Ryder Cup after Day Two

Ryder Cup after Day Two September 30, 2023

After two days of the Ryder Cup, with tomorrow’s final round to go, the score stands at Europe 10.5 points and the US at 5.5 points. So, the US must have a massive surge tomorrow to win this premier sporting event in what would be its first US win on European turf in the past thirty years. It didn’t used to be this way.

The US used to own the Ryder Cup, plain and simple. But that was before the legendary, charismatic, dark-and-handsome Seve Ballesteros charged forth from his nation of Spain like a proud conquistador from out of the dark ages to conquer the New World all over again. Ever since, the Europeans have sort of owned the US even though it never looked that way on paper.

Yesterday, the US finished so far behind–with 1.5 points to Europe 6.5 points–that they tied their worst, first-day performance in the now 100+-year history of this biennial and emotional event best played from the short grass. After two rounds today, the matches stand at Europe with 10.5 points and the US with 5.5 points. Whichever team first reaches a total of 14.5 points wins.

Even before this tournament started, there has been some criticism of the leadership of new team captain Zach Johnson, a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour and winner of the 2007 Masters and 2015 (British) Open. So far, it appears the critics may be right.

The first two days of the Ryder Cup are team matches, and the last day is only individual matches. So, one criticism has been that the first day, yesterday, Zach played two rookies and benched Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, but that’s because these two major championship winners have not been playing up-to-par.

Another criticism of Zach’s captaincy is that yesterday he paired best friends and Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns, both outspoken Christian members of the PGA Tour Bible Study. That criticism was based on them being two of the best players on the Tour, with Scottie being the #1 player in the world the past two years. The thinking there is that you ought not pair your best players together. But I suspect Zach, who also is Christian member of the Tour Bible Study, probably paired them together because they wanted it that way.

The Ryder Cup began in 1927 as a friendly match between American pros and British pros. The US dominated these matches so much that, in 1979, at the constant pleading of especially superstar Jack Nicklaus, the matches were improved by enlarging the size of the team across the pond to include all of Europe. Then the Seve Ballesteros–the long hitter with the magical short game–arrived on scene. And the rest is history.

I played with the nineteen-year old Seve the first two rounds at the PGA Tour’s tournament at Memphis. I forget what year it was. It was Seve’s second US tournament since he played the Master’s the prior week. I didn’t know anything about him. My friend and superstar Gary Player had learned the previous day that I was paired with Ballesteros. So, Gary sought me out and said, “This kid is going to become one of the greatest pro golfers of all time.” Was he ever right. Seve injected enthusiasm into the European team in the Ryder Cup and, again, the rest is history.

Regardless of strategy in making team pairings, the Europeans have again simply outplayed the Americans. We’ll see tomorrow if they can keep that up again on their home turf near the famed city of Rome in Italy to hoist the trophy.

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