The Story of This Ryder Cup Was Simple: Europe Just Played Better

It's tempting to try to find someone or something to blame for this Ryder Cup debacle: Jim Furyk? The course setup? Nope—Europe just played elite. It's that simple.
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SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Blame Jim Furyk for this. All that preparation, and he didn’t ask a single vice captain to give Francesco Molinari food poisoning.

Blame Tiger Woods. He stood near the 18th tee Sunday, after gamely fighting back against Jon Rahm before finally losing, and he watched Ian Poulter hit a tee shot without tackling him. You would think Tiger could have at least yelled a line from Caddyshack during Poulter’s backswing. But no. He just stood there chatting with Brooks Koepka.

Hell, blame Koepka, too. He yanked his approach on 18 way left Sunday, just as he did on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock in June. That time, he had a lead and won anyway. This time, he was all square with Paul Casey and needed a win to spur an improbable U.S. comeback. Instead, Koepka halved the hole and the match.

Blame Patrick Reed. He was great in the last two Ryder Cups and lousy for much of this weekend. Blame Phil Mickelson for: wanting to play, playing poorly, accepting Jim Furyk’s decision to bench him Saturday, and then losing to Molinari, the world’s hottest golfer, Sunday. Come on, Phil. Have you forgotten the art of tripping people?

Or…you could just say the better team won.

I know. That might not feel very American. It’s easier to blame the coach or scream at a referee or hire a lawyer to file an injunction. But Europe was better. That was the story here at Le Golf National, and maybe we just ought to acknowledge that the winners (by a 17.5-10.5 score!) played some incredible golf.

While you’re at it, do what Rory McIlroy did. He stood on the 17th hole, following Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods, and he took a break to look back at one of the big screens showing another match. Justin Rose had his hands on McIlroy’s shoulders. Both had lost their singles matches—McIlroy after the world’s worst beach vacation on 18 (two shots out of the same bunker, with the second one finding a water hazard and leading to a fairway concession) and Rose after trailing from the second hole on. Now McIlroy watched Thorbjorn Olesen drop another hammer on Jordan Spieth, and McIlroy yelled:

“Go on, Thorbjorn!”

McIlroy knew Olesen had not yet won a Ryder Cup point in his career. And he knew that when they were paired together Friday, Olesen had played pretty well and McIlroy didn’t make a single birdie. McIlroy wanted to see Olesen win a point, which he did.

“He didn’t chime in for a while,” McIlroy said afterward, “but he certainly arrived on Sunday.”

Every European player earned a point. Remember that as you scream that European captain Thomas Bjorn outwitted U.S. captain Jim Furyk. Bjorn said early in the week that his only problem was that everybody was playing so well, and what sounded like spin turned out to be true. Bjorn had only good options. Furyk’s options were...not as great.

Is that Furyk’s fault? Well, he is the one who chose Mickelson, Tony Finau, Bryson DeChambeau and Woods. It’s easy to question those decisions now, after those players combined to go 2-10. But that criticism does not hold up under cross-examination.

Furyk Erred in Mickelson Decision, But That Can Happen Under Ryder Cup Pressure

You can say Mickelson was lousy lately, but guess what? Woods, DeChambeau and Finau were probably the hottest American golfers coming in.Mickelson was 10th in the final Ryder Cup standings, he is the second-biggest name in American golf, and he has more Ryder Cup experience than anybody. It’s not all good experience—he has lost more matches than any American in Ryder Cup history, after all—but it was not crazy to think Mickelson could come here and play well. Who was Furyk supposed to pick? Matt Kuchar? Xander Schauffele? Wonderful player, but he can also be wild off the tee.

You can argue that Kevin Kisner was better suited to this course, and you might be right, but I’m not going to scream that Furyk should have left Phil Mickelson off the team so he could reach down lower in the points standings and grab Kisner. As Mickelson himself said, “Ever since I shot 63 right before being picked, I’ve struggled.” It was just lousy timing for a horrible slump.

And if you think Schauffele or Kisner would have been great choices to make , remember: the U.S. already had three Ryder Cup rookies. Did you really want a fourth? As a smart man once said, “When you have some great new guys coming through, you’ve got to balance it out with the experience.”

That smart man was Thomas Bjorn. He said that Sunday night, after winning the Ryder Cup with some veterans who were not in great form coming in.

Did Furyk make mistakes? Sure. I didn’t love the Patrick Reed-Tiger Woods pairing—Woods seemed like a more comfortable fit with Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas. But it was hard to envision Reed being so awful Saturday. People were ready to jump all over Furyk for playing Bubba Watson in foursomes, but Watson was one of only four Americans to win a foursomes point. Uh, never mind then.

Woods won last week, contended in the last two majors and nearly won the FedEx Cup. Dustin Johnson is the top-ranked player in the world. They combined to win one point. That’s not the captain’s fault.

And if there was dissension in the ranks, the Americans did one hell of a job of hiding it. After Spieth got waxed and Europe clinched the Cup, Spieth went to support Bryson DeChambeau. Nobody else noticed, but DeChambeau did. When somebody in the post-match press conference asked why Bjorn was a better captain, Rickie Fowler politely cut him off: “Well, he wasn’t a better captain.” When another reporter asked Furyk if more Americans should have played the French Open here this summer, like Thomas did, Thomas interjected: “The course is still the same.”

You can say that was all a show—that they’re all miserable but they are hiding it. Well, they didn’t hide it in 2004, when they got drilled at Oakland Hills, or in 2014, when they got drilled at Gleneagles. In both cases, the players (or at least some) felt mismanaged. This time? Well, as Mickelson said: “Some of you might question some of the decisions but everything was done with reason, input, thought through.”

I understand why American golf fans are cranky. The U.S. has not won a Ryder Cup in Europe since 1993. But they didn’t lose 25 years’ worth of events this week. They just lost the one. And a lot of the reasons that applied in the past don’t apply now. Woods is a better teammate now. The pairings make more sense now. Most players didn’t play the French Open, but most did play a practice round here with Furyk this summer.

The Americans are used to playing courses that require them to hit driver more often than Le Golf National did, but that’s part of being the road team. And they were probably wiped out by the grueling August-September PGA Tour schedule. But mostly, they just didn’t play as well as Europe.

When you get down to it, most of the second-guessing is fueled by this assumption that American golfers should be superior. But in front of European fans, on a course set up by Europeans, that’s a faulty assumption. As Bjorn said of his team afterward, “Everybody stood up and did their bit.” Sometimes it’s as simple as that.