For the first time I can remember, the Europeans will be the overwhelming favorites to win the Ryder Cup on U.S. soil this month at Valhalla. Rightfully so. The top 12 European players are clearly better than the top 12 Americans. However, Paul Azinger’s captain’s picks for the U.S. team show that he might have the right strategy to win.
Azinger understands that the U.S. will need to have a lead on Saturday night because the Europeans will have the advantage in the singles matches on Sunday. The U.S. must win in alternate shot and best ball to have any chance to win, and this squad is suited to the task.
Steve Stricker was an obvious choice for the team—it’s hard to think of a more solid guy. Hunter Mahan is somewhat of a surprise, but the kid is a birdie machine, which will help in best ball. Chad Campbell and J.B. Holmes are two guys whose games are perfectly suited to alternate shot. Campbell because he’s such a great ballstriker, and everyone likes to play with a guy who hits fairways and greens. No one would turn down Holmes as a partner either, not when his team will regularly be 60 yards closer to the hole than the competition. Azinger needed a long hitter like Holmes, although I’m sure Bubba Watson got a close look too.
That said, this strategy only gives the U.S. a fighting chance. Many will consider it a moral victory if the U.S. players keep it close, but I think they may surprise some people. Playing without Tiger Woods hurts, obviously, but his absence also takes away the U.S. safety net. Without Woods to count on, the Americans may play with more fire and passion.
Also, the Europeans, who always seem to make the clutch putts, will have more pressure on them this time. Maybe the burden of being the favorite will rattle them on the greens, and the underdog Americans will be able to sink a few of those clutch putts. Brian Mogg is director of instruction at the Brian Mogg Performance Center at Golden Bear Golf Club at Keene's Point, Windermere, Fla.