The wait goes on for Team USA.
Not since 1993 at The Belfry have America won a Ryder Cup on European soil, with a 16.5-11.5 defeat in Rome this week condemning them to a seventh consecutive loss on the road.
So just where did it go wrong for Zach Johnson’s side at Marco Simone?
Lack of preparation
Whereas each member of the European team teed it up at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth earlier this month, nine of the American twelvesome had not tasted any competitive golf since the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta in late August.
Only Justin Thomas and Max Homa – the latter of whom ended up USA’s top points scorer in Rome with 3.5 out of five – had played on the PGA Tour in the last month, while Brooks Koepka featured on the LIV Golf circuit a week before the Ryder Cup.
US skipper Johnson refuted the notion that his men were undercooked, saying at his post-event press conference: “There’s something to be said about rest and recovering and getting your game in a position where you can compete. These guys have won a lot of golf tournaments with weeks off.
“I might reflect on some changes that I maybe could have done or nuanced or altered or whatever [but] I am not going to slight the preparation of these guys. Whether it was at home or here, I know they were working their tails off to retain and bring the cup back home.”
However, Paul McGinley, who captained Europe to Ryder Cup glory at Gleneagles in 2014, felt the American team lacked a “competitive cutting edge, saying: “In Paris in 2018, America were over-golfed and jaded. This time was the opposite, players hadn’t played in weeks. I only started to see fire from USA on Saturday afternoon but by then the horse had bolted. Europe were out of sight.”
Sir Nick Faldo also said that there was “no way” America’s players would head into a major having not played for so long and Jordan Spieth said for him personally that such a lengthy rest was not ideal.
“If it were tighter to our TOUR Championship and/or even if it were later and we had more of an opportunity to get a little rest and play more of an event or something, then it helps a bit.”
Johnson’s captains’ picks
Eyebrows were raised when Johnson announced his wildcard selections for the Ryder Cup with Justin Thomas given a gig despite failing to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs, missing the cut in three majors (Masters, US Open, Open Championship) and finishing tied for 65th in the other.
Thomas picked up 1.5 points in Italy, the joint-highest return among Johnson’s six picks alongside Koepka, with Collin Morikawa, Sam Burns and Spieth securing a solitary point and Rickie Fowler absolutely zilch, although the latter was said to be battling illness.
Among those overlooked by Johnson was Lucas Glover, with the 43-year-old’s back-to-back victories at the Wyndham Championship and FedEx St Jude Championship in August not enough to earn him a call-up. LIV trio Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Talor Gooch also missed out.
Dustin Johnson managed five points from five when USA demolished Europe 19-9 at Whistling Straits in 2021, DeChambeau has won two of the last three LIV events and shot a 58 in one of them, while Gooch is a three-time champion in the LIV League in 2023.
Faldo said: “Johnson took a risk with his six picks. They are great names but I said right from the start that they were all running hot and cold. He left out Glover who had just won two tournaments so I am sure he is hurting over that.”
“I maybe made some poor decisions… I’ll reflect at some point,” was what captain Johnson told Sky Sports shortly after Tommy Fleetwood clinched the Ryder Cup for Team Europe.
Johnson was quick to praise his 12 players but those “poor decisions” he mentioned are possibly with regards to how he paired them, with USA only managing 5.5 of the 16 points available across fourballs and foursomes. Foursomes was a complete disaster for America. They were thrashed 7-1.
It was a little odd to see Ryder Cup rookie Burns put in the first match of the entire contest – one he and Scottie Scheffler lost 4&3 to Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton. It was perhaps even odder to see Koepka, Thomas and Spieth not used at all until the afternoon’s fourballs.
Koepka has been one of the gun players of 2023, winning the third PGA Championship of his career in May after finishing second at The Masters in April, while Thomas and Spieth were expected to be a key pairing for Johnson having linked up before in Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups.
Overconfidence, illness or lack of team morale?
We may never know if any of those things played a part in Team USA’s defeat but Sky Sports’ Dame Laura Davies wondered whether the away side expected an easy win after utterly dominating Europe in Wisconsin two years ago. “Maybe because they won so easily at Whistling Straits they thought it would be a breeze to win the trophy again,” she said.
Faldo added: “Whether America thought they could waltz over here because they are bigger and stronger, I don’t know, but they got a nasty shock. Europe were physically, technically and mentally prepared. They were ready.”
Johnson and his players have also been adamant that this USA team is a close-knit one, despite murmurings that not all was well in the camp. The team line has been that Patrick Cantlay’s decision to go hatless was not done because he objected to players going unpaid for this tournament but simply because he could not find a cap that fit.
Maybe the ill-feeling was overplayed, then, but you do sense the more natural rapport there seems to be in the European side was crucial in their foursomes success.
Skipper Luke Donald opted to begin with that format in the hope of a “fast start” and, boy, did he get one, with the home side winning the opening morning 4-0.
US captain Johnson said after his team’s day-one horror show that illness had been a factor, if not an excuse. “We’re fighting things internally. It’s kind of passed around a little bit, caddies, players. I’m grateful we have a team doctor.
“The bottom line is there’s been some unforeseen things that we’ve had to navigate around, which is really unfortunate, in the sense of health. It’s one of those where sometimes the energy is probably a little low, but the ability and desire to go out and play is still there.”
Europe were too good
That’s the main reason USA lost the Ryder Cup. Even if there was infighting, illness, a lack of competitive golf, and poor pairings, even if not wining overseas in 30 years weighed heavily on them, America were ultimately blown away by the better side.
McIlroy, Rahm and Viktor Hovland showed exactly why they sit so high in the world rankings, winning four, 3.5 and three points respectively to lead Europe towards victory, while every single player contributed at least half a point to the overall tally of 16.5.
Home Ryder Cups seem to bring the best out of Europe and for McIlroy the event cannot be topped by anything else in the game.
“I don’t get emotional about any other event apart from this. This is truly the best event in golf bar none. Any boy or girl aspiring to play golf, this is the pinnacle.
“This is the best and I hope anyone who is a great golfer gets to experience what we are experiencing right now.”
Team USA will hope to experience it at New York in 2025, erasing the mistakes and memories of another unsuccessful visit to Europe.
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