sharing a point with dueling 63s – would have much impact on the overall outcome because the deep American team was winning big in the final six matches. In the end, the final margin of victory was 17-11, one of the biggest in Ryder Cup history. Just as expected all along.