2016 Ryder Cup Thoughts
Wow. What a week. There’s so much to get to in a wrap up for the 2016 Ryder Cup that I figured I would do a point by point post that tried to tackle everything from the three days of action.
- Patrick Reed
Coming into the week, I wrote about how the the Americans were further along in their transition from the old guard to the new than the Europeans, and that it was on the likes of Reed, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson to lead this team and future versions to victory. Now that the week is over, one thing is very clear to me: Reed, regardless of how well he’s playing, what his world ranking is or any other factor that would lessen the role of other players, is the leader of this team from this point forward. Not only was he the best player for the Americans all week, but the passion and emotion that he showed is something that we’ve only really ever seen out of Ian Poulter, and even then, Reed took it to a completely new level. It seemed like every single time NBC showed Reed on camera, always in short sleeves even in the cold morning weather, something like this was happening:
I might be the only one that feels this way, but because of how over the top he was with his actions, it feels like on some level that it’s taken away from how good he was at getting the ball in the hole. He shot 69 on Sunday to defeat Rory McIlroy, and for the most part in the other four sessions, he carried Jordan Spieth to a 2-1-1 record. I don’t think we know yet how good Patrick Reed is at golf on a weekly basis, but what’s crystal clear is how good he is at the Ryder Cup and he was the best show that we had all week. This was his coming out party, and he played exactly the way that I assume he thought he could play. The best way to sum it all up, is in this tweet from Kevin Van Valkenburg:
- Rory McIlroy
For the Europeans, one thing was clear entering the week: this was Rory McIlroy’s team, and in order for them to be successful, he needed to have a big week and get some help. Much like what we saw at the Tour Championship, he played extraordinary golf and (I think) made it pretty clear to everyone watching that he’s truly the best the game has to offer when he’s feeling it. Ultimately it didn’t end up showing up in the final tally since Europe lost by six and Rory himself only went 3-2 for the week, but man, it was so much fun watching him play over the last few days, as the guy that we always expect to see, showed up and did everything he could to contribute to a winning side.
What we didn’t expect to see though was the sheer emotion that came out of him over the three days. Numerous factors contributed to this: seeing everything that Reed was doing and eventually playing against him, the crowd behaviour, and the fact that Poulter was unable to be the emotional leader of the team meant that someone had to step up. Rory mentioned after the event was over that with Poulter not being there, he decided to take it upon himself to be that guy, and it led to some of the most amazing and emotional golf that any of us will ever get the pleasure of seeing. How can you not be pumped up watching this?
The interesting thing to me was that while all of this was going on, people were suddenly telling me on Twitter that they weren’t a big fan of Rory, that they lost respect for him or in one case, thought that he was a punk and deserved to be taken down a peg. I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t understand it now. This was a side of Rory that we had never seen before, and he was doing it all for the benefit of himself, the team and the people watching. It was a great show, and somehow, I became an even bigger fan of him than I already was.
- The Reed/Rory match
So, for the first two days it was obvious that Reed and Rory were the two best players out there and to be honest, it didn’t really seem all that close. On top of that, both seemed to be feeling it emotionally and all anyone wanted to see on Sunday was the two of them paired up against each other in singles, and we all got our wish with them being the first match out. Reed ended up winning the match 1 up and in truth, the back nine was a bit of a snoozer but the four hole stretch of 5-8 might be the greatest 45 minutes of entertainment I have ever had watching golf. They were 9-under par combined on those four holes, culminating in the video above and the constant back and forth between the two of them to pump up the crowd and playfully reciprocate each other’s attitude was simply phenomenal. My favourite moment of the match came after Reed hit a putt to keep the match all square, and he did this:
It was all in good fun as they both loved what each other was doing, and it was the perfect example of why the Ryder Cup can be so different and cool. We’ll never see anything like that stretch of holes again.
