In the wake of Team Europe’s emphatic reclamation of the Ryder Cup, not a few pundits have seen fit to wonder about its remarkable overachievement. What has made it tick in golf’s premier team-based spectacle? Heading into the Paris matches over the weekend, it sported an outstanding 8-2 slate over the event’s last 10 stagings. Invariably, it seems to know how to overcome seeming weaknesses on paper with unparalleled esprit de corps.
Parenthetically, the 2018 Ryder Cup was supposed to validate a change in momentum. The United States won in Hazeltine pulling away, its 17-11 beatdown of Europe supposedly validating its newfound task-force setup augmented by a hundred-percent increase in at-large selections. Under the circumstances, even longtime habitues could not help but concede an advantage made even more apparent by the challengers’ need to rely on six rookies to negotiate an uphill climb.
As things turned out, the United States didn’t just fail to stamp its class. It fell into a swoon in spectacular fashion. The only session it won was the first, and it ultimately had to swallow the second most lopsided loss in Ryder Cup history. When the battlesmoke cleared, a mere third of its roster had more victories than defeats, while a fourth had zero triumphs to speak of. Among those who flamed out were World Number One Dustin Johnson (who limped off at 1-4), arguably best-ever Tiger Woods (who didn’t put up a point in four outings), and Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson (who was likewise blanked in two tries).
Meanwhile, Europe boasted of stalwarts who delivered in the clutch, and more. Newly minted British Open champion Francesco Molinari went 5-0, thrice thumping Woods en route. Neophyte Tommy Fleetwood managed a 4-1 record, the only blemish against a smoking Tony Finau in singles. Sergio Garcia proved true to form, shaking off a prolonged swoon that followed a Masters victory last year to go 3-1 and become the Ryder Cup’s winningest player of all time. Ditto Ian Poulter, who added to a well-deserved reputation in the event by carding two triumphs, including a shellacking of Johnson in singles.
In sum, the Ryder Cup remained the sport’s must-watch meet, albeit not for obvious reasons. Europe pulled off an upset on the strength of masterful captaincy, keen familiarity with the course, and sheer will. Whether it will do so again in 2020 is subject to conjecture. Until then, though, it has earned the right to celebrate.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.