Ryder Cup: Will the force be with the U.S.?

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 29, 2016, 7:34 pm

CHASKA, Minn. – If you think this week’s buildup to the Ryder Cup has been insufferable – with player-on-past-captain crime and a European team member’s brother penning a satirical column – then perhaps you’ve forgotten about the past two years.

Oh, we’ve long since reached the Ryder Cup saturation point.

The task forces and committees and pods and foundations and succession plans – sometimes, it’s hard to remember whether the Americans are trying to win 14 ½ points or stimulate the economy. And the thing is, the game plan all sounds so similar to, well, what Europe has done for years, for decades. Only they don’t require all the pomp and circumstance.

Finally, mercifully, they’ll play golf at 7:35 a.m. local time Friday.

Finally, mercifully, the Americans will put their much-ballyhooed system on display against a European team that, although it returns some of the usual suspects, also features plenty of new faces.

How those six rookies perform likely will swing these matches at Hazeltine. It’s the most first-timers Europe has had on away soil since 1999. That one, remember, didn’t end so well for the visitors.

As for the Americans, there has seemingly been as much focus on the guys with walkie-talkies as the team members with clubs. Tiger Woods is a vice captain. So far this week, he has stood stoically with his earpiece, Secret Service-style, and hustled to retrieve turkey sandwiches. Bubba Watson, the seventh-ranked player in the world, is also an assistant – and the resident cheerleader.

But make no mistake, Phil Mickelson is the alpha dog calling the shots – and he’s even firing them, too.

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For all of the talk about a fresh start, Mickelson couldn’t resist dredging up the past this week. When asked about the impact a captain can have on these matches, Mickelson didn’t mention the leadership of Paul Azinger in 2008, who guided the Americans to their only win this century. No, he instead buried former captain Hal Sutton, saying he was put “in a position to fail.” A dozen years ago. 

For those keeping score at home, that’s now two captains in two years that Mickelson – a 46-year-old veteran of 22 consecutive team competitions – has criticized in a news-conference setting. But this move was particularly odd, because the unprovoked takedown runs counter to the inclusive “Ryder Cup family” theme that was supposedly so prevalent in the task-force era. With players careful not to give the other team bulletin-board material, leave it to the Americans – losers of eight of the past 10 matches – to strike the first blow. Against themselves.

Despite the early-week drama, there remains a sense that this still might finally be the week that the U.S. side gets back on track in the biennial slugfest. Sure, some of that renewed optimism is because the players feel more invested in the process. But there’s also another component, a competitive reality: Throw out the Gleneagles loss – where a clearly dysfunctional American group was steamrolled by five points – and the previous two matches were both narrow defeats (14 ½ to 13 ½). Now, they receive the home-crowd bump.

“It’s not as bad as it seems,” Zach Johnson said. “If you want to break down the sessions, we’re not that far off. It’s a lull here, a lag there.”

Rather than wing it on-site, the Americans have had a plan in place for weeks, with pods and set pairings and fewer distractions (well, save for the unexpected Sutton saga, of course).

If that sounds familiar, it should – that’s the model Europe has used for years, and with great success. Lee Westwood said it was “very flattering” that the Americans have tried to replicate their system.

“It means we are successful and we are doing it right,” he said. “It gives us a lot of confidence and puts added pressure on them. You form a task force and it doesn’t go right this week, where do you go from there? You’ve done pretty much all you can. So we’ll see how it goes.”

With Ian Poulter driving a golf cart instead of a dagger into the Americans’ hearts, the new-look Europeans have kept a low profile in the run-up to Friday. That was until rookie Danny Willett’s brother, Pete, eviscerated American golf fans in a blog post, describing their incessant cries of “Mashed Potatoes!” and “Baba Booey!” as the work of a “baying mob of imbeciles,” among other insults. It figures to be a long, loud week for the Masters champion.

Westwood shook his head at the furor that has engulfed his likely Day 1 partner. “He should be left to just play golf,” he said.

If only it were so simple.  

Johnny Miller viewed this bunch as the “worst team they’ve had in many years,” but the Europeans still boast the Masters champion, Open winner, Olympic gold medalist and, most recently, the FedEx Cup champion, after Mcllroy outlasted Ryan Moore, the newly minted U.S. Ryder Cupper, last Sunday.

“We’re always the underdogs, aren’t we?” European captain Darren Clarke said. “We’re always not supposed to win. But they’ve been doing OK.”

And now the next chapter is finally, mercifully here. Not a moment too soon.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.