2016 Ryder Cup: Three questions for Team Europe and Team USA

We’re only a couple days out from the start of the 2016 Ryder Cup, and everything has started to take shape. Here are three questions for each team as we get ready to watch Europe and the USA go head to head.

Europe

How healthy is Henrik Stenson?

Stenson trophy

The 2016 Champion Golfer of the Year revealed recently that he tore cartilage in his knee at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and while he went on to win the Open a few weeks later and finish as the runner-up in the Olympics to Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose, there should be some questions about his overall health at this time. He withdrew from the Barclays a few weeks ago because of the knee issue, and while he did play the following week at the Deutsche Bank  and finished tied for 41st, he decided to rest up for this event instead of finishing out the rest of the FedEx Cup playoffs. For what it’s worth, Stenson is saying that he’s healthy and that as it stands right now, he’d be perfectly fit to play all five sessions if that’s what Darren Clarke wants, but this is something to keep an eye on as we go along here over the next few days. Stenson is one of a few players on the European side who should be playing in all five sessions, so if he can’t go, it could be a major blow to Europe’s chances of retaining the Ryder Cup.

Are the rookies ready to step up?

Andy Sullivan's playoff win in South Africa.

Andy Sullivan’s playoff win in South Africa.

Since this competition became the United States versus all of Europe in 1979, there have only been two instances where at least half of Europe’s roster has been comprised of first time players in the event:

  • 1999: Mark James carried seven rookies into competition at Brookline and decided that three of them (Andrew Coltart, Jarmo Sandelin and Jean van de Velde) wouldn’t see any action at all until Sunday singles. All three lost handily to their opponents and were key factors in the Europeans blowing the four point lead they carried into the final day.
  • 2010: Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy were two of six rookies on Colin Montgomerie’s side back in 2010. Of the six, only Kaymer posted a winning record (McIlroy and Ross Fisher came in at 50%), with the other three posting losing numbers but no one else finished below 50%, giving Europe a one point win.

There are six rookies playing for Darren Clarke at Hazeltine, and while the other six players are surely expected to do more of the heavy lifting, at least a couple of the newcomers are going to have to play a positive role if Europe is going to win again. The three that I would be looking at? Thomas Pieters, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

How much will they miss Ian Poulter?

With Poulter not able to play due to a foot injury, someone is going to have to step up to fill his shoes. In my predictions post, I suggested that Andy Sullivan is the man for the job, but the truth is that replacing Poulter might not be as big of a deal as you might think. Sure, he was a massive pain in the ass in 2008, 2010 and 2012, picking up eleven points in those three years and making enemies all over the United States with his personality and bulging cartoon eyes, but he wasn’t nearly as much of a factor two years ago at Gleneagles.

poulter motion crazy eyes poulter

He picked up one point, halving his singles match with Webb Simpson and halving a Saturday fourball match with McIlroy by his side, while other players ran circles around the Americans in Scotland, leading to a five point win. Europe would much rather have him on the playing roster than driving a cart around as a vice captain, and the Americans are much happier to see that he’s not teeing it up, but I’m not sure that it’s the biggest loss out there. He’ll still be able to fire the guys up and be himself in the team room while a talented group of young players hit the shots. If he was healthy and still playing horribly like he was before he shut it down for the year, Clarke still would have picked him and that could have been disastrous. This might have been the best possible outcome for Europe with him on the sidelines, but still involved.

USA

How will they handle being heavy favourites?

Oh, Patrick Reed.

Oh, Patrick Reed.

Yes, the Americans have been favourties before in this event, but it feels different this time around. Part of that has to do with the claim captain Davis Love III made last week about how they might be the greatest golf team ever assembled, but even before that, it felt like this was their event to lose. They’re on their home turf, with their fans behind them and a roster that at least on paper, looks superior to the European side in just about every way imaginable. There’s a lot of pressure involved in being the team that is supposed to win as opposed to the team that’s just kinda happy to be there, and while I’m sure they’ll talk about how they don’t think about that sort of thing, Love’s comments have only added to the pressure on them to get the win. It’s very possible that Love was doing that on purpose, and he knows the team better than we do, so it’s very possible that he’s pushing the right buttons. We’ll know for sure on Sunday night.

Will they regret not taking Bubba Watson?

Rory-esque club twirl from Bubba to start his day.

Rory-esque club twirl from Bubba to start his day.

In all four of my forecasting posts, I had Bubba Watson as a member of this team. Some of those had him as an automatic qualifier, and some of them had him as a captain’s selection, but either way, I would have had him on this team. The full story on that is something that we will probably never hear, but it certainly seemed like Love wanted no part of Watson as a member of this team in a playing capacity, which is totally his prerogative as was his decision to make him one of his vice captains. Ryan Moore forced his hand with the way he played down the stretch, and obviously sealed it with a great performance at the Tour Championship, and he absolutely deserves to be on the team. The pick that was interesting to me was J.B. Holmes, who is essentially the same player as Watson, but is arguably not as good as him in any facet of the game (save for maybe around the greens), at least not this season.

If the issue was one of chemistry or personality, that’s definitely believable as Watson can be as divisive as anyone amongst the players, fans and media, but then why is he on the team as a vice captain? If he was going to be involved with this team regardless, wouldn’t you at least want him hitting golf shots? Especially on a course that should suit him quite well? I would have had him on the team, but ultimately, one player shouldn’t be the reason why a team wins or loses this event, so I don’t think that it’s going to matter too much. However, if one of Love’s captain’s picks struggles badly over the week and the Americans end up losing, there will be questions asked about why exactly Bubba Watson was only driving a golf cart.

Are their best players ready to lead this team?

Patty is a little pissed about that missed putt.

Patty is a little pissed about that missed putt.

There’s an interesting contrast happening in this Ryder Cup. I already mentioned the rookies for Europe, but ultimately, the guys who are in charge of that team are still the guys that have been running things for Europe over the last few Ryder Cups. This is the complete opposite for the Americans, as they have only two rookies in the event, but what is clear is that the guys that are leading the charge for Team USA is a new group of players. Guys like Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker aren’t on this team, and sure, you have players like Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson who still are, but they aren’t the guys that Love should be leaning on heavily this week.

Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka should be the ones that play the most matches and at the end, have the most say in who comes out on top on Sunday night. Johnson’s not new to the team, but he’s never been in this specific position either where he’s being looked at as the top guy. Spieth and Reed were great at Gleneagles, but much of the focus was on the older players to get the job done and Koepka is making his first ever appearance on the team. These are the guys that Davis Love III needs to send out and hope they can come away with wins, and if they do, they’ll probably be in pretty good shape. If they don’t, it ends up putting pressure on some players who have experience in this event, but that experience hasn’t always been positive.

I think they’re ready.

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