If the Americans have now laid out their new blueprint for Ryder Cup success, then it’s time for the Europeans to hit the reset button.
The U.S. team, with an average age just below 30 years old, rode its talented stable of mostly 20-somethings to a record-breaking victory at Whistling Straits. And with a plethora of elite ball-strikers, power players and pure gamers – from Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas, to Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, to Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay – the Americans are well set up for the future.
Team Europe? Not so much. For as great as Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland figure to be in the next decade or two – and despite a poor performance this time out, Rory McIlroy, at just 32, isn’t going away, either – the Europeans are going to need more than just a few stalwarts to beat this stout U.S. core and keep the Americans from enjoying a long, winning run.
"The U.S. team, there's phenomenal talent on that team ... a lot of young guys that are great players that have bought into the Ryder Cup," McIlroy said. "I think that was probably missing in previous generations. But guys like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, you know, the sort of heartbeat of that U.S. team, they really bought into the team aspect of Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups, and having guys like that on the team, yeah, they are going to be formidable opposition from now until I'm probably not playing Ryder Cups, whenever that is, in hopefully 20 years' time."
In recent decades, Europe has relied on its massive experience advantage, losing just three times in the span of 12 cups leading into this year’s delayed matches. But that well, gone to time and again with much success, has seemed to finally have dried up.
Lee Westwood earned his way onto his 11th European team, but he’ll be 50 by the time the next Ryder Cup is played – and could be Padraig Harrington's successor as captain.
Sergio Garcia has needed a captain’s pick in each of his past two Ryder Cups. Ian Poulter hasn’t automatically qualified for a team since 2010. They will be 43 and 47, respectively, in 2023. Garcia has one or two more in him, Poulter maybe one.
Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson were each shuffled out this year, just like Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald had been before them. Is Paul Casey next, perhaps?
It’s time for a rebuild, for some new blood behind Rahm, Rory and Co. But who? If the Americans are going to go nine-deep with top-11 players every two years like it did this year, then the Europeans are going to need more firepower – preferably younger, too, because they can't afford to keep reloading.
When it comes to rookies, Europe hasn’t had a ton of luck in recent years at cultivating fresh faces. Since 2012, 11 different rookies have yet to make a second team, a group that includes Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Thorbjorn Olesen. This year, there were just three rookies – Hovland, 34-year-old Shane Lowry and 35-year-old Bernd Wiesberger.
At least for the next cup or two, Europe shouldn’t need too many first-timers to fill the gaps. Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick figure to make strong runs for Italy, and don't count out Lowry or Wiesberger for return appearances.
"There's a good heart to the team," Harrington said. "Everybody keeps going on about the experienced guys, but there is a really solid heart on this team of players who are still coming into the peak of their careers. ... Yes, we would look to young guys coming in over the future, but the heart of this team will be here for a few more years, for sure."
Looking beyond that, however, there are some intriguing options, most notably: Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, 25; Denmark’s Rasmus Hojgaard, 20; Italy’s Guido Migliozzi, 24; and England’s Sam Horsfield, 24.
All are European Tour winners, and all have the potential to be Ryder Cup regulars at some point.
MacIntyre posted a pair of top-12s in majors this year and is a hard-nosed competitor. Hojgaard is already a three-time European Tour winner. Migliozzi knows how to score and was T-4 in his major debut this summer at the U.S. Open. And Horsfield is an English transplant who grew up in Florida, starred in college for the home-state Gators and currently leads the European Tour in birdie average at 4.77 per round.
Belgium's Thomas Detry, France's Victor Perez and even Hojgaard's twin, Nicolai, could also show themselves down the road.
And then there’s the crop of college players and first-year pros who could pull a Morikawa or Hovland and make the quick ascension to Ryder Cup stardom, guys such as Sweden’s Ludvig Aberg, a junior at Texas Tech and the third-ranked amateur in the world; Wake Forest senior Alex Fitzpatrick, Matt’s younger brother and a two-time Walker Cupper; and recent grads Vincent Norrman and Matthias Schmid, who both fit the mold of the long-and-powerful player that the U.S. seems to have so much of.
Of course, not all of these players will pan out. Some will fail to make it all the way down the pipeline, but some will.
The question is, will Europe's new blood feature more Garcias and Poulters and even Rahms, or will it be mostly one-hit wonders?