SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The last time the U.S. team won a Ryder Cup in Europe, Bryson DeChambeau was a week old, Jordan Spieth 2 months old, and Justin Thomas 5 months old.
Nearly a third of this week’s U.S. team was diapers when the Tom Watson-led Americans pulled off a 15-13 victory in 1993 at The Belfry.
Davis Love III, a two-time captain who is serving as an assistant this week, was playing in his first Ryder Cup in ’93 and secured the winning point, beating Costantino Rocca, 1 up, in his Sunday singles match.
Now 25 years removed from that victory, Love concedes it would have been unthinkable that 25 years later, the ’93 match would be the U.S. side’s last road victory.
“It’s surprising, 25 years,” Love sighed on Wednesday as the U.S. team went through its paces at Le Golf National.
It hasn’t been a complete bust for Team USA on the road since ’93; there have been close calls. The Americans dropped a one-point decision in 1997 in Spain and lost by the same margin in 2010 at Celtic Manor. But everything in between has been utterly forgettable. There was a three-point decision in 2002 at The Belfry and that nine-point boat race in 2006 in Ireland. Most recently, the Continent rolled 16 ½-11 ½ in 2014 in Scotland.
“It's not anything I need to mention in the team room. There's not like a big ‘25’ sitting in there anywhere. They are well aware of it, and they are well aware of how difficult it is to win in Europe. That's the battle we fight this week,” said U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who was playing Q-School in ’93 when Love and Co. were winning at The Belfry.
There is no shortage of reasons for America’s European failures, nor is there some sort of secret sauce for reversing U.S. fortunes.
“I'll praise both the European Tour and the way they choose golf courses, venues where they have European Tour events,” Furyk said. “We're coming into a golf course that they know a lot better than we do, that will be set up in a fashion that they think suits their game. Those are obstacles we have to overcome.”
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Le Golf National annually hosts the French Open, and the setup this week has a distinctly European flare, with narrow fairways ringed by thick rough - mowed toward the tee box, no less - and relatively slower greens than what the Americans are used to on the PGA Tour.
Then there’s the crowd, a group that has proven itself formidable even when they travel to a U.S.. This week’s scene promises to be particularly intense from the outset, with the massive grandstand behind the first tee poised to hold more than 6,000 fans.
“They make a lot of noise,” Furyk said. “When we walk into that first tee, and they announce both teams, they are going to say, ‘And from the United States,’ announce two guys, and there's going to be a nice applause. And when they announce the two folks from Europe, there's going to be a giant roar and those players are going to feel that presence, and you're going to hear those roars around the golf course.”
And finally there will be pressure. We’re talking pressure the likes of which many have never experienced. Some would compare it to the intensity of being in contention during the final round at a major, but that really doesn’t do it justice.
The American contingent always wants to win for team and country, but this year’s matches bring in the added load of breaking a 25-year slide. The U.S. team will say the right things, dismiss the notion that somehow this Ryder Cup is more important than all others, but simmering under that calm exterior is the nagging truth.
“Phil [Mickelson] started in ’16 on the 18th green; he started talking about winning this Ryder Cup,” Love said. “We hadn’t even finished. He took someone off to the side of the green and said, ‘Look, in Paris it’s going to be a different ballgame. It’s an away game. We’re going to have to be on our game.’”
Ryder Cup captains always wear a variety of hats, but this week the U.S. leaders have taken on the role of arm-chair sports psychologists. It’s simple stuff really: Focus on your job and not the outcome; ignore the noise; win your point.
In an attempt to change his team room's mindset, Love is trying out a new narrative, that it’s been four years since a U.S. team Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team has lost.
“They have to hear that. We have won three in a row. Don’t worry about the last 25 years,” Love said.
For three days, the U.S. team has been busy trying to learn as much as they can about Le Golf National. You know the deal, luck favors the prepared. This match and America’s 25-year losing streak, however, may depend on what they’re able to forget.