Ryder Cup 2021: Why there's no need for European doom and gloom

The problem with Europe’s success in the Ryder Cup over the past couple of decades is that it’s left some people with unfair expectations when the biennial event comes around.

Still smiling, Viktor Hovland speaks to the media along with his captan and team-mates after Europe's heavy defeat in the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
Still smiling, Viktor Hovland speaks to the media along with his captan and team-mates after Europe's heavy defeat in the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
Still smiling, Viktor Hovland speaks to the media along with his captan and team-mates after Europe's heavy defeat in the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

Count me in that camp because, in the build up to the 43rd edition of the transatlantic tussle at Whistling Straits, I allowed my heart to rule my head by predicting a win for Padraig Harrington’s team.

Let’s face it, the evidence was there for all to see before a ball was struck in anger at the Wisconsin venue that this match could, indeed, have proved a painful one for the European captain, players and fans.

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Steve Stricker’s side, after all, contained nine of the game’s top-11 ranked players while Scottie Scheffler, who took down world No 1 Jon Rahm in the singles, was the lowest of the 12.

On paper, it was the strongest-ever side to go into battle in the event and, over the course of the three days, we also saw a new mentality among the US players in the Ryder Cup.

I always remember Phil Mickelson once being asked about the contest during a Scottish Open at Loch Lomond and getting the impression that he didn’t really care about it.

I’ll apologise to the big man if I’m off the mark, but there’s simply no denying that the likes of Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa and Xander Schauffele have a real passion for the contest.

Make no mistake, that was as big a factor as the quality of the golf they produced on the banks of Lake Michigan because it allowed the Americans to finally show they can actually operate as a collective unit on this stage.

Credit for that also has to go to Stricker, one of golf’s quiet men, because he certainly played a part in this team singing from the same hymn sheet, even though Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau couldn’t bear to be in each other’s company beforehand.

It’s no surprise, of course, that some people are now predicting a spell of dominance for the US and, based on the average age of this team being just 26.4, that may well be the case.

However, we can’t use one result, resounding as though it may have been as the Americans recorded their record-breaking 19-9 win, to base the doom and gloom that suddenly seems to have shrouded Europe.

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Yes, this was a sore one and there can be no denying that fears about the form of some players heading into the match came home to roost.

It also didn’t help, of course, that both Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter didn’t turn up until the last day, though no-one really needs to tell them that, hence why the emotions flooded out of McIlroy on Sunday, when Poulter was also close to tears.

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This match signalled a changing of the guard for the US, with six rookies in Stricker’s side, and now we can expect to see the same thing happening with Europe for the 2023 encounter in Rome.

On his record-equalling 11th appearance and also on the day he matched Phil Mickelson’s mark of most matches in clocking up No 46, it was fitting that Lee Westwood recorded a win in the singles on Sunday.

However, that surely marked the end of his playing chapter in the event, with the Englishman, rightly so, being widely tipped to succeed Harrington for the match in Italy.

It also looks as though this was the end of the road for Poulter and, if so, he, too, can walk away with his head held high, having retained an unbeaten singles record and showing he could handle defeat as a team this time around with class and dignity.

If he stays fit and healthy, Sergio Garcia deserves to go again in two years’ time, and Rahm, for one, will certainly be keen for that to be the case as the Spaniards were simply magnificent together on this occasion.

Only time will tell if Paul Casey has another one in the tank, but I’ll certainly take both Viktor Hovland and Shane Lowry on the team that will be trying to stop the Americans from winning on European soil for the first time since 1993.

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Please don’t be fooled by Hovland’s return of just one point from five games because the young Norwegian played some great golf over the three days and did so with a huge smile on his face.

As for Lowry, he’d made no secret of what it meant to him to be involved in a Ryder Cup and, in different circumstances, the Irishman could easily have been the star of the show.

He can provide Poulter’s passion going forward as the likes of Bob MacIntyre, the Hojgaard twins - Rasmus and Nicolai - Guido Migliozzi, Adri Arnaus and Victor Perez hope they can join Hovland in adding youth to the European ranks.

It would be unfair, of course, to think that alone can get us back on track and Paul McGinley, the winning captain at Gleneagles in 2014, made an excellent point as he assessed the week at Whistling Straits from a European perspective.

He pointed out how valuable the Seve Trophy, in particular, but also the EurAsia Cup had been in preparing players - his own captaincy as well - for the Ryder Cup, and the lack of such an event at the moment is something that needs to be addressed.

What certainly wasn’t lacking at Whistling Straits was Europe’s renowned team spirit and those aspiring to be our next generation of Ryder Cup players should watch Sunday’s post-match press conference in full because, even on one of the darkest days in this event, this team epitomised everything that is good about golfers from this side of the Atlantic.

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