In war there is no place for romance. At least not in this battle. The American captain of the Ryder Cup, Steve Stricker, has assembled a very powerful and young team in search of the reconquest of the great trophy that since this Friday (2:00 p.m., Movistar Golf) Europe defends in enemy territory, in Whistling Straits (Wisconsin). Stricker ruled out giving him an invite from veteran Phil Mickelson, 51, even though this season he made PGA Championship history as the oldest winner of a great. And despite his enormous experience in competition, a fixture since he debuted in 1995. In return, he has enlisted him as vice-captain of a group of young stars. Dustin Johnson, number two in the world after Jon Rahm, is at 37 years the veteran of a group with six debutants and 29 years and 159 days on average, the youngest in almost a century, since the first edition of the Ryder, in 1927 Europe is more than five years older: 35 years and 43 days on average, three rookies. And it is also surpassed in the number of greats that its participants add (13 majors accumulate between the 12 American golfers by seven the Europeans) and in the average of the position in the world ranking of the players. The median rating for Stricker’s troop is 8.9 – down from 10 for the first time in history; eight among the top 10 in the world. For the boys captained by Padraig Harrington, ranked 30.8. Only Jon Rahm among the elite.
The numbers and the condition of host guarantee the United States. But the Ryder is not decided by adding talents but by playing as a team. Shoulder to shoulder. And there Europe has devastated in recent years due to the strength of its wardrobe: four victories in the last five editions, a resounding one in Paris 2018 (17.5 points to 10.5), nine of the last 12. Since Seve inoculated the winning germ in the old continent and collapsed in 1979 the door for non-British golfers to enter, send the boys in blue over those in red (11-8).
Surely no player symbolizes that clash of philosophies better than Tiger Woods. The big star collected titles and devoured individual records for years while wrecking the Ryder. Today, absent while recovering from a broken leg, he encourages his people with messages and is invoked by Stricker: “He is with us.” Foul will glue the USA captain. For example to deal with the egos of Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. Two of the big roosters are fighting and cannot even be seen. Hard to have chemistry. On the other shore, no one like José María Olazabal inherited that guild spirit from Seve. The unforgettable European comeback in 2012 in Medinah still stings in the North Americans’ dugout. Now they are crying out for vengeance.
From Seve to Olazabal. From Olazabal to Sergio García. From Sergio García to Jon Rahm. The passion for Ryder has permeated the Spanish golfer to the core. The Castellón, 41, and the Basque, 26, appear in Wisconsin and will form a couple on the first day in the foursomes (each duo plays a ball) in the morning, against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Garcia arrives after winning an invitation of the three that Harrington distributed for whom he did not qualify directly.
The triumphal march of Europe in recent editions cannot be understood without El Niño, who in Paris became the competition’s highest historical scorer, with 25.5 points. It is Mr. Ryder. With the cup between his eyebrows, García resigned from the Olympic Games to make merits in the face of the clash against the United States. Unlike Tiger, the 2017 Masters winner shines like never before when glory is decided as a team. “I am here because I have earned it by my game,” claims El Niño.
Rookie in 2018, leader in 2021. Three years ago, Jon Rahm was a rookie who ate Ryder with his eyes, so hungry for glory that he was loaded with pressure and was not able to add in the first days. Until chance matched him in Sunday’s individual duel with Tiger Woods and the Basque came out of the clash with the point in his pocket and a release. Today Rahm maintains the same momentum and along the way he has gained tons of maturity. He is number one in the world, this course he conquered his first major, the US Open, and saw the birth of his son Kepa. He’s another Rahm, much more self-confident, young blood in a locker room with four men over 40: Sergio Garcia (41), Paul Casey (44), Ian Poulter (45) and Lee Westwood (48).
Rahm arrives after a rarity, not making the cut in a tournament, the Fortinet Championship, suffering from stomach problems. Another bump in a season in which the covid took him down from the Memorial Tournament and left him without Games. The coronavirus postponed Ryder for 12 months, thus moving it from even to odd years. Now, at last, the ball will roll in the great battle.
This Friday morning’s matches: Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas against Jon Rahm and Sergio García; Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa vs. Paul Casey and Viktor Hovland; Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger vs. Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick; and Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele versus Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter.
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