The 2018 Ryder Cup
The Ryder Cup is one of those tournaments that every golfer has to watch when it is played. Yes, it is played between America and Europe, so we here in Australia really don't get the full impact of it, but if you sat down and watched some highlights of this tournament through the years, you would see why it is the most important team event in modern golf.
The host venue this year is Le Golf National; Albatross course, southwest of central Paris. Opened for play in 1990, it is by no means the oldest but since 1991 it has had the honour of holding Open de France, the oldest national open in continental Europe. This superb layout was designed by Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge in collaboration with Pierre Thevenin. The Albatross course can be stretched to 7,331-yards (6,703 m) and plays to a par-72.
Le Golf National is more than just a great course, it is a National Golf Centre; 3 18-hole courses, full practice facilities, high performance centre and a hotel. Its main role is that it’s home to the headquarters for the FFG – translation, French Golf Federation. The Albatross course began life as a completely flat, barren piece of land. Chesneau’s objective was to create a great stadium course giving players a stern test and providing an ideal experience for spectators and media. One look at course and you’ll agree, mission accomplished. Hubert Chesneau has seamlessly blended a traditional links feel with modern features requiring every club in the bag. The greens are big and fast and the undulating fairways are littered with innumerable “linksy” style bunkers. The 4 closing holes are surrounded by water setting up close matches with thrilling finishes. The finishing holes have been dubbed "the loop of doom", so 2 up with 4 to play means nothing at Le Golf National.
This course was the venue for the Open de France earlier in the year that was won by Alex Noren. Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia also played pretty well that week, as did Justin Thomas. For most of the American team though, it will be their first time around this lay out. The golf course puts a premium on getting the ball in the fairway. Not that all golf courses don't, but around here hitting the tee ball bad will cost you on every hole. The rough is thick. So thick that Jon Rahm with all his power, struggled to advance the ball from it several times. So thick that it brought him to the point of losing it on the course and throwing clubs.
Will this be an advantage to those who have already played here or not? There could be an argument for both to have an advantage. For Team Europe, players will already know the toughness of this course. they have experienced it first hand and know it will not be easy. This could get inside their heads a little and perhaps cost them in terms of the "Go for it" style of match play golf. For Team USA, most have had limited exposure to the Albatross. No bad memories may work in there favour re throwing caution to the wind and playing more boldly than the locals. Either way, you will see plenty of trouble come into play on this golf course. The 18th was the hardest hole during the Open de France as 147 bogeys or worse were carded here during the recent tournament. It's difficult to find the fairway with several pot bunkers on the right, water all the way down the left and then there is a water carry to a difficult shaped green. A fitting decider to what will be some fantastic matches.
The first tournament called The Ryder Cup was played at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts in 1927. There had already been an informal win by the British at Gleneagles in 1921, but this was the first actual Ryder Cup. English business man Samual Ryder donated the trophy, hence the name and the figure on top is said to be one of the original 1921 England team members, Abe Mitchell. Originally, the Cup was to be played between America and Great Britain but after years of American dominance, Great Britain was extended to include players from continental Europe in 1979. This is what has made the Ryder Cup closer and has also brought in many more spectators and interested viewers world wide. Europe still lead the count from this time with 10 wins and a draw. The Americans have won it eight times during this period. This tournament is unique in the fact that no player receives any money to appear. They all do it for the rivalry and the prestige of bringing the cup back to their country. Such is the respect of the Ryder Cup.
But, the cup has not always been played for with such respect, the 1989 and 1991 Ryder Cups were the exceptions. Most notably because of the feud between Paul Azinger and Seve Ballesteros. In the 1989 cup, Captain Ray Floyd introduced the American team as "the 12 greatest players in the world" and it was on. In a match between Azinger and Ballesteros, Seve was looking to change a scuffed ball, but Azinger was having none of it. He disputed the call from his opponent and a referee was called to settle the dispute. The ref sided with Azinger and Seve reportedly said to him " Is this the way you want to play today?" Seve then contested whether Azinger's drop on the 18th was in the right place. The match ended in a draw and Europe retained the Cup for the 3rd consecutive time. This brought on the next chapter in 1991: "The war by the shore."
