Breaking Down Where Each Captain Has Gone Wrong at the Ryder Cup

October 2, 2016

CHASKA, Minn.—One team is going to wonder on Sunday night, Where did all our points go? How did this one get away? If all we needed was one more half-point, what could we have done differently?

We’ve got 12 singles matches to go, but why wait until Sunday night’s beer-crying session? Let the second-guessing begin.

1. Your biggest gun is missing. Dustin Johnson, the PGA Player of the Year and arguably the best player in the world the last three months, sat out Saturday morning’s foursomes session, a surprising move by captain Davis Love. Johnson and partner Matt Kuchar had gotten drummed on Friday afternoon in four-balls but that was largely Kuchar’s doing. DJ is young and the fittest player on either team. Fatigue was not a factor. As one former Ryder Cupper told me Saturday afternoon, “Sitting Dustin cost them the half-point they lost this morning.”

2. Your hottest putter is missing. Guess who else inexplicably sat out Saturday afternoon? Brandt Snedeker. He paired with Brooks Koepka and scored what looked as if it would prove to be a crucial turnaround Their match against Henrik Stenson and Matthew Fitzpatrick was all square through 12 holes, then Koepka and Snedeker—mostly Snedeker—started pouring in putts and howling to the crowds. The Americans birdied four straight holes, starting at 13. Snedeker was America’s hottest hand in the morning… and he didn’t come back out in the afternoon? Koepka did, but he and Johnson got drilled by the Twin Tornadoes, Rory McIlroy and Thomas Pieters.

3. Where did all the rookies go? Europe’s captain Darren Clarke, still stuck with two players who hadn’t seen action, had to work them in Saturday morning. To do that, he broke up his strongest team, Justin Rose and Stenson. Rose paired with Chris Woods, the PGA BMW champ, who played really well in a 1-up victory while Fitzpatrick held his own until late in the match, when he dunked a shot into the water at the par-5 16th and lost their match to Snedeker and Koepka. In the afternoon, Clarke went back to his veterans, bringing in Westwood and Kaymer. Neither won a point.

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4. How to sink the Spanish Armada. In addition, Rafa Cabrera-Bello joined Sergio Garcia for an exciting duo that rallied from 4-down with six to play and stole a halve from American power duo Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth in morning foursomes. Cabrera-Bello holed the clutch putt from the fringe to win the 17th and get the match back to all square. The Spaniards looked like a match made in heaven yet later in the afternoon, Cabrera-Bello could be seen hitting putts on the practice green while roars echoed in the distance. Kaymer went out with Garcia and while he holed a gigantic putt at 15, continued his disappointed play and contributed only one other birdie in a loss to Kuchar, who sank a difference-making 500-footer at 13, and Phil Mickelson.

5. Split hairs, not dynamic duos. Clarke didn’t dare send out his two unplayed players Saturday morning on their own, Wood and Fitzpatrick. So he split up Stenson and Rose and turned one super-team into two mediocre teams, a captaining no-no… unless, of course, it works. Wood-Rose won, Stenson-Fitzpatrick lost, so maybe it was a wash.

6. The Philharmonic orchestra. Mickelson and Fowler swiped a point from McIlroy on Friday morning despite both Americans struggling off the tee. A point is a point, however. McIlroy probably wanted a rematch, and it wasn’t hard to figure out that Phil likes to go off first, so Clarke sent Rors and Pieters out and they drubbed the Americans, who really struggled with their tee balls again. That’s why it was so shocking when the 46-year-old Mickelson went back out in the afternoon with Kuchar, who had not looked good Friday. Especially with Snedeker available. Mickelson and Kuchar won a point, helped by Kaymer’s dismal play. Sometimes curious moves pay off. This one did.

7. Send in the champs. Clarke talked early in the week, in rebuttal to American commentator Johnny Miller’s remark about this being the weakest European team in years, that on the contrary, he had the Masters champ (Willett), the Olympic champ (Rose), the Open champ (Stenson) and the Tour Championship/FedEx Cup champ (McIlroy). Yet he didn’t have the confidence in Willett, whose brother caused a distraction by publishing an insulting anti-American screed, to play him in foursomes either morning. Maybe Willett wasn’t in form but how often do major champions sit out half of the team matches?

8. The putter theory. The Ryder Cup, and any form of match play, is a putting contest. Clarke remembers his old running mate, Westwood, still a terrific ballstriker, as the young stud he once was. But Westwood has a problem with the putter from short range. Friday morning, he missed an 18-incher, barely catching a piece of the hole. That was probably the end of that match right there. Saturday, Clarke sent Westwood (instead of Wood or Andy Sullivan) back into battle with Willett. Westwood holed a couple of long birdies but missed some short ones—the worst was barely 15 inches on the final green, a putt that would’ve won the hole and given the Euros a halve against J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore. Westwood blocked it four feet past, as ugly a short putt miss as you’ll see. Putting is a young man’s game, something that might have been considered before making him a wild-card pick. To be fair, the team already had six rookies, so you could argue that his veteran experience was needed.

Who’ll be counting up the missed opportunities and revisiting their debatable decisions on Sunday night?

The side that’s not partying.