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No simple answers for routed Internationals

By Will GrayOctober 2, 2017, 12:47 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Sitting on the far side of the dais and surrounded by an International team that just endured a four-day drubbing at the Presidents Cup, Ernie Els struggled for answers.

Brought in as an assistant captain and seen by many, including current captain Nick Price, as the probable skipper for the 2019 event in Australia, he will likely be tasked with turning around a trend that only grew more lopsided this week in the shadow of Lady Liberty.

“The future of the cup is important. We want to have it as competitive as we can,” Els said. “So we have to go back to the drawing board.”

It’s a common goal, one shared by the other 16 men sitting at the podium who at times seemed helpless in the face of an American juggernaut that won 19-11 and nearly clinched the biennial matches a full day in advance. The International team’s overall record now drops to 1-10-1, and 21 years will have passed since their lone victory the next time the cup is up for grabs at Royal Melbourne.

In all likelihood, it’s also a goal shared by many PGA Tour executives. This event, after all, is the Tour’s property, created as a complement to the PGA of America-run Ryder Cup. Blowouts like the one seen this week do little to alter the perception that this event pales in comparison to the high-octane spectacle played in the even-numbered years.

But while the goal is shared by several parties, creating productive change for the International squad is easier said than done.

Consider the uphill battle Price faced simply to get the total points trimmed from 34 to 30. It took nearly two years of lobbying to Tour officials before the change was administered for the 2015 matches, leading to a narrow American victory. It appeared to be a step in the right direction for an event desperate to create any hint of a truly back-and-forth rivalry.


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But this week at Liberty National, the cup could have been contested across three points or 30, and the outcome likely wouldn’t have wavered. The Americans were the better team, playing the better golf, from the first man on the roster to the 12th.

“I think we went up against one of the best teams that’s been put forward,” said Adam Scott, who has now been on eight squads without tasting team victory. “I think we have to do even more before we play again in two years.”

What’s more daunting for the likes of Els, Price, Scott and others is the fact that this U.S. team likely won’t slow down anytime soon. The youthful nucleus of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler have decades ahead of them and should only gain more experience and poise in the intervening years.

The International core, by comparison, is only getting older. Scott will be 39 for the matches at Royal Melbourne while veterans like Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman will all be on the wrong side of 35.

Reflecting on his third straight loss as captain, Price went back to familiar refrains: shortening the available points, putting lineups in secretly rather than allowing captains to plot one matchup at a time.

“We play these team events every second year, and the U.S. team plays every year. So they are a little bit more, I don’t want to say prepared, but they kind of – there’s not as big surprises on their team,” Price said. “I think to put pairings together with a very diverse group as we have, is our challenge.”

Unfortunately for Price, or whoever takes the earpiece from him, that challenge likely won’t get any easier in the coming years. The language barriers in play, especially with Hideki Matsuyama who struggled this week despite being the top-ranked player on his team, won’t disappear overnight.

The depth issues aren’t going away, either. While all 12 on this year’s team are PGA Tour regulars, captain’s pick contenders like Hideto Tanihara and Yuta Ikeda play most of their golf elsewhere, making it difficult to rely on any qualification system beyond the Official World Golf Rankings.

While the Americans have promising prospects on the horizon like Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Ollie Schniederjans, the International cupboard seems much more sparse in comparison. It’s unlikely that any of the players ranked in the top 100 left off this year’s squad – a diverse group that includes guys like Haotong Li, Byeong-Hun An and Dylan Frittelli – would have done much to slow down the American onslaught.

“That’s the hardest task for us, new guys in and out every two years with less and less experience in this kind of format is hard,” Scott said. “We struggled in the team aspect of the matches this week. But we also played maybe the most on-form United States team that I can remember.”

Team golf tends to be a cyclical venture, and after the competition closed many compared the current International struggles to those faced by U.S. Ryder Cup teams earlier this century. But there is no infrastructure in place to create an International task force, nor could they easily identify one singular factor that might unite a diverse contingent in the face of an opponent that seems only to be growing stronger.

As a result, a table full of players and assistants sat next to Price and talked about the need for change and reform, the ethereal desire to make this thing competitive after yet another lopsided loss. But they also struggled to pinpoint the concrete factors that might spark formative change.

At one point, Els was again asked what could be done to turn around the fate of the Internationals. But before he could answer, Scott cut him off.

“Win,” Scott said.

Perhaps it is that simple. But the Internationals won’t get another crack at the cup for two more years, and right now they certainly seem further from victory than they appeared to be when they first boarded a ferry for Liberty National.

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Even as youngest Euro, Rahm has no trouble fitting in

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:30 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Many times Ryder Cup rookies are seen but not heard, blending into the background while the veterans lead.

Jon Rahm is not one of those rookies.

The youngest player on the European Ryder Cup team – by three years – the gregarious 23-year-old has been particularly active in the team’s group chat.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised at Jon’s input into it,” said Rory McIlroy, who will likely be paired with Rahm at some point at Le Golf National.

“To see how much he wants this and how he cares about the Ryder Cup and how proud he is to be European and Spanish and to really be a part of this, it’s been really cool to see. I wasn’t quite as vocal in my first Ryder Cup as he’s been, but I wasn’t as good a player my first Ryder Cup as he is.”

