Task Force, rankings, majors, whatever. This was all possible, even probable.
As great and as hyped the Americans were on paper, Europe’s side was well-engineered to destroy this U.S. team at Le Golf National and they did during this past weekend’s Ryder Cup rout in Paris. The 17.5-10.5 blowout was the biggest margin in the event since the U.S. side rolled out Brett Wetterich and Vaughn Taylor at the K Club in 2006. It was ugly, never particularly competitive after the first session, and comes as a big Gatorade cooler of ice-cold water dumped on the idea that the U.S. is entering an era of dominance in the Ryder Cup.
Yes, the U.S. was good. Yes, the team was better on paper. No, this wasn’t some crazy upset. You should’ve seen this coming. Here’s five reasons why Europe won the Ryder Cup in Europe, in a rout, once again.
Francesco Molinari was the best player in the world this year
Sure, yes, Brooks Koepka won two majors. But I’m not completely sure there’s someone who has played better consistently over the course of the year than Molinari. The Italian and Open champ has been on a tear since May, and he only added to it with a five point for five session Ryder Cup that should squarely put him in the annals of Euro team history. His pairing with Tommy Fleetwood set up perfectly to dominate the event, and it’s only more impressive that he went head to head with, you know, Tiger Woods to get it done.
Why did it set up so well for Molinari? Well ...
Le Golf National set up horribly for the top American players and suited the Euros well
Don’t be mistaken: Le Golf National is a ballstrikers’ golf course. Accuracy off the tee is important, and iron play easily trumps the length that most Americans bring to the table. Hitting the ball wildly left and right doesn’t work here (Hello, Phil Mickelson). That explains some of the dominance of the European side. Thomas Bjorn’s team was full of guys who play ballstriker’s courses well — Alex Noren, Sergio Garcia, Molinari, Fleetwood, and so on.
But it goes to more than just playing style — the Europeans’ perhaps greatest benefit at Le Golf National was exposure. Noren won here earlier in the year. Molinari has three runner-up finishes here in the last few years. This is the regular host of the pumped-up Rolex Series Open de France. Perhaps, maybe, more Americans besides Justin Thomas should have come to play here this summer!
Pairings, pairings, pairings
Everyone knows pairings matter, but Bjorn nailed the combinations all week. Yes, there’s the Molinari/Fleetwood grouping that ran roughshod over Tiger for the most of the week. But it goes beyond that. He strayed from what could have been logical pairings for things that worked. It would have been easy to pair, say, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm together under the Spanish flag. Instead, El Nino’s first rollout was with Alex Noren in a session that had the two up seven through nine holes and waltzing to a victory.
Yes, execution is important — and probably why the U.S. lost. But Thomas Bjorn deserves a nod for keeping things on the rails.
The home crowd really matters
It’s hard to quantify what a home crowd means in a Ryder Cup. Of course, the entire massive grandstand and the rest of the lot in Paris were strongly behind the homestanding European side.
That’s one of the paramount reasons why just looking at stroke play success maybe isn’t all that applicable to this event. We’re basically operating in a parallel sport, and there’s so many other factors that go into winning a Ryder Cup than which side has more guys ranked at the top of the OWGR. Speaking of that!
The questioned European captain’s picks happen to be maybe the best Ryder Cuppers ever
Appreciate Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia. Sure, one major win between them, whatever. I don’t know how we quantify it in terms of legacy, but I’d argue the Ryder Cup is probably, at-worst, the third most important event in the sport. And these two have been the lifeblood of the European side for damn near two decades. Routinely panned as not deserving of a spot on the roster for his recent play, Sergio delivered three points for Europe, including a garbage-time win over Rickie Fowler on Sunday that gave him more Ryder Cup points than anyone ever. Sure, yes, it’s not a major. But if you’d like to argue Todd Hamilton’s 2004 win at the Open Championship was more impactful to the world of golf than Sergio’s 25-plus career Ryder Cup points, well, there’s not much I’ve got for you.
Poulter was brilliant as always, just a year removed from Brian Gay’s wife’s math skills saving his PGA Tour card. Henrik Stenson’s been hurt much of this year, and managed to go undefeated in Paris. Even Paul Casey grinded out a big half against soon-to-be-POY Brooks Koepka that stunted any American charge on Sunday.
So, yes, the Americans were in great form coming into this Ryder Cup. But that’s what has to be remembered when sizing up these events, and how the Task Force will respond to another American ass-whipping — there’s so much more to consider than form, picks, and pairings. Europe put their best-form players and guys that are killers in the format on a golf course that suited their strengths perfectly. That’s why the Ryder Cup won’t be coming back to America until at least 2020.