Americans 'unburdened' by 30-year Ryder Cup road misery, says Zach Johnson

Greg Norman was the Open champion, John Major was the Prime Minister and a high-speed train made its first journey from France to England via the Channel Tunnel ahead of its official opening the following year.

We are talking about 1993, the year that also produced the last American win on European soil in the Ryder Cup as Tom Watson’s team triumphed 15-13 over a home one led by Bernard Gallacher at The Belfry.

Since then, the US has lost at Valderrama in Spain, The Belfry in England, The K Club in Ireland, Celtic Manor in Wales, Gleneagles in Scotland and, most recently, Le Golf National in France.

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That’s a significant losing streak, especially when you consider that Europe has recorded three victories on US soil - at Oak Hill in 1995, Oakland Hills in 2004 and Medinah in 2012 - in that time.

US captain Zach Johnson and European counterpart Luke Donald pose with the Ryder Cup during the 'Year to Go' celebrations in Rome earlier this week. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
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The win under Watson was secured with a side that contained experienced Ryder Cup campaigners in Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins and Tom Kite, established names in Payne Stewart, Paul Azinger, Fred Couples, Corey Pavin and Chip Beck and rookies in Davis Love III, Lee Janzen, John Cook and Jim Gallagher jnr.

Equally strong sides, some possibly even stronger, have tried but failed to find the recipe for success in the biennial contest on this side of the Atlantic and now the 2023 match at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club outside Rome will present another throw of the dice by an American captain and his players.

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“Well, my theory is that the European team has scored more points than us when we participated over here,” joked Johnson, speaking at this week’s ‘Year to Go’ celebrations in the Italian capital, in reply to being asked about the dismal US road record.

“No, joking aside, it's just difficult. Just the mere fact that when you come to a hostile, foreign environment, it's hard. Coupling that, you've got these passionate fans over here, who I adore, cheering and rooting really hard for their team, as they should.

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Tom Watson captained the US to its last victory in the Ryder Cup on European soil with a 15-13 victory at The Belfry in 1993. Picture: Chris Cole/Getty Images.

“So I don't know why we haven't (done better). There's a lot of hypotheticals and theories that you can come up with. What I do know is that 2023 will be an opportunity of a lifetime, and that will be my message, pretty simple.

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“Let's embrace the difficulty. Let's relish in the moment of being in Rome, competing in a sport you love, and representing a country that you're from. I mean, that's an opportunity of a lifetime. So that's how I'm going to go about it.”

It’s often been claimed that the Americans haven’t been able to grasp the fact there is no ‘i’ in the word ‘team’. Phil Mickelson, for example, threw his captain, Tom Watson, under the bus in a public mauling following the defeat at Gleneagles in 2014 while Patrick Reed also had a pop at Jim Furyk after a heavy loss in France.

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“Yes, I would,” Johnson replied to being asked by Scotland on Sunday if he would dispute that claim. “The (three) teams that I played on over here have been great teams. I think you could argue on the flipside of that, that we care too much and we want it too much; that it can be kind of heavy and burdensome.

"I think the system that we have kind of got in place now, we have alleviated some of those burdens and some of that weight and it's going to be my responsibility and my role to continue that.”

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Jordan Spieth has already played in two matches in Europe while Justin Thomas picked up four points from five matches on his debut in 2018. But there should be no weight at all on the shoulders of the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay as they don’t bear any Ryder Cup scars on the basis of their only appearance so far being a memorable one at Whistling Straits.

“Some of our young studs have played over here, but you could go on the cliche that ignorance is bliss,” observed Johnson, who played in five matches in total himself before serving as an assistant captain on two occasions.

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“Take ignorance aside, regardless of who our 12 are and who their 12 are, it's going to be very difficult. They are going to have 12 formidable players that are going to represent Europe to the utmost and the way I see it, it's going to be a lot harder to win this year than it is over there. That's the commonality every four years.”

As things stand, the Americans will be heading to Rome without Dustin Johnson, who picked up five points out of five at Whistling Straits, as well as Reed, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. As a result of joining LIV Golf, the so-called ‘rebels’ are not currently eligible for Ryder Cup points.

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With Johnson involved as an assistant captain to Love at Quail Hollow, the US won the recent Presidents Cup against the Internationals, with Billy Horschel, Max Homa, Sam Burns and Cameron Young all thriving in that team environment.

“Well, certainly you can find confidence in winning but, at the same time, the 2022 Presidents Cup team and 2021 Ryder Cup team are two totally different teams,” said Johnson, who sprung a small shock when winning The Masters in 2007 but then proved that was no fluke when adding The Open eight years later. “Those two teams were great and they rose to the top, both on US soil.

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“There's a lot of youth in the States right now that are really, really good. They are hungry. They are prepared. They treat it very professionally. I feel from my vantage they really understand their role and they are not above the game. They are certainly not above this Cup. I think that's a great posture to have when going to battle as a team.

“From what I can tell, their 2023 goals will be listed and one of them, if not at the top of the list, will be this.”

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