Well that was crazy. What a weekend of golf. I want to say congratulations to Team Europe first off – that was some performance and every single member of that team should be incredibly proud of themselves.
As I wrote in my column after Saturday’s play, momentum can be such a powerful thing. When Fitzy missed that putt on 18 to finish things off, there was a little period there where things got a bit antsy (that up-and-down by Max Homa after taking the penalty stroke was absolutely clutch by the way). It seemed like every little putt or chip was going USA’s way. It took until Rickie Fowler’s (somewhat mind boggling under the circumstances) tee shot into the water at 16 to really calm the nerves. But in truth Europe always had a bit in reserve. They won this Ryder Cup on Friday.
I’m so happy for all the guys. For Luke Donald, who was clearly an excellent captain. For Tommy Fleetwood – so important to front load but leave some strength deep in the order, such a calm and classy player; for Shane Lowry. After Christy O’Connor Jnr in 1989, Philip Walton in 1995, Paul McGinley in 2002 and then myself in 2010, I genuinely thought Shane might become the latest Irishman to hole the winning putt in a Ryder Cup (not sure what it is with the Irish and the Ryder Cup!). He played great though; for Bob MacIntyre who went unbeaten in his maiden Ryder Cup. He delivered at crucial moments and the fact he went out there and won his singles was massive. Who knows what this could do for him; for Rory, who had his game face on after what happened on Saturday. After watching the replays in more detail, I can see why he was so upset, Joe LaCava was definitely making his presence felt.
If there is a but, it is the fact that the final margin of victory – five points – was yet again pretty heavy. It is now over 10 years since we had a really close Ryder Cup. And over 30 years since the US won in Europe. As much as that fact is something to be proud of, it is also a concern.
In 2014 at Gleneagles it was a beatdown, 2016 at Hazeltine was a beatdown, 2018 in Paris was a beatdown, 2021 at Whistling Straits was a beatdown. And now Rome. Rory said in his press conference that winning away in the Ryder Cup had now become the biggest test in golf. But is that a good thing? The Ryder Cup is the Superbowl of golf, the biggest tournament out there, and continually having these heavily one-sided matches is not great for the brand. What can be done about it?
Aside from the obvious partisan crowd effect, ultimately, it comes down to course set-up. Yes these guys are the best players in the world and should be able to adapt to anything you throw at them, but with the analytics we now have at our disposal we know exactly where our strengths lie versus our opponents. Over the course of a weekend, with thousands of shots hit, the sample size is such that it does make a difference. That is why in Paris we saw such narrow fairways, and green speeds of 10.5-11 max on the Stimpmeter, because that is what we are used to growing up. Here again the fairways were cut narrow. We had the drivable par-fours, but otherwise the par-fours were super-long and we tried to keep wedges out of American hands because our stats told us that was what they were better at. The stats were right.
Marco Simone was superb by the way. That was not the issue. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is one of the best matchplay venues I have ever seen. The last three holes were phenomenal finishing holes for a Ryder Cup. I loved 18. Rahm owned it all week. For him to hit those two shots in the opening match on Sunday, with the pin in such a difficult position on the left. Everyone was bailing out right. He hit the best shot of anyone, front right. Then a phenomenal putt. That half-point was massive at the time. But it is true, it favoured our players. Taking crowd and course into consideration, home advantage has to equate to nearly three to four points.
So what is the answer? Well, some things have already been done to try to even things out. In the last few Ryder Cups, a joint committee has taken over the set-up of the course during match week. Both teams are notified of rough heights, green speeds, pin positions, stuff like that. It used to be the case, as happened to us in Medinah, that the home team could double cut and roll the greens at lunch and not tell us. It happened between matches on the Friday. We did not have a clue! We got putted off the golf course that afternoon. Or in Valhalla where they switched to some front tees which we did not know would be used. Potentially, they could go one step further and collaborate on course set-up right from the start of the two-year process. Set it up together and then say: ‘May the best team win.’ The home team would still have the crowd but that might make it closer?
The most radical solution would be to play at a completely neutral venue. Take golf’s Superbowl on tour. Take the Ryder Cup product around the world. Take it to Asia, or Australasia, or South America. I am not saying I would advocate for that. It would obviously hurt the European and US fans who want to attend. But it is one way to stop home advantage. I am sure all of these options will be debated in the coming weeks and months.
For now, Europe’s players should enjoy themselves and celebrate their win. I know they will! As I said in my preview column, I wish I had been there. These three days watching on TV have done nothing to dampen that desire. I have not actually watched many Ryder Cups on television, not for years anyway, and while I was on the edge of my seat I found the experience so frustrating. Particularly on American television with all the advertisements. We missed so much action. I wanted 12 screens so I could follow every shot in every match. I hope one day I will be back in some sort of capacity. Anything to represent that shade of Blue again. In the meantime, my congratulations again to Team Europe on a wonderful performance.