- Jordan Spieth’s performance
I already mentioned Spieth a little bit up top with the performance of Patrick Reed, and yes, it’s absolutely true that of the two of them, Reed was far superior to Spieth in the team sessions. I don’t think anyone would argue that point, but I also don’t think Spieth was all that poor either. There were definitely moments where he wasn’t at his best, particularly when they were up on Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Spieth appeared to attempt a hero shot over the water on 15 and he skipped it right in, but he also made a lot of big putts in those matches that contributed to points. He wasn’t particularly strong in his singles match against Henrik Stenson, where he was apparently playing hurt thanks to a high five from Reed on Saturday, but there’s no real shame in losing a singles match to Stenson. Ultimately, I don’t think Spieth will be thrilled necessarily with the way he played, but he also wasn’t as bad as I’ve seen some people make him out to be either.
- Thomas Pieters
If Reed and Rory were the top performers at Hazeltine, Thomas Pieters has to be next in line. He was the last guy picked by Darren Clarke for the team and became the first European rookie to play all five sessions since 1999, en route to a 4-1 record with his only loss coming to Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar on Friday morning. He’s always been freakishly long from the tee, and even though I’ve watched him play quite a bit in Europe, I was stunned with how good he was around the greens and with the putter. His pairing with Rory that lasted three sessions was unbeaten, and to be honest, a lot of that had to do with Pieters making putts and he didn’t seem out of place at all amongst some of the biggest names in golf. Darren Clarke has said that he sees Pieters as a future world number one, and when you look back at the way he played this weekend, it’s impossible to disagree with him. Pieters’ performance is an extremely positive development, especially for a team that does appear to be lacking a little firepower amongst the younger players.
- Phil Mickelson
“The pressure started when some dumbass opened his mouth two years ago in the media center.”
This Ryder Cup meant a lot to Phil Mickelson and his legacy, and I think he knew that. His week obviously didn’t start off exactly the way he would have wanted it to as he threw Tom Watson and Hal Sutton under the bus for previous captaincies, but after apologizing for that, he got down to playing and after some shaky moments early with Rickie Fowler, he played quite well. There was a ton of pressure on him with how public he went with critical comments about the process and the need for change on this team, and if he went out and posted another bad record that helped contribute to the 9th American loss in eleven years, people would have killed him over it. It’s impossible for us to say how much say he had in the process this time around, whether it was on the captain’s picks, the pairings or the setup of the course, but based on his comments over the past few weeks, it would seem that he’s had a significant amount of impact in how things were done. That’s what he wanted, and because of that, the pressure on him was pretty severe. He even said before the event started that him and Tiger had been talking frequently on the phone, even getting to a point where they were talking multiple times per day about how to approach this Ryder Cup, which is something that none of us could have ever predicted.
For as great as he’s been individually, there has always been criticism, fairly or unfairly, of how he’s done more harm than good at this event with his below average play and indifferent attitude. You can’t say that about him this time around, and when his career is finally over, this win and the way he contributed to it will be a massive positive mark. It was a great week for Phil.
- The Phil/Sergio match
While everyone was rightfully falling in love with the Rory/Reed match, the match between Phil and Sergio on the undercard was incredible. It ended in a halve after both guys ended up shooting 63 thanks to Phil putting on a ridiculous putting display, and Sergio hitting his usual amount of ridiculous iron shots. It was fitting that it came down to the final green and ended up being split because neither guy deserved to lose.
- Quick hits on the rest of Team USA
- Dustin Johnson (2-2): I was a little surprised that he didn’t end up playing five matches. Something seemed a little off about his game, but his drive on the par-4 7th on Saturday was absolutely insane.
- Jimmy Walker (1-2): I honestly don’t know that I remember anything he did outside of hitting that approach into the bunker on 1 on Friday morning.
- Brooks Koepka (3-1): Did exactly what I think a lot of us expected he would. Him and Snedeker are a perfect match for these things, and I would expect we’ll see an awful lot of that going forward.
- Brandt Snedeker (3-0): Only American without a loss over the three days, and he did it the only way that he could have: with a red hot putter. Don’t usually get to see him as fired up as we did over the three days, which was kinda fun.
- Zach Johnson (2-1): Much like Walker, I don’t remember much of what he did for three days. First Ryder Cup victory in five attempts.
