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Which Side Should be Favored in the 2021 Ryder Cup?

The Americans are again favored to win the Ryder Cup, but should they be? Morning Read's John Hawkins and Mike Purkey debate.
Hawk and Purk Podcast

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Despite losing to the Europeans seven times in the last nine meetings, the United States is a pronounced favorite heading into next week’s Ryder Cup. Which side should be favored?

Hawk's take: This is a classic case of how odds are greatly affected by the heavy action played on one team—not by which team is more likely to win. The bookies don’t want to take a bath if the Americans actually perform to their capabilities. It’s a home game for Uncle Sam, which means a lot, and since a lot of people bet with their hearts instead of their heads, the price for a U.S. triumph is driven down considerably, meaning a winning ticket is worth a lot less than reality would suggest.

The Euros have demonstrated their superiority in this series time and time again over the last 20 years. Yes, Old Glory is the more imposing squad on paper, which is yet another reason the gaming houses favor Steve Stricker’s squad, but the matches are played on grass, not a sheet of 8 ½-by-11 looseleaf. It’s an emotionally charged contest. Europe has destroyed the premise that it is inferior to the U.S., giving it distinct advantages in terms of confidence and momentum.

Those two factors mean a lot more to the probability of the final outcome than which team has collected the most major titles. The Yanks have proven to be consistent underachievers, and that in itself is really all you need to know about what might happen next week.

Purk's take: The Americans are the favorites because, on paper, they’re always the favorites. First, nine of the top 11 players in the world are on the U.S. team. The lowest ranked American player is Scottie Scheffler at No. 21. On the other hand, besides No. 1-ranked Jon Rahm, the highest-ranked European player is Viktor Hovland at No. 13. Rory McIlroy has slipped to No. 15.

But paper never wins except in Rock, Paper, Scissors. And next week, you can take the paper, cut it up and toss it in the trash because this U.S. team has some of the intangibles it takes to win. One of the most important factors is that successful partnerships are already in place. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth were 3-1-0, while Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau were 1-1-0 in a U.S. loss in Paris in 2018. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were 2-2-0 in Australia for the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2019.

Mostly, it feels like a new day for U.S. Ryder Cup fortunes. The old – losing – guard has been swept out and replaced by fresh, exuberant faces who fear no one and won’t be overwhelmed by the big moments. However, none of that means a thing unless they make putts, which always seems to turn the Ryder Cup toward the winners.

Among the 24 men competing at Whistling Straits, which player has the most to prove?

Hawk's take: It’s a team game, not an event wholly reliant on individual skill, but Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy has fallen so far from the top of the game in recent years — can you believe Jordan Spieth just passed him in the Official World Golf Ranking? — that it’s fair to think his legacy will be shaped more by gatherings such as this than anything he accomplished seven or eight years ago. That’s a mouthful. The Ryder Cup doesn’t even count when it comes to tabulating the OWGR standings, in which McIlroy has tumbled to 15th, lower than at any point since the formative stages of his career.

Honestly? He has become an afterthought, and Europe can win without him. We’re talking about a player, however, with the talent to carry a team on his back. A guy who could make eight birdies in a Friday four-ball match, then make things ridiculously easy for his partner in foursomes because he still drives the ball longer and straighter than anyone in the game.

McIlroy is a weapon. He’s also a massive enigma, but no one will arrive in Wisconsin with a greater capability of going 5-0 and turning a one-point loss into a two-point victory for Europe.

Purk’s take: Bryson DeChambeau has said all the right things about the Ryder Cup — something he’s dreamed of, playing for his country — and that he’s 100 percent committed. We’d all rather be judged on our intentions. Actions will be what counts for DeChambeau and we don’t mean how far he can hit it off the tee. Can he be a good teammate and focus on the needs of the team instead of his own?

The last Ryder Cup was in Paris and DeChambeau was a miserable 0-3-0 as a nervous-looking rookie, losing two foursomes matches by 5 and 4 with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as partners. This time, DeChambeau will be expected to be a leader — both in words and deeds. The world will be watching.