CHASKA, United States: A revamped American squad that US captain Davis Love called the best ever assembled faces a Europe team that has dominated them for two decades when the 41st Ryder Cup opens Friday (Saturday in Manila).
As players on both teams at Hazeltine mourn the death of legend Arnold Palmer, holders Europe seek an unprecedented fourth consecutive victory over their US hosts, who have dropped six of the past seven meetings and eight of the past 10.
“We are very determined to keep the Ryder Cup and keep this streak going,” British Open champion Henrik Stenson said.
US Open champion Dustin Johnson, PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, making his 11th Ryder Cup appearance to match Nick Faldo’s record, lead an American squad hungry to reclaim the Cup.
“We’re just tired of being told we haven’t won in a while,” said two-time major winner Jordan Spieth. “We want this one.”
Swiping a page from Europe’s playbook, the US team assembled a committee to manage details and focus upon Ryder Cup issues, ending last-minute hurried pairings that often failed for unanticipated problems.
“It’s very much like the model that the Europeans have done with tremendous success in bringing out their best golf,” said Mickelson. “When you get together as a team and work together, you can achieve much greater success than you ever can as an individual. It’s exciting to be part of the groundwork and the foundation of the US side trying to do that now going forward.”
The Heckling at Hazeltine?
Olympic champion Justin Rose, US PGA FedExCup playoff champion Rory McIlroy and Stenson spark Europe, but a changing of the guard has six Ryder Cup newcomers on the roster, including Masters champion Danny Willett, who has already had to apologize for insults to US fans by his brother Pete.
If enough US supporters were angered by the comments in an European online column, the Heckling at Hazeltine might join the Battle of Brookline, War at the Shore and Miracle at Medinah in Ryder Cup lore.
But that’s not the spirit Palmer would want to see at an event where he will be honored after his death last Sunday at age 87 from heart problems.
“I hope he inspires this Ryder Cup to be all about good teamwork, fair play, good fun, camaraderie amongst both teams and all the fans — because that’s what Arnie stood for,” Rose said. “He was such a gentleman and he would love to see it continued to be played in that way.”
The Americans, who lead the overall rivalry 25-13 with two drawn, suffered the greatest last-day collapse in Ryder Cup history in 2012 with Love as captain, Europe winning eight singles matches and halving another for a 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory.
Hoping to taste the feeling
“Certainly Medinah was a hard loss for us,” US veteran and Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar said. “But when it comes down to it, we all still feel the pain and there’s probably some left over.
Europe star Rose dismisses favored and unfancied tags in favor of preparation ahead of Friday’s first tee shots.
“We’ve got players who can step up and deliver,” Rose said. “To win this week, you’re going to have to step up and deliver.
Each team will compete in four alternate shot foursomes matches on Friday and Saturday mornings and four four-ball matches in the afternoons, sitting out four players from each session. On Sunday, there will be 12 concluding singles matches.
Captains will each submit their lineups, allowing no chance to guarantee specific matchups. But some of the ones that could happen are quite interesting.
Two-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who collapsed on the back nine to squander the Sunday lead at the Masters, could meet Willett, the man upon whose shoulders he placed the green jacket at Augusta National in an uncomfortable ceremony.
Stenson, who won his first major this year at Royal Troon with a 72-hole major record 264, could be matched up against Mickelson, who battled him throughout the final round last July.
And in pairs, a likely combination that went 3-0 in 2014 at Gleneagles is Stenson and Rose, who staged an epic fight in Rio for the first Olympic title since 1904.