- J.B. Holmes (1-2): His group with Ryan Moore was constantly shuffled to the back of the line with NBC’s coverage, so we didn’t see much of it. As Sean Martin pointed out, he’s the only active American golfer to go undefeated in multiple Ryder Cups.
- Rickie Fowler (2-1): Finished with that 2-1 record despite what I thought was some pretty dodgy play from tee to green. Phil kinda saved him in certain spots.
- Matt Kuchar (2-2): Pretty much did what we expected, I think. Nothing spectacular, but nothing to really hurt the team in any way either.
- Ryan Moore (2-1): Really good showing for his first Ryder Cup. Kinda fitting after all of the talk about him being the last pick that it was his match with Lee Westwood that ended up being the clincher.
- Quick hits on the rest of Team Europe
- Danny Willett (0-3): In his own words, his first Ryder Cup was “shit”, but outside of Sunday where we didn’t really see his match, I don’t think he played poorly. He got stuck with Kaymer and Westwood, who were pretty much dead weight all week, and it seemed like every time NBC showed him, Willett was hitting a really quality shot.
- Henrik Stenson (2-3): I said in my “Questions” piece that one of the things we had to watch for was how healthy Stenson was, and I don’t know that his knee contributed much to his 2-3 record, but it felt like he was wildly inconsistent all week. He’s one of those rare guys that the ball sounds different coming off the club when he hits it, and while we did see a lot of that, there was also other moments where he was nowhere near that guy.
- Chris Wood (1-1): Of the 24 players in the Ryder Cup, we definitely saw the least of Wood. Put up a good fight with DJ to lose 1 up.
- Sergio Garcia (1-2-2): I feel like of all the players who played last week, Sergio’s record is the one that makes the least amount of sense based on how he played. He had a couple of moments where he missed short putts (obviously), but other than that, he seemed on point and his iron game was as superb as it always is. When you look at it, he halved the match with Phil, went 1-0-1 with Cabrera-Bello thanks to that massive comeback against Spieth and Reed, and was paired with Kaymer for the other two matches. Feels like it should be better than 1-2-2, but that’s just the way match play is sometimes.
- Rafa Cabrera-Bello (2-0-1): The only European without a loss on the card really showed himself well this week. So much so that he probably should have been used a little more, particularly on Saturday afternoon.
- Justin Rose (2-3): Much like DJ, there just seemed to be something a little off about Rose this week. The putter wasn’t as red hot as it usually is, but it just seemed like the approaches weren’t as crisp either. It really hurt that his pairing with Stenson only went 1-2 for the week.
- Andy Sullivan (0-2): Really thought he had “Poulter potential” for this team, and frankly, I still do believe that. He was playing great in the opening session with Rory until he rinsed one on the par-3 17th, and Clarke didn’t put him out again until Sunday singles.
- Matthew Fitzpatrick (0-2): Fitzpatrick only getting two matches was a real shock for me, as I thought Clarke would run him out there three or four times. Didn’t play his best obviously, but I’m sure that he’ll be on this team for the next decade. The kid can really play.
- Lee Westwood (0-3): The putter buried Westwood this week, with the short misses killing him and Willett on Saturday afternoon. I still think he was the right call for a captain’s pick, but at 43, it’s possible that we saw the last of Westwood as a European Ryder Cup player.
- Martin Kaymer (1-3): Salvaged a point in his Sunday match with Kuchar, but outside of that, Kaymer was dreadful all week in just about all facets.
- The Captains
When it comes to talking about captains, it’s easy to just look at the results and say that Davis Love did a good job and that Darren Clarke did a bad one, but there is more to it than that. For Love, he made it pretty clear early in the week that he was going to use some kind of a pod system like Paul Azinger did in 2008, as the players were all playing practice rounds with the same guys and the same vice captains were with them. Based on some of the talk after the event, it was also obvious that much to the delight of Mickelson, that Love made this a much more inclusive process where the vice captains and players had more say in what was going on, and while the final call ultimately went to Love, he definitely ended up listening to them. This is why you hear things like Patrick Reed telling Love and Tiger that he was playing all five sessions, and he wanted Spieth by his side and then actually seeing it in practice. For the first time in a long, long time, it was clear that everyone on the American team were on the same page and that helped the cause immensely.
