The years are flying by and its Ryder Cup time again. I’m not sure where those two years have gone since the last match in the United States. The home team had a comfortable win 17-11 at Hazeltine National Golf Club. That followed six losses in seven matches but the Americans are the favourites to lift the trophy at Le Golf National near Paris. Europe’s captain, Thomas Bjorn, has gone for experience with his four wildcard picks. US counterpart, Jim Furyk, has done things differently.
Eight players qualified for both teams through the qualifying process. Europe’s qualifiers include five rookies while the US team has the top three players in the world rankings in their eight. Both captains had to weigh up experience against current form and Bjorn has opted for a former while Furyk has mixed things up with the three picks he has announced. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the old hands while Bryson DeChambeau is the hottest player just now. He chooses one more player after the BMW Championship and Tonu Finau is the favourite to get the call.
The Ryder Cup is being played in France for the first time. The event is one of the rare occasions in which the UK and the rest of Europe play under the European Union flag. The team representing Europe includes six British players. I wonder how many are Leavers or Remainers? My guess is a 50/50 split but I don’t think the result of the referendum will be discussed in the team room. The Ryder Cup is all about unity and perhaps a model for how Europe can work.
Bjorn’s team is a good mix of experienced Ryder Cup campaigners and players in form with an even split between British players and golfers from the rest of Europe. The balancing act between selecting players who have felt the unique pressure of playing in the Ryder Cup and qualifiers who have won their place is illustrated by the Spanish contingent. Jon Rahm earned his place by winning points while Sergio Garcia received an invitation from Bjorn. The captain was overloaded with rookies so went down the experience route with his picks.
Garcia was striving to win his first major for the best part of 20 years. He won the Masters Tournament last year to achieve his ultimate goal. Money is not an issue and he has got married and had a child so his priorities have changed. You can’t blame a player in his later 30’s who is now smelling the roses. Garcia’s professional life has suffered but he looks happier off the course. He can be a positive influence around the team playing for Europe.
You can multiply his influence by a few factors in the case of Ian Poulter. He missed the Ryder Cup in 2016 due to injury and the European team were poorer for his absence. Poulter is more than an inspiration with his character because he has produced the goods in the Ryder Cup over five appearances. When it comes to head-to-head golf against the Americans Poulter is the self-titled Postman because he always delivers. The rookies will be motivated by his involvement.
Henrik Stenson is just a reliable pro who keeps his cool under intense pressure. His career has had ups and downs but he has found some equanimity and he won his first major in the Open in 2016. Stenson has built up a solid partnership with Justin Rose and they are probably pencilled in to play together on the first morning. Stenson won’t let anyone down and can be a calming influence.
Paul Casey also got the nod from Bjorn and he plays in the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008. He moved to the United States and as he was not a European Tour member could not play in the last Ryder Cup. Casey has found a compromise which allows him to play in enough European Tour events to be a full member and be available for selection for the Ryder Cup. Bjorn believes the experience of his four picks is more important than current form.