Rahm seemed surprised that his healthy amount of input caught McIlroy’s attention – “I’m just being myself,” he said – but he quickly has learned how to fit in with the rest of his teammates.

By poking fun at himself.

After a Tuesday practice round with McIlroy during which he said he was outdriven by about 50 yards, Rahm retired to the physio table for some acupuncture treatment.

“Because of jetlag, I was completely asleep,” Rahm said. “So Rory, he decided it was a perfect time to take a picture of me in my underwear and post it in the chat and say I couldn’t handle him hitting it past me every single drive. Obviously you have to protect yourself and respond to something like that, and I said whatever came to mind.”

With Rahm’s passion and outgoing nature, he’s sure to be one of Europe’s most vocal players, even as the least experienced.

“At first I was a little bit hesitant on what to say,” he said. “I didn’t want to piss anybody off, but once I realized what the tone was going to be, within 30 seconds, OK, here we go, it’s pretty much freewheel to say what you want to anybody, which is obviously a great thing because we all have a lot of fun.”

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Slump over? Sergio had 'very positive week' in Portugal

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:14 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Sergio Garcia’s late commitment to the Portugal Masters may have given him the boost he needed for the Ryder Cup.

After failing to qualify for the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, Garcia told European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn that he’d add the European Tour event in Portugal if he were selected to the team as a wildcard pick.

Garcia made good on his promise, and last week he tied for seventh – his best worldwide finish since March.

“I was very pleased the way I played,” he said. “I think I played very, very nicely throughout the whole week, which was nice. It felt like it was a very positive week.”

There hadn’t been many positive weeks throughout the year for Garcia, who has slipped from 10th to 28th in the world rankings. The 2017 Masters champion missed the cut in all four majors and struggled with inconsistency.

Still, Garcia was selected to the European team, and Bjorn often cited Garcia’s intangibles – his familiarity with foursomes, his presence in the team room – in justifying his pick.

Even Garcia conceded Wednesday that his selection had more to do with experience than form.

“That’s probably, to be totally honest, one of the reasons why the vice captains and the captain decided to have me on the team,” he said, “not only for what I can bring on the golf course, but what I can bring outside.”

Garcia may have found the spark that his game desperately needed. Six of his past eight rounds have been in the 60s, and he has shot a combined 27 under par during those two starts.

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McIlroy: Tiger is just one of 12 at Ryder Cup

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 7:59 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods might be the biggest star in golf, but Rory McIlroy views him as just one of 12 this week at the Ryder Cup.

“We’re not looking at any individuals,” he said Wednesday. “We’re just trying to beat the U.S. team. It’s great what he did on Sunday. But to focus on one player is silly, especially when I might not even see him this week at any point this week because I mightn’t be on the course with him or play against him. …

“We’re looking to beat the U.S. team. We’re not looking to just beat Tiger Woods.”

McIlroy had a front-row seat to Woods’ first victory in more than five years on Sunday. Playing in the final group at the Tour Championship, McIlroy struggled with his driver en route to a final-round 74 and disappointing tie for seventh.

Asked whether there was any element of intimidation at East Lake, McIlroy replied: “That East Lake rough was really tough, yeah. That was the most intimidating part about it. Started hitting a few drives left and right early, and I didn’t actually have quite a good view from the trees on Sunday. I couldn’t really see what was happening too much.”

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U.S. captures Junior Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 26, 2018, 12:29 am

The U.S. defeated Europe, 12 ½ to 11 ½, in the Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris.

Rachel Heck, 16, of Memphis, Tenn., clinched the winning half-point on the 18th hole with a 12-foot birdie putt that halved her match with Annabell Fuller, 16, of England.

"It was the most incredible experience of my life," said Heck, a Stanford commit who last week made the cut in her second LPGA major, the Evian Masters.

Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, of Wellesley, Mass., the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, drove the green on the 315-yard 18th hole, the ball stopping within 5 feet of the pin. His eagle putt completed 2-up win over 15-year-old Spaniard David Puig and ensured that the U.S. would retain the Junior Ryder Cup, as the defending champion needs only a tie (12 points) to maintain possession of the trophy.

Singles results

Match 1 - Lucy Li (USA) def. Amanda Linner (EUR), 4 and 3

Match 2 — Rasmus Hojgaard (EUR) def. William Moll (USA), 1 up

Match 3 —  Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) halved Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 4 – Nicolai Hojgaard (USA) def. Canon Claycomb (USA), 4 and 2

Match 5 — Yealimi Noh (USA) def. Emma Spitz (EUR), 3 and 2

Match 6 —  Ricky Castillo (USA) def. Eduard Rousaud Sabate (EUR), 3 and 1

Match 7 – Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) def. Erica Shepherd (USA), 2 up

Match 8 — Michael Thorbjornsen (USA) def. David Puig (EUR), 2 up

Match 9 – Alessia Nobilio (EUR) def. Alexa Pano (USA), 2 and 1

Match 10 —  Robin Tiger Williams (EUR) def. Cole Ponich (USA), 2 and 1

Match 11 – Annabell Fuller (EUR) halved Rachel Heck (USA)

Match 12 — Conor Gough (EUR) def. Akshay Bhatia (USA), 1 up