The big question heading into any Ryder Cup is whether the Americans will show up, and if they do, whether they will talk to each other. This was a concern even before Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau declared passive-aggressive war on each other. The Koepka-DeChambeau feud was the story of the season, even though neither man won a major, and now it looks like it could obliterate the U.S.’s hopes to win the Ryder Cup … but it won’t.
Will these two gentlemen throw clubs at each other? Cheer for each other’s European opponents? Be so rattled by their own loathing that they forget to put putters in their bags? All of those possibilities are exciting! Far more likely, though: Nothing happens. They get along as well as they need to, and the Americans get along much better than people seem to expect—as well, in fact, as the supposedly chummy Europeans.
Predicting the winner of any golf event is such a hilariously impossible task that even if you are correct, you must admit that you probably just guessed right. The U.S. could win, it could lose, it could tie (which would be a loss, since Europe, the defending champ, would keep the Cup.) Who the heck knows?
But some perspective is in order here. American team chemistry is not as precarious as it has often been portrayed. It can withstand the DeChambeau-Koepka feud—and so can they.
The animus between them is real—Koepka seems to take great joy in disliking DeChambeau, and DeChambeau has not quite figured out how to handle it, which only makes Koepka giggle more. But they are also both smart enough to realize this is not the week for it. There is no way to win that playground scrap with your own teammate. Getting into it at all will only hurt both of their reputations.
Koepka threw DeChambeau a bone on social media this week, Tweeting a video of himself talking to DeChambeau and writing “Nothing to see here, teammates talk.” We do not know if their détente is legitimate or for show, but if you follow golf, you know that DeChambeau and Koepka will probably put their feud aside as soon as they settle upon a lucrative way to do so. (DeChambeau hinted this week that they might have something in store—the kind of tease that would make his friend Phil Mickelson proud.) But they are big boys and can put it aside for now.
The issues for both this week are more practical. Koepka has to get through the week without re-injuring his perpetually troublesome wrist. DeChambeau must figure out how to play with others. Surely he wants to do it. But he gets is so lost in his own head that he is oblivious to how he comes off sometimes. This is true whether he is giving a nonsensical explanation for why he didn’t get vaccinated, or when he gives a science lecture to those who did not sign up for his class, or when he blows off the media, or when he seems to have no sense of the proper pace of the game. We saw it this summer during his exhibition with Mickelson, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in Montana, when Bryson took so long to play a shot from behind a bush that Mickelson openly wondered what could possibly take so long. There was probably innocent explanation, like Bryson was mansplaining hibernation to a bear, but this was not the time for it. It was like he forgot that the whole purpose of the event was to put on a show.
This lack of self-awareness is unfortunate, because DeChambeau can be a kind and engaging person, and that gets lost. But it also makes him a challenging player in the Ryder Cup. So much of the event comes down to comfort with a partner, and nobody else on the U.S. team plays, thinks or acts like DeChambeau. American captain Steve Stricker might be wise to use DeChambeau in four-balls, where he can hit bombs and go for birdies, and not even try to find somebody who can play alternate-shot with DeChambeau.
The U.S. has a notoriously shoddy history at the Ryder Cup, losing most of the them in the last 30 years despite generally bringing more stars to the event. It is easy to ascribe this failure to the Europeans being more of a team, and that’s also true. But look closer, and you see this is nuanced.
This is not a simple case of the Europeans being buddy-buddy while the Americans hate each other. The Europeans usually do a much better job of getting comfortable with the event—the format, the raucous crowds, the need to put egos aside. The closer you get to the kind of golf the Americans are used to playing, the better they do.
Since 1991, the U.S. is 4–3 on its own soil. That is a much more relevant stat than its overall Ryder Cup record in that time. The Americans traditionally excel in Sunday singles matches. Put them on an American course, playing for themselves, and they do quite well.
As for getting along: It is very easy to pin the Americans’ loss in France in 2018 on “Ryder Cup camaraderie.” It is also ironic, because that failure began when the Americans were enjoying each other’s company too much. Five days before the matches began, Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship for his first victory in five years. His young teammates were stoked and celebrated with him on the plane. By Friday, it was clear that the team (and especially Woods) were drained.
Afterward, Patrick Reed sulked about not getting to play with Jordan Spieth, who preferred his buddy Justin Thomas. Dustin Johnson and Koepka reportedly got into an altercation. But was dissension the reason the Americans lost, or were those incidents just signs that they were frustrated by losing? Reed played horribly that week, but pairing Thomas and Spieth worked. Le Grand National, with its premium on accuracy off the tee, was set up to benefit the European team instead of the U.S. bomb squad.
If the Americans brought more players who were suited to the course, and had an extra week after the Tour championship, the event probably would have been a lot closer.
This week, it is the Europeans who are on a tighter turnaround. The Americans will have the home crowd behind them. (When was the last time DeChambeau had any crowd behind him?) U.S. Captain Steve Stricker, a Wisconsin native, should have Whistling Straits set up to his team’s advantage.
Reed, who is as divisive a presence as any player on Tour, did not make the team. The heart of the team is made up of guys who could get along with almost anyone and generally get along quite well with each other: Thomas, Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay. They probably aren’t going to worry a whole lot about Brooks and Bryson. Neither should we.
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