SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — What went wrong?
That is always the question when one side loses.
It doesn’t matter if the loss happens at home or away, the second-guessing usually starts in earnest after the last putt drops.
Though the United States' winning 19-9 outcome was not final until Sunday evening at Whistling Straits, questioning of the Europeans legitimately could’ve started when they fell behind 6-2 on Friday. The Europeans simply had no answer for the Americans' youth and talent.
Friday morphed into Saturday and the Europeans continued to fail their Ryder Cup test, falling behind 11-5. The second-guessing by European fans and media was full blown, especially after three years of giddy anticipation for this Ryder Cup.
Sunday’s singles were worse than anticlimactic, they were nearly inconsequential.
So how did the Europeans get here and what can they do to rectify the situation?
The first thing they have to do is not panic.
After the 2012 Ryder Cup, when the U.S. blew a four-point lead after Saturday’s matches and lost 14 ½ to 13 ½ at Medinah Country Club on the outskirts of Chicago, the team and PGA of America were in denial. Eventually then-PGA president Ted Bishop had an idea: let’s put an adult in the room, someone that will have the reverence of the players, but will provide the needed discipline.
Tom Watson was the choice and over the next 18 or so months, it was clear the decision was fraught with problems. None of those, though, really manifested themselves until the Americans arrived in Scotland for the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.
Only then did it become evident that the U.S. seemed wholly unprepared for the venue and that the team never warmed up to Watson.
The USA ultimately lost, 16 ½ to 11 ½, and American Phil Mickelson excoriated Watson in front of the media immediately following the loss.
The results of Gleneagles produced a task force, a USA concoction that brought American players together to take better control of their fortunes. Since then, the Americans have won two of three — 17-11 at Hazeltine in 2016 and 19-9 this year. In 2018 the Americans struggled in a 17 ½-10 ½ loss at Le Golf National.
The Europeans need to remember they have won nine of the last 14 Ryder Cups, and whatever they have done since the run started at Oak Hill in 1995 is working.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. They should have made a scouting trip
In 2018, the U.S. team, save for perhaps Justin Thomas, was as unfamiliar as any team could be with Le Golf National. Thomas played in the European Tour's French Open that year. The Europeans played the French Open at Le Golf National annually and knew every nook and cranny of the course.
USA Captain Jim Furyk could never get his players over to see the golf course before the week of the Ryder Cup.
Steve Stricker asked all his players to make the trip to Whistling Straits a week before the Ryder Cup. All did, except for injured Brooks Koepka. The 11 others came for two days and clearly accomplished a lot.
Padraig Harrington’s European team clearly needed a scouting trip. Their knowledge of the course and their struggles on the greens were evident over the three days and it cost them dearly.
2. They needed more captain's picks
Harrington had three picks, selecting Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry and Ian Poulter. Clearly, Harrington felt he needed experience and would lean on Garcia and Poulter to help guide the team.
Harrington said that he was offered more picks, but decided against them. Stricker had six picks. While Stricker's weren’t necessarily imaginative selections, he did pick Scottie Scheffler to pair with Bryson DeChambeau, and that turned out to be an inspired selection. The duo won 1 ½ points in team play and Scheffler took down Europe’s top point-getter in Jon Rahm in singles, 4 and 3.
If Harrington would have decided to take four, five or six picks, he would have not had a 48-year-old Lee Westwood. Harrington could have instead picked a younger player, who could have contributed or at least gained critical Ryder Cup experience for the future. Harrington could have gone with players such as left-hander Robert MacIntyre, Danish brothers Nicolai and Rasmus Hojgaard, England’s Laurie Canter or Italian Guido Migliozzi.
3. They should have brought a younger team
The Europeans were just too old. The team was an average age of 34.6 — including four in their 40s, Paul Casey (44), Sergio Garcia (41), Ian Poulter (45) and Westwood (48). That age disparity with a U.S. team that averaged 26.4 years was far too much to overcome.
Harrington picked experience. It was not the correct move.
4. Paddy should have made different pairings
Many believe that captains have little to do with the end result since they do not hit a shot. But the captains make the pairings, they are fully involved in the process and have much to do with the result.
Poulter should have been paired with McIlroy on Friday morning, but then they should not have been paired again since neither played well together.
Westwood was paired with Matt Fitzpatrick in Friday's foursomes and should have sat after that as neither looked like their pilot light was on. Match one or both players with someone that had some energy, like Garcia.
After their solid play in the Friday morning foursomes victory, Garcia and Rahm should have been paired together in Friday fourball and they weren’t.
On Saturday, looking at a four-point deficit after Day 1, Garcia and Rahm should have been broken up to spread the wealth and try to gain not just one but two points in each session.
5. They should use a new points system
Look at the points system used to select players. It’s difficult when you have players playing all over the world, but to tackle what is an energized and young American team, you can’t leave any stone unturned.
The Europeans don’t need a task force, but they need to retool.
In the end, they didn’t have the firepower the Americans' possessed. The U.S. average world ranking was 9, while the Euros' average was around 30.
Fan support will be huge and may help turn the tide in Rome in two years. But fan support goes only so far. The players need to be put in the best position possible to play their best.
It will be a tall order.
More Ryder Cup Coverage on Morning Read
- Parting Shots from a Ryder Cup Where U.S. was Always Two Steps Ahead
- 5 Mistakes Europe Made That Left Them Shorthanded
- Dishing Out Grades for Every Player's Performance
- Video: What Made This U.S. Team So Good?
- American Red Wave Washed Over Europe
- Rory Swears in Emotional Interview, Apologizes
- DJ is First American to go 5-0 Since 1979
- US Wins Back Cup in Dominant Fashion
- Readers Sound Off on Brooks Koepka's Cursing