On paper, Le Golf National was to be a grand triumph for the invading Americans, suavely showing up in their Aviator shades and smooth navy blazers. They played host to a Tiger Woods back to his peak, Brooks Koepka, a dual major winner, the world number one Dustin Johnson and reigning Masters champion and Captain America Patrick Reed. Throw in Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth from elsewhere in the OWGR top 10 and this was a side brimming with not just talent but swagger as well.
Yet the Europeans did not just beat them but banished them from Paris with tails firmly between legs, exposing the previously invisible cracks in their glistening armour. Since their defeat, Reed has criticised his teammates and captain Jim Furyk, Woods has admitted to not showing up (not for the first time at a Ryder Cup) and an inquest be demanded by a fiercely expectant American media.
So where do the problems lie exactly? It cannot be the ability of the personnel but attitude certainly seemed to be an issue. Was it Jim Furyk’s captaincy? Or were Europe just too darn good?
The latter should be addressed first. Thomas Bjorn got things spot on from the afternoon session of day one. All twelve members of his playing staff got an opportunity and he was rewarded with an exceptional display in the foursomes. Pairing Francesco Molinari, a player with a sketchy record in past Ryder Cups, and Tommy Fleetwood, a rookie having his first taste of the team event, was bold but paid off with aplomb. They won all four matches together, sparking a love-in for the duo on social media. In turn, Molinari won his singles match to be the first European ever to win all five matches. He hadn’t won any of his first six.
Bjorn’s captain’s picks worked wonders too. Sergio Garcia has had a wretched season but became Europe’s all-time leading points scorer with victory over Fowler in the singles. Henrik Stenson won all three of the matches he played, Paul Casey managed a highly impressive half with player of the year Koepka on the Sunday and Ian Poulter lived up to his perennial role of postman by defeating the best player in the world in Johnson.
Compare that to the American picks. Only Tony Finau managed any points at all. He was brilliant throughout and annihilated the undefeated Fleetwood in the singles. Woods, Phil Mickelson and DeChambeau, however, did not bring home a single point between them. Every member of the European team, meanwhile, secured at least a point.
This is not necessarily Jim Furyk’s fault. There’d have been outrage if he’d ignored a seemingly rejuvenated Tiger and DeChambeau cemented a deserved place after back-to-back victories in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Mickelson was a risk at 47 years of age, having slipped well below his usual standards recently but with ten editions of the Ryder Cup under his belt, it would have been equally as bold to have left him at home.
There are only two errors that I can pin to Furyk. The first came when he switched up the groups on the Friday afternoon having been close to a whitewash in the morning. Instead of keeping the victorious Koepka and Finau he brought in the truly disastrous combo of Mickelson and DeChambeau who went seven down by the turn in their game. Similarly, it is apparent with hindsight that dropping Woods and Reed, who had done battle with the dream team of Molinari and Fleetwood and lost narrowly, may have dented the confidence of both. Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson failed to fire when called upon as replacements.
I would say that Furyk got it spot on in the singles. For most of the final day the US were projected to lose by a much smaller margin than the 17 1/2- 10 1/2 they succumbed to. Thomas, Finau and Simpson beat arguably Europe’s strongest trio in Rory Mcilroy, Fleetwood and Justin Rose. As soon as it became apparent that Europe were doing enough in the later matches, however, the US completely lost their way.
Unusually for such a patriotic nation, they appeared to lose their pride. Instead of forging on tenaciously in defeat, the likes of DeChambeau, Fowler and Watson let their standards slip far below the usual. DeChambeau was in control of his match against Alex Noren for the majority of the afternoon yet fell to defeat on the final hole. Fowler could easily have prevented defeat against an ailing Garcia but went in the water at both the 15th and 16th holes.
That is the second issue with Furyk’s leadership. He didn’t unite the egos. The likes of Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Fowler are exempted from this as they are reliable types and unlikely to have fallen out with members of their own team. However, Reed and DeChambeau are fiery and Woods may have reached the summit again at the wrong time.
While Ian Poulter, Rory Mcilroy and Paul Casey are outspoken in their own time, they never fail to unite when Europe calls them. On the contrary, other than Thomas and Finau, no American can go back with his head held high.
The entire European team became superheroes in the eyes of those who had the privilege to spectate. The same cannot be said of the US.
Their group of superegos was miles ahead on paper but as far behind in reality.