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September 15, 2021

2021 Ryder Cup Review

I love the Ryder Cup because it brings golf to a higher emotional level. The competition is more intense and nearly every match and shot is over analyzed and critiqued. Golf commentators and writers have speculated for months on who would make the teams and who would be the Captains picks. The interest in the golf community is similar to predicting the NFL season or Super Bowl. Those picks are in and in one week the fun begins.

Steve Stricker, the US Captain, has a very strong and talented team consisting of automatic qualifiers, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay and his Captain's picks of Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Harris English, Daniel Berger, and Scottie Scheffler. The first ten players on this list were no-brainers that are solid players with excellent current year achievements. Berger and Scheffler were Stricker's last two picks that he had to choose over Patrick Reed, Kevin Na, Kevin Kisner, Webb Simpson, Jason Kokrak, Sam Burns, and Billy Horschel. Anyone of those left out would have been a solid addition to the team. The most controversial non-pick was Patrick Reed. He has a stellar Ryder Cup record and was deemed "Captain America" for his fierce playing style and enthusiasm. He also could be a disrupting personality in a team atmosphere and was critical of last Ryder Cup Captain, Jim Furyk, for his decisions in France. Just for that, he would be a person that Stricker would not enthusiastically welcome on the team. Fortunately, Stricker could state that because Reed wasn't able to play lately and had a case of double phenomena and Covid the he was not physically ready for this challenge. Patrick did play in the Tour Championship, but his scores showed he was not at his peak. One note that few have brought up, in the last Ryder Cup his record was 1 win and 2 loses. He won his singles match, but he played very poorly when teamed with Tiger Woods in the Four-Ball matches.

On the European side, the team had 9 automatic qualifiers first the top four players on the European PGA point list and then the next five players from the World Golf Rankings. Then Captain Padraig Harrington had three picks to round out the 12 Ryder Cup players. The European team consists of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Viktor Hovland, Lee Westwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton, and Bernd Wiesberger as automatic qualifiers. Captain Harrington picked Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, and Ian Poulter to fill out his squad. On paper the European team does not rank as high on the World Golf Rankings, but they always seem to play better together and putt the lights out when it is Ryder Cup time. I think Patraig's Captain choices are the right picks that he should have made, but they could backfire. Garcia is playing very well lately, but can he have another outstanding Ryder Cup where he putts unbelievably? Shane Lowry is just two years from winning the Open Championship in Ireland and is a steady performer, but he has not shown the remarkable form that won him the Claret Jug two years ago. Ian Poulter is the ultimate Ryder Cup player on the European side. It would be an injustice not to have him on your team. He has played reasonable this year, but not something that any US team member would be scared to come up against. However, Ian Poulter is another person in the Ryder Cup, he makes putts from all over the greens, he chips in, and does the unexpected. Can he continue to rise above and be spectacular?

The Ryder Cup venue is at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. This is a "big boy" golf course. You have to drive it long and straight. There is trouble lurking on very hole. It is a perfect "risk reward" golf course that is ideal for match play. This should be an advantage for the Americans. Because of Covid restrictions, there will not be a lot of European spectators yelling of their countrymen. Again this should be an advantage for the Americans. However, just like the Solheim Cup that was played last month, the European women overcame this disadvantage and soundly beat a talented US squad. The fun of the Ryder Cup is that you never know.

I love match play, because it pits player against player. Many times it's a players will or heart that determines the outcome. Your opponent hits a great shot and you have to respond. The opponent shows a weakness and you need to capitalize on the opportunity. There are major studs playing that no one would want to come up against. Jon Rahm and Patrick Cantlay are on top of their games and should be feared. I think the next best player on the European side is Viktor Hovland. He is a birdie machine. He will make his share of bogies or worse, but he more than makes up for it will a ton of birdies. Just the type of player for match play. Tony Finau would also be in that mode. Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa will a steady and if the Europeans win against them, it will be earned. Bryson is an unknown. Tough to pair him, because of his unusually playing style. He will be a wonderful teammate, but he could be great or a flop. Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Jordan Spieth have all been at the top of the golfing world. Any match that they play should be tight and entertaining. I was very pleased that Scottie Scheffler was chosen. He is a rising young star that knows team competition. He will be a fixture for many future Ryder Cups.

My prediction for the final outcome is the USA 16 and Europe 12. I like the US depth and course advantage. Europe has experience, but some of their players are getting older. Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia have a track record in this event that is enviable, but can they keep elevating their game and making those clutch putts? The matches start September 24 and end with single matches on Sunday the 26th. I'll be there in front of the television for the duration.

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