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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ryder Cup Thoughts on the Euro Team

I figured I should write two posts instead of one, since I don't want to get too confused. (Hey, I called Todd Lewis 'Tom' last week. I can take nothing for granted!) So tonight I'm going to start with the Euros.

Darren Clarke

Just for the record, nothing I say in this post should be taken as a criticism of Darren Clarke. These are just some observations I made about what happened, and I think Darren's decisions -- no doubt made with the advice of his vice captains -- made perfectly good sense, given the team's past performance.

Of course, in hindsight, I think that was part of the problem. To the best of my knowledge, no captain on either side has dealt with a team that had six rookies. It just goes to prove that, no matter how good your team is and how sound your team's "system" is, we are still humans dealing with an imperfect world. There is no guarantee that we will make the best adjustments the first time we face a situation.

There will be those who say that the Euros lost because they had six rookies. I completely disagree with that. I believe the problem was twofold, and the first was how the rookies were used. The Ryder Cup has become such a huge affair that playing a rookie only once before the singles probably isn't enough to prepare them for the challenge. With all the pressure that players now feel inside the ropes, we have to assume any rookie will lose his first match. (He may not, but we should assume he will. He'll still feel internal pressure to perform, but the captain will be able to relieve some of the external pressure.)

I also believe that today's rookies are better prepared than they were in the past and, with proper coaching beforehand, there's no reason that a pair of rookies shouldn't be sent out together. There are enough vice captains now to accompany each pairing, and that allows for "on-the-job training," which is probably the most effective way for them to learn.

I understand what Darren was trying to do. He wanted to hide some perceived weakness in the team while still giving the rookies some experience. But that brings us to the second problem -- not all of the veterans "showed up." Darren's two Captain's Picks, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood, played a total of seven matches but could only generate one point between them... and that one point came in singles. You simply can't use traditional veteran/rookie pairings with any success in a situation like that.

It's worth noting that, had the Euros generated only one more point during the team matches -- just a single point, mind you -- Sunday singles would have begun with an 8.5-7.5 score rather than the 9.5-6.5 score the Euros actually faced. This wasn't the weak Euro team that some might wish to believe, and I think it could have won many of the recent Cups.

It just couldn't do the job this time. The level of play in this Cup was just too good to allow anybody to have an off week.

On the positive side, I believe the Euro team has discovered three rookies who are ready-to-go. Yes, I said THREE rookies. Many of you will remember that I said Thomas Pieters should NOT be considered a rookie. Thomas also said as much after the singles, and he proved it by setting a Ryder Cup record for points by a rookie. And Rafa Cabrera Bello has been playing regularly over here in the US, both on the PGA and Tours. And they'll be teaming successfully with Rory and Sergio for many Cups to come.

But many people are underestimating Chris Wood's performance. Wood played only two matches -- the Saturday foursome with Justin Rose, which they won, and his Sunday single. In that he was unfortunate enough to draw Dustin Johnson... and all he did was take DJ all the way to 18, coming back from 2down with 3 to play, and losing by only 1down. All under the pressure of knowing his team NEEDED his point.

Oh yeah, Chris Wood is Ryder Cup-tested. He'll be fine going forward.

As for the other three rookies, I don't think they really had a chance to prove themselves. Matt Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan only had one match -- both in foursomes, which I think may have been a mistake for their first taste of the Cup -- and then had the pressure of needing to win on Sunday. (Matt faced Zach Johnson and Andy faced Brandt Snedeker, two of the best putters on the team.)

And poor Danny Willett! First there was the fuss over his brother's post, then although he got to play two fourball matches -- which was a good choice -- one was with Martin Kaymer, the other with Lee Westwood. And then he drew Brooks Koepka in singles. It was stacked against Danny from the start, which is why I didn't hold his performance against him in my RGWR in the sidebar.

These three rookies were unintentionally set up to fail. Had Martin and Lee shown up as expected, things might have been different, but as the old saying goes, "hindsight is 20/20." At least they got a taste of the Cup, albeit a slightly bitter one, so they won't be rookies next time.

All-in-all, I didn't think the Euros had such a bad Ryder Cup. They're still 8&3 in the last 11 Cups, after all.

Besides, although it's always disappointing to lose, it's not like they'll need a Task Force or anything.

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