The European Ryder Cup team has been chosen. Captain Darren Clarke added his three wild-card choices Tuesday morning to complete his 12-man lineup. He picked Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Thomas Pieters.
They’re good picks, obvious picks, although there was a feeling that Luke Donald might have been a choice but Pieters simply played too well in August to ignore.
But does it even matter who Clarke picked? The Europeans have proven they could suit up three Greek fishermen and still win the Cup. They own this event and have for the last two decades. They own Team USA. They know it, Team USA knows it and the Euros know Team USA knows it.
The European team has been one step ahead of the Americans throughout this century. The Cup tally in that time, by the way, is Europe 6, USA 1. The lone American win was in 2008 when Paul Azinger out-captained Nick Faldo in 2008 and won the Cup with Boo Weekley but without Tiger Woods. Who’s been passed over as captain for four Ryder Cups since then? The only man who led a U.S. victory in this century. But hey, that’s another story.
Who’s captaining this team? Davis Love, the guy who captained the 2012 Cup at Medinah where the Americans blew a 10-6 lead and suffered their own Brookline-like meltdown. But hey, that’s also another story.
There has been one recurring theme throughout the last 20 years of Ryder Cups. It is that the Americans are so certain of their superiority. That’s funny, considering they’re on the wrong end of a 10-4-1 mark since 1985.
And about those four wins, Europe had a 10-6 lead at Brookline the final day and only a miracle prevented its victory. In ’91 at Kiawah Island, Bernhard Langer narrowly missed a seven-foot putt that would have led to a tie, allowing Europe to keep the Cup. The U.S. win in ’93 at The Belfry hinged on poor putting by an Italian—Costantino Rocca—in a key match with Love. It was a close call, Europe nearly pulled it out.
So that 10-4-1 mark is close to being 12-1-2. Yet Las Vegas oddsmakers have established the U.S. as the favorite. I know, that’s all about Vegas understanding public perception. Vegas doesn’t know who’s going to win or care, it sets betting lines to try to induce an equal amount bet on both sides, then simply collect its percentage—vigorish—from the winning wagers.
The pressure of the Ryder Cup has gotten so big that nobody wants to be the favorite anymore. Both teams typically fight over the underdog role now.
“Darren has been telling me they are the underdogs and we’re the favorites,” Love said at the PGA Championship. “On paper, they are pretty equal teams. I haven’t looked at the world rankings but on paper, we’re usually the better team. But it doesn’t always work out that way.”
Go back and compare the Ryder Cup lineups from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, using the benefit of hindsight. The Europeans almost always had a better team. Americans just don’t think so because they’re not as familiar with some of the players who don’t play that often in the U.S. And if they’re not playing on the PGA Tour, the conceit follows, how good can they be?
Danny Willett showed just how good at the Masters in April. Henrik Stenson won the British Open with a closing 63. Justin Rose, a former U.S. Open champ, captured the Olympic gold medal. If you were doing your own world rankings right this minute on how it looks, Stenson and Rose would probably be 1-2, in either order.
Kaymer has been ephemeral but brilliant. He’s won two majors and he was Mr. Clutch in that European reversal at Medinah. At 43, Westwood tied for second in the Masters and played in the final pairing of the U.S. Open at Oakmont with Dustin Johnson. All he does is play tough in the Ryder Cup and he’s a great partner. Westwood is 17-9-6 in team format play and he’s been a part of seven winning Ryder Cup sides, a record.
Pieters just won in Denmark. Including the Olympics, his last three finishes are fourth, second and first. Andy Sullivan won three times in 2015, Chris Wood is a proven winner and, well, the list goes on. The team is so solid that Sergio Garcia is on it again and hardly anyone has noticed.
You will notice Sergio at Hazeltine. He will play with emotion, he will cheer on his teammates and he will be very hard to beat. Just like the Europeans always are.
Memo to the American squad: Strap on your hardhats. You are the underdogs, not the Europeans, and you will continue to be the underdogs until you prove otherwise. The Europeans not only possess the Ryder Cup, they own this event.