It all started with the Americans playing a video at the opening ceremony dinner of Ryder Cup highlights. The problem was, it was only American highlights and both teams were in attendance. Azinger and Chip Beck accused Seve of clearing his throat repeatedly during their game and Seve in return accused Azinger of changing his ball during the hole. The Americans were playing a hard compression ball from the tee and a soft one for their second shot to the green. With the swapping of balls during foursomes frequent, it was hard to prove and Azinger said that they were not cheating. Seve replied "Breaking the rules and cheating are 2 different things." Seve and Jose Maria Olazabal ended up winning the match 2&1 and after the game Seve made the comment, "The American Team has 11 nice guys. And Paul Azinger." This was the Ryder Cup that made it what it is today. The public interest in the tournament skyrocketed and has not wavered since. Azinger later admitted that they were in fact changing balls, but it was too late for any penalties. I'm pretty sure that those days are over now, but after Reed & McIlroy were so passionate in 2016, who knows?
To the match ups in this years cup and I think we may see some old fires rekindled. Rory will just have to continue his ongoing competition with Patrick Reed. The 2 of them staged a memorable final day contest in 2016 with Captain America winning 1 up. Rory will be asking Thomas Bjorn for his revenge, I'm sure. Sergio will most likely take on Phil Mickelson again as well. Their match was incredible last time with both players making 19 birides through the 18 holes. Let's hope we see that again. Both players are a little out of form and some are saying that both are pretty lucky to get the call up, but if they get annoyed, both are amazing match play players. Henrik Stenson beat Jordan Speith last time in singles, so that will probably happen again. Speith is a tough opponent in match play, but the Swiss watch movement of Stenson's swing will always have him in the contest. It will decided on the greens and we all know Jordan is the better with the blade, not so this season though. As for the rest, there really is not much history. Justin Rose is the only other returning European Player from 2016 and he was defeated by Rickie Fowler last time. He did however team with Stenson for a formidable foursomes.
Team U.S.A. have a lot of new faces as well. Dustin Johnson returns with Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods will no doubt receive added attention after his extended break from Ryder Cup. His record is not as impressive as some would think. He has won 13 points, lost 17 points and halved 3. This will be Tiger's 8th appearance. Eclipsed by Phil though with his 12th cup this year, a total of 45 matches! When will he give up? If form counts for anything, you would be hard to go past Bryson DeChambeau as the hottest guy at the moment. Back to back wins on the PGA Tour will have some players in the European Team hoping it is not them who match up against him. Perhaps Molinari can be the one who applies the conatant pressure to him?
The men pulling the strings this year will be Thomas Bjorn for the European team and Jim Furyk for the Americans. Furyk has had more experience as a player with 9 Ryder Cups under his belt but Bjorn has had more experience with the captaining side of things, having been a vice captain in '04, '10. '12 & 2016. Both captains have surrounded themselves with some good vice captains as well, so expect to see some really good match ups.
In 2016, "The King", Arnold Palmer had only died 5 days before the start of the tournament, so Team USA were fired up to win it for Arnie. His golf bag was placed on the first tee to make us all remember him, but I'm sure it had a more profound effect on Team USA. Palmer holds an incredibly impressive Ryder Cup record with 22 wins, only 7 losses and 2 halves. He played in 6 Ryder Cups and was playing captain in 1963 as well as captain in 1975. In several of his fourball matches, he teamed with Jack Nicklaus. Imagine turning up to the first tee and finding out your opponents are Nicklaus and Palmer. Umm, no thanks!
This time on home soil, I think the Europeans will get it done. America has not won away since they got over Europe at The Belfry in 1993. The Americans have 3 first time players with Finau, DeChambeau and Justin Thomas. The Europeans have 5; Fleetwood, Hatton, Noren, Oleson & Jon Rahm, but I still think the home course, home crowd advantage will be tough to beat. There are several players in Team USA that have terrible singles records and if it comes down to the Sunday singles, they may be shaky again. A few of the Europeans are out of form, but their inclusions are because of their ability to play the format better than others. Yes, there could have been better players in form this time of the year, but none better when the pressure is on. Make sure you do not miss a minute of this epic historic golf rivalry.
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