When eras collide. As the 43rd Ryder Cup finally gets under way on Friday morning, there’s one side looking to embark on a wonderful new chapter in these matches while the other sends its legends into the fray for one glorious last push.
More than 1,000 days on from the humbling in Paris, we have an American team without Tiger and Phil for the first time since 1993 and a side who, with the exception of the elder statesman Dustin Johnson, virtually grew up together in college and have now progressed to the biggest stage of them all.
Here on display will be the nucleus of American Ryder Cup sides for the next decade. Six of them might be rookies but Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay will surely rack up plenty more appearances.
Collin Morikawa (pictured) is amongst six American rookies in this year’s Ryder Cup team
Jordan Spieth should be amongst the young Americans causing Europe lots of problems
Lee Westwood is one of the many experienced players on the European team
Throw in Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau and you have six rarely gifted golfers in their mid-to-late twenties who are going to cause Europe lots of problems over the next generation.
There’s never been a Ryder Cup like this one where the make-up of the two teams is so diametrically opposed. There are seven players on view aged 33 or older and six of them play for Europe. The oldest American is Johnson at 37 while Europe have players aged 41, 44, 45 and 48.
A victory for America, therefore, would feel like an epochal switch in the nature of these matches and the start of a worrying surge of the red tide. ‘We might have lost nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups but would anyone be shocked, when you look around at this team, if we now went on a similar run?’ said Cantlay.
Thomas, virtually the only American bright spot during the French humiliation in 2018, when he posted four points on his debut, is of a similar mindset.
‘The Ryder Cup means a lot to me,’ he said. ‘It was more nerves than I’ve ever felt and it went by quicker than any other event I’ve played in. I’ve watched the Europeans win a lot and it’s obviously not something, as an American, I’m crazy about. I’d love for us to draw a line in the sand here and start to take more control going forward. It’s very important to me.’
It is vital, therefore, that Europe’s battle-hardened greats rise to the challenge once more and prevent these hungry, young Americans from establishing any momentum.
It is going to be some task. A 12-man team with an average world ranking of under nine? That’s preposterous. Since the rankings began in 1986, this is the first time there has been a team with an average ranking in single digits. Eight of them are inside the top 10, another first.
Yes, it’s true they gained such kudos while playing strokeplay golf and this is a wholly different form of the game, but it underlines how ugly this could become if the home side get their noses in front and start to relax.
Morikawa is part of the USA side and will bring youthful exuberance to the table
Right now, they’re under pressure from the weight of expectation. You can see it in the mannerisms and behaviour of the two captains. Look at Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington and you’d think the age difference was 15 years, not four.
Stricker has the burden of a nation that doesn’t have much faith that this Ryder Cup will turn out any different to so many in the past, where the Americans were heavy favourites only to lose. They grew up watching Mickelson play in 11 Ryder Cups and never finish on the winning team outside America.
Harrington, by contrast, looks like he is having the time of his life. He’s got his team feeling like they have nothing to lose, and that’s a good place to begin on this nerve-filled first morning.
This European team are underdogs but the feeling is that they have nothing to lose this time
One thing that must change for Europe is their worrying habit of making a slow start. You have to go all the way back to 2006 to find the last time we got to lunchtime on the first day and found that Europe were ahead.
Obviously, the record books show they have got away with being stuck on the blocks for the most part but imagine giving this American team buoyancy with a lead early on?
Let’s hope it’s tight through the first two days and this is one of those Ryder Cups where the only place to be all weekend is the sofa.
The European players (like Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm right) have been looking relaxed
Captain Steve Stricker is looking to win back a trophy the USA have won just once since 2008
After three editions dominated by the home side, what a blessing that would be — as we make our agonisingly slow journey back to normality; an occasion where America’s future and Europe’s past meet in the present, leaving us all so gripped that we’re unable to move.
Here amid the endless cornfields, as far removed from the chic French setting last time as can be imagined, there’s the potential for such unmatched drama.
Europe can spike this American artillery but it’s going to take all their skill and savvy. It’s going to need Viktor Hovland and Shane Lowry, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton, rising to the occasion and becoming heroes as only this competition can bestow.
A prediction? This feels like one of those classic heart versus head dilemmas.
I really don’t want to be writing on Monday morning about this being a Ryder Cup too far for men who’ve given as much as Poulter and Westwood. We all want them to ride into the sunset on the back of another victory.
Harrington deserves to be a winning captain as well. A man who hasn’t forgotten the human touch amid all his duties and responsibilities this week.
Trouble is, this United States team look ready to me. America by a couple of points and then Europe’s problems will really feel like they’ve only just begun.