No need for Europe to hit Ryder Cup panic button, insists David Howell
Speaking at St Andrews ahead of this week’s 20th Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, 2013 winner Howell dismissed talk of the Wisconsin win signalling 20 years of dominance in the biennial event for the Americans.
As chairman of the European Tour’s tournament committee, Howell will join Harrington and his two predecessors, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn, in selecting the captain for the 2013 match at Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome, with Lee Westwood an odds-on favourite.
Buoyed by a brilliant all-round team performance last week from a new-look side containing six rookies, the Americans are already feeling confident about recording a first victory on European soil since 1993.
However, Howell reckons the Europeans, with the likes of Justin Rose and Francesco Molinari possibly returning to the team along with some newcomers, can hit back in Italy, just as they did after suffering a heavy defeat in the 2016 contest at Hazeltine.
“It’s a cycle, isn’t it?” said the Englishman, who played in Europe’s record 18.5-9.5 back-to-back wins at Oakland Hills in 2004 and The K Club in Ireland in 2006. “They are going to be very strong the next time round, we know that.
“But we’ve had Viktor Hovland come from nowhere the last two years, you know. You imagine he’ll be there and there might be some kid we’ve never heard of or someone who is just breaking onto the tour who might make it.
“But we also have some class players who missed out on this team. [Francesco] Molinari, [Martin] Kaymer, who won at Whistling Straits, for goodness sake, [Henrik] Stenson, [Justin] Rose, all not in the side. Big, big players and big characters that any side is going to miss collectively.”
The US side at Whistling Straits was the strongest in the event’s history. Nine of the players are in the world’s top 11, with Scottie Scheffler, who beat world No 1 Jon Rahm in the singles, the lowest-ranked of the 12 at 21.
“The long and short of it was they were strong on paper and they were strong on grass,” said Howell of Steve Stricker’s side. “At the end of the day, I think it was more to do with the brilliance of their performance rather than anything our team did wrong. They just outplayed us.
“They were a college team, weren’t they? They just looked like a college team without any fear, worry, stress. No scar tissue. They were all surging towards the top of the world rankings, they are making gazilions each year.
“They feel like they are the best players in the world. They are youngsters. They are major winners. It’s all been an upward trend apart from maybe Jordan, who has had his little blip but has come back and is also feeling good about life. Yeah, it’s the team you would want and they performed exactly as you thought they might.”
Paul McGinley, a winning captain at Gleneagles in 2014, reckons it would be beneficial for Europe for an event like the Seve Trophy or EurAsia Cup - effectively Europe’s equivalent of the Presidents Cup to be restored to the European Tour schedule.
“That’s not the reason why we didn’t perform well this week,” insisted Howell. “The Seve Trophy in its own right was a wonderful event. It was lovely. The guys who got to play in it thought it was fantastic.
“It doesn’t need to come back for our Ryder Cup hopes. It’s a nice have for the players who get to play in it and another team event for players in Europe would be a good thing, but I don’t think it’s a necessity.
“Listen, it’s still about the players, isn’t it?. I heard Paul’s comments on TV. Of course, the tour is trying to provide a platform for the players to progress to playing majors, WGCs and PGA Tour events. That path is becoming clearer and clearer, obviously, but it’s still an individual sport.
“Guys still have got to go to the gym, they've got to have skill and they’ve go to do what they’ve got to do. Right now, they’ve got 12 guys who are probably stronger en masse than our top 12.”
Though supporting from afar as he continues to recover from the leg injuries he sustained in a car crash in February, the win at Whisting Straits was gained without Tiger Woods playing, as was the case when the US won at both Valhalla in 2008 and that Hazeltine match.
“Listen, they had a problem with Tiger in that they couldn’t work out who to put with him,” observed Howell of the former 14-time major winner, who has appeared on just one winning team - at Brookline in 1999 - in seven appearances in the event. “There was no obvious pairing and they were always trying to find someone to play with him.
“Yeah, he was an intimidating person to play with quite clearly. DJ [Dustin Johsnon, who won five matches out of five last week] their current star, is a dream to play with. I don’t think anyone feels like that around DJ. He’s way easier. It’s not Tiger’s fault. He transcended the game, didn’t he?
“You also have to remember that when you partner someone with the best player in the world, you are almost weakening them and the thing that is most important, and this is what Sergio does so well, is you take the burden is on that person to enable the other player to play better.
“Tiger maybe wasn’t the best at realising that his job was to facilitate great golf from the other guy and it wasn’t just about him.”
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