• Alistair Tait

Ryder Cup mea culpa


It was mea culpa time two years ago after the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National. A time for reflection for many of us so called “pundits.”

Would it have been the same today had this year’s match gone ahead? Probably not. One thing’s obvious after what happened last time: making predictions in the Ryder Cup is a mug’s game.

Let’s praise all concerned that the Ryder Cup didn’t go ahead this year. As former Golfweek colleague Geoff Shackleford points out:

“With Wisconsin reporting 2,000 new (Covid-19) cases four days in a row and a huge positivity rate as well … the Ryder Cup looks like a wise postponement to 2021.”

Heaven forbid we’d have been writing about positive cases on either team on this Monday had the match been played. Far better to be writing about how once again the European team proved chemistry and cohesion is key in the biennial match.

Many of us owed European captain Thomas Bjorn an apology two years ago for questioning his decision to select Sergio Garcia as one of his wild card picks. Garcia hadn’t looked anywhere near top form going into the match.

I was one of many sceptical about the Garcia pick. I thought it had the potential to be a match decider. It was: Garcia not only won three points out of four to help Europe win, those points also helped him surpass Nick Faldo as Europe’s top points earner. Bjorn’s choice was a stroke of genius, one of many genius strokes he made that week.

Bjorn had been telling us just how important a cog Garcia was in the European team. We should have listened to the Dane, one of the most thoughtful men in European golf.

Some of us were wrong on Europe’s Ryder Cup rookies, too. Five seemed at least two too many given how strong the America team was. All five contributed to the European victory. We should have cast our minds back to 2010 when Colin Montgomerie led a European team to victory at Celtic Manor that featured six newcomers.

We should also have known better not to pay any attention to the world rankings. The U.S. was definitely the stronger team on paper at Le Golf National. Just as well Ryder Cups aren’t played on paper. Besides, European Teams have never paid attention to world rankings.

We’d have been safer to rely on the old maxim we should have learnt from the Miracle at Medinah:

“Anything can happen in 18-hole match play, and probably will.”

That’s a fact U.S. journalist Alan Shipnuck should have considered long before he arrived in France. The Golf.com writer was lambasted in Europe’s victorious press conference. He had predicted the U.S. would “roll to victory in Paris,” a win that would herald a decade of “blowouts” in the biennial match. Rory McIlroy delighted his team mates when he asked:

"I think collectively, we all have one question: Where is Alan Shipnuck?"

To be fair to Shipnuck, he didn’t dodge the press conference. He took the slings and arrows that came his way and even had the courage to ask a follow-up question.

Most of us weren’t daft enough to put our necks on the line in such an outrageous way as Shipnuck, but it’s fair to say we had our doubts about Europe’s ability to win that match given the firepower of the United States. As for Europe’s seven-point victory, even the most diehard of European golf fans wouldn’t have predicted that winning margin.

Graeme McDowell wasn’t surprised. That victory finally convinced him Europeans really do come together better in the biennial match than Americans. Europe’s win was literally an eye opener for the man who served as one of Bjorn’s vice-captains, and who will one day almost certainly captain a European side.

“I started to think it was a bit of a fallacy all this talk about the camaraderie about the European team, that maybe that idea was over-played because half the guys play in America and the other half play in Europ,e but it’s real. It does exist. I saw it this week in front of my own eyes. I saw Rory McIlroy lift Tyrrell Hatton’s spirits. I saw Justin Rose being able to lift Thorbjorn Olesen up to his level. I’ve seen it happen. I know it’s real.
“European players naturally gel together without thinking. They become different people every two years. It comes naturally. Rory McIlroy’s a different person this week than he is week to week on the PGA Tour when he’s looking after himself. Seve was the same. So was Ollie (Jose Maria Olazabal).”

#JustSaying: “A Ryder Cup team brings the best out in all Europeans. That is what we are. We are cross nations. We have different cultural backgrounds. We believe in different things, but when we get on that team, we are proud of being European. It's forgotten that we have so much in common.” Thomas Bjorn

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