U.S. has to win in Europe to turn tide in Ryder Cup

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Europe had players who weren’t even born the last time it was beaten this badly in the Ryder Cup by what was clearly a superior American team on Midwestern soil.

This wasn’t Sunday at Whistling Straits.

This was five years ago at Hazeltine, where the 17-11 outcome suggested the Ryder Cup was turning in favor of the Americans. Darren Clarke was the captain in 2016 and he pledged Europe would “be back stronger to fight” in two years.

That’s exactly what happened.

So while the Americans looked better than ever — “the greatest team of all time,” U.S. captain Steve Stricker said in a moment of exuberance — their 19-9 victory was only a step, even if it felt like a giant leap.

Not only was it the biggest blowout against Europe since it joined in 1979, it equaled the largest margin in any Ryder Cup since 1975.

The big picture? Nothing matters until Italy in 2023.

Rory McIlroy, even after his least productive Ryder Cup performance inside the ropes, didn’t sound overly concerned.

“It seems the way the Ryder Cup is going, the home team certainly has an advantage every time that we play this thing,” McIlroy said. “That was apparent in Paris a couple years ago. I think it was pretty apparent this week, as well.”

The difference is the makeup of this American team.

More than just being the youngest U.S. team ever for a Ryder Cup — average age 29 — they were not part of a recycled group of Americans who still have, “Ole, ole, ole, ole” ringing in their heads from hearing it so often after losing so much.

And it even goes further than that.

The nickname “Patty Ice” is not just for Patrick Cantlay’s big moments with the putter. He is cold-blooded when it comes to winning and losing. So is his best friend, Xander Schauffele, no matter how nonchalant he appears beneath that look that oozes California chill.

Daniel Berger? He made his team debut in the Presidents Cup in 2017, when the U.S. crushed the International side so badly it was a match away from clinching before getting to singles. Berger showed no mercy and about as much class when he said, “I hope that we close them out today and we go out there tomorrow and beat them even worse.”

The Ryder Cup had been decided for well over an hour Sunday at Whistling Straits.

Berger was in the final match, which was meaningless except for the official score. He was 1 down to Matt Fitzpatrick until winning two of the last three holes to get the point.

“One thing we all share in common is we hate losing,” Schauffele said. “I think I can speak for everyone on that one.”

That should be enough to give McIlroy pause.

“There’s phenomenal talent on that team,” McIlroy said. “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.

“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.”

Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth are the only players left from that winning Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine. Only one other player, Rickie Fowler, made it to the next one.

How many of the Americans will be at Marco Simone outside Rome in 2023?

It might not matter. Patrick Reed was left behind this year, primarily because of questions about his health and stamina. Sam Burns was very much in the mix for a captain’s pick until the last minute. There is no shortage of talented Americans in the pipeline.

It was reminiscent of 2006 at The K Club in Ireland, where Europe won by the same margin (18 1/2 to 9 1/2) for the second straight year. Its captain, Ian Woosnam, said Europe was strong enough that it could have taken the next 12 players in line and gotten the same result. And he was probably right.

Now the roles appear to be reversed.

Padraig Harrington will be criticized for not changing the selection process in a Ryder Cup postponed one year by the coronavirus pandemic. Stricker went from four captain’s picks to six. Harrington reduced his from four picks to three.

But who was available? Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson are both in their 40s and were not in much better form than some of the other veterans. Neither was Francesco Molinari.

Perhaps the bigger question is who Europe has on the horizon. It has two years to find out.

And who knows how they will play the next time? When the best team on paper — eight of the top 10 in the world ranking — is the best inside the ropes, it can be frightening. But that doesn’t happen all that often in the Ryder Cup because Europe still wins more often.

Jordan Spieth is 28 and already has played four times in the Ryder Cup — two wins, two losses. He talked all week about how this group has known each other since they were teenagers. Five of them were born in 1993, which happens to be the last time the U.S. won in Europe.

“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,” he said. “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.”

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