On the European side, one thing was clear right away and that was that going into this event, they were severely outgunned by the Americans 1-12. Anyone would be willing to take Rory, Rose, Stenson and Sergio into battle as their top four, but after that, it got a little dicey with unknown entities at the Ryder Cup and veterans who weren’t playing up to their reputations. I don’t think there was a whole lot that Clarke could have done differently to help Europe win, but the one criticism that I do have is that the approach he took with Pieters could definitely have been applied to the other rookies as well. I’m not saying that you run Sullivan, Wood or Fitzpatrick out there five times, but it seemed pretty clear by watching the event that Kaymer and Westwood didn’t have it and that they probably should have been the ones to sit until Sunday. Admittedly, this is a tough thing to do with older players who have been successful, and it might not have turned out to be much different, but I would have liked to see the rookies get some more time on the course.
- The Task Force
So, did the task force actually work? My thoughts on this are pretty simple: it’s great that they all got on the same page and figured out what they needed to do, but that ultimately it comes down to what the players do on the course. The task force probably did help in certain respects, but enough to swing it from a five point loss in 2014 to a six point win in 2016? I don’t think so. Europe didn’t have their best group out there, and the Americans on their home turf, ran a strong team at them and make it look pretty easy. I have a hard time believing that doesn’t happen the same way even without a task force.
Before we get too deep into the discussion on the fans at Hazeltine, there’s one thing that I think we all have to remember: the Ryder Cup is so different from every other golf tournament out there, which means that yes, you’re going to get a rowdier atmosphere and things are going to be a little crazier than normal. That said, some of the stuff that the European players had to deal with this week, particularly on Friday and Saturday, crossed the line and it got to a point with some of the players where the Americans were pleading with the fans to ease up. Everyone can agree that this is going way too far:
That guy got ejected, as did several others throughout the week, and from what some people on the grounds have said, they easily could have removed a lot more people as well. You absolutely cannot have players get shouted at in the middle of their backswings or as they’re soling the putter behind the ball, but the tough thing is that if you’re going to have an event that is this heated, you’re going to get people who take it one step too far and start talking about the personal lives of players or being way too vulgar and obscene. And sometimes, those (likely over-served) “fans” do it in a way that affects the outcome of a particular hole. Justin Rose said after it was all over that they need to look at changing some things if this is what fans are allowed to do, and I agree but that’s going to be a very tough thing to enforce unless you start kicking a lot of people out, and/or stop serving alcohol.
- TV Coverage
Maybe we were spoiled with some of the great TV coverage we’ve had over the past few weeks and months, but I really thought that NBC was awful over the three days at Hazeltine. NBC deserves credit for their “Playing Through” commercial attempt where they gave viewers a split screen view of the action while a commercial with audio was playing, but it seemed random when they decided to pull it out. Not sure if there was some contractual issue with using it, but viewers had no idea if they were going to get a “Playing Through” break or a regular one.
It also seemed like there were too many features being played while the golf was going on, or interviews with people involved with the event talking about how great the Ryder Cup is and how much it means to the community, its history, etc. I thought this would have been the perfect opportunity for the “Playing Through” style to be used, but it wasn’t and so fans were treated to people talking about the action instead of being shown the action. The worst part though was that there just wasn’t enough variety of matches shown. Regular golf tournaments are nightmares to broadcast because there’s so much going on at so many different places, that it makes sense that you’re going to run into situations where players aren’t shown, but that doesn’t apply at the Ryder Cup. Over the first two days, there is a maximum of four matches on the course at any given time, and twelve on Sunday. That’s not a lot of action, and viewers missed out on a lot of different groups. There’s no reason why over the first two days that we shouldn’t see every shot that gets hit, especially in the foursome format when there’s only eight balls in play.
Overall, I can say that even though the margin of victory was large, this was the most entertaining tournament of the year. The Ryder Cup always delivers, and 2016 was no exception.