Date: October 02, 2018
Author: Mike Clayton

CLAYTON: Ryder rebels without a cause

So the Europeans won the Ryder Cup on home soil again.

It ought not be a surprise since the most recent time they lost at home was in 1993 at the Belfry – and even then it was only barely.

This was supposed to be a great American team (an oxymoron perhaps?) but, aside from Justin Thomas, they barely turned up.

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson contributed a single point between them and Masters champion Patrick Reed just another.

On paper they looked almost unbeatable, but amidst the narrow fairways, high rough and a course not conducive to being overwhelmed by power, they were helpless.

In contrast, the brilliant pairing of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood won all four of their team matches and Molinari cleaned up Mickelson in the singles.

The American’s likely final shot in the Ryder Cup was a pulled-hooked six-iron into the water right of the par-three 16th green. It was a sad shot reminiscent of Greg Norman’s fateful six-iron into the pond left of the 16th green at Augusta in the 1996 Masters.

The revival of the Ryder Cup, a moribund event for decades, was led by Severiano Ballesteros, an uncommonly proud man, a brilliant player and one committed to proving his European Tour was much more than a second-rate imitation of its American counterpart.

The Spaniard understood how to make his men feel like the best players in the world and each time he rallied them around his cause. Before long it was their cause and it remains so almost four decades after he first played at The Greenbrier in 1979.

In stark contrast is the great Tiger Woods. America with Woods and Mickelson in the team have won one and lost seven Ryder Cups and that is surely more than coincidence.

It seems while Seve inspired his partners to the heights, all Woods does is to intimidate his. Patrick Reed was truly awful in the two matches they played together and when Tiger switched to Bryson DeChambeau for the Saturday foursomes, Molinari and Fleetwood cleaned them up on the 14th green.

Tiger, unlike Ballesteros, has no cause at the Ryder Cup and it mostly looks like it. America has no cause because their players assume the tour they represent is the best in the world. It is – but the Europeans love kicking sand in their faces and showing off just how they have caught up. No longer are the Americans universally accepted as being the best players in the world as they were in 1979 when Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino still ruled golf.

Much has been made of the course and how its extraordinarily penal arrangement of narrow fairways, high rough and fake water-lined holes based on the horrible precedent set by American 1970s golf architecture aided the home players.

It’s true it blunted the power advantage of men like Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Thomas and Tony Finau and it inspired comment from many including David Leadbetter and Sam Torrance that here was the way to address the problem of the modern ball flying too far and obsoleting so many of the world’s great courses. Obsoleting them if the measure is how their architects saw them playing both in terms of clubs hit into greens and width of fairways.

It is purely penal golf and the ‘penal school’ was a phase of golf replaced by the ‘strategic’ in the 1920s when Alister MacKenzie and his brilliant contemporaries articulated the argument the idea of simply punishing the bad shot was one leading golf down the road of irrelevance because the supporters of the penal arrangement failed to understand the game as played for fun and the setting of interesting and perplexing questions was important if it was to become an enduringly popular game.

MacKenzie, better than anyone, understood the importance of space, width and options from the tee – and the proof of his wisdom is his courses at Augusta, Cypress Point, Crystal Downs and Royal Melbourne are still recognised as being among the greatest dozen or so in the game.

The course in Paris was set to test, but it would be a huge mistake for golf to assume this is the answer to the problem of the ball flying too far at the top level of the game.

In little more than a year from now we will watch the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. The golf this course will ask for will be in stark contrast to Paris. The fairways are wide and narrowing them is a ridiculous notion ruining the time-proven concept of MacKenzie. The greens will be hard, hopefully sensibly fast but not preposterously so and the Americans will again be the clear favourites.

It’s now Ernie Els’ job to rally his team to the cause, just as Ballesteros did all those years ago.