Different cultures, no egos, same result for triumphant Euros at Ryder Cup

AP Photo/Francois Mori

Different cultures, no egos, same result for triumphant Euros at Ryder Cup

2018 Ryder Cup

Different cultures, no egos, same result for triumphant Euros at Ryder Cup

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As Team USA said au revoir to Gloomy Paris to consider Task Force II, Team Europe left to do … absolutely nothing. The only headaches Thomas Bjorn and his merry men will experience from the 42nd Ryder Cup is from the massive hangovers after winning Sam Ryder’s golden chalice for the ninth time in the last 12 matches.

Jim Furyk and his misery men might have hangovers for a different reason. Fortunately, good French wine can dull any pain.

There will be no task forces or soul searching at European Tour headquarters between now and Whistling Straits two years from now. Padraig Harrington will be named as 2020 captain and move seamlessly into the role without needing to change the European formula. Why try to fix something that isn’t broken?

You could make a fortune if you could bottle the spirit of European Ryder Cup teams. It’s a spirit that’s been in existence since 1983. Europe lost that match at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., by one point. It was a glum European team room until Seve Ballesteros walked in and yelled at everyone. “Why are you all so depressed?” Ballesteros said. “This is a great victory. We’ve shown the Americans we can compete with them. We must celebrate!”

Europe has been celebrating ever since.

European camaraderie is real but hard to explain. But it exists. You can almost touch it.

“I started to think it was a bit of a fallacy all this talk about the camaraderie about the European team, that maybe that idea was over-played because half the guys play in America and the other half play in Europe but it’s real,” said Graeme McDowell, who served as one of Thomas Bjorn’s vice-captains at Le Golf National. “It does exist. I saw it this week in front of my own eyes. I saw Rory McIlroy lift Tyrrell Hatton’s spirits. I saw Justin Rose being able to lift Thorbjorn Olesen up to his level. I’ve seen it happen. I know it’s real.

“European players naturally gel together without thinking. They become different people every two years. It comes naturally. Rory McIlroy’s a different person this week than he is week to week on the PGA Tour when he’s looking after himself. Seve was the same. So was Ollie (Jose Maria Olazabal).”

PARIS, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 30: Alex Noren of Sweden and the European Team is embraced by Thorbjorn Olesen, Francesco Molinari and Tyrrell Hatton after Noren had holed a long putt on the 18th green to win his match against Bryson de Chambeau of the United States team during the final day singles matches of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National on September 30, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Paul Casey returned to the European team this year after a 10-year absence. He contributed to this victory with 1.5 points, including a halved singles match with Brooks Koepka. He can’t explain why European teams are so much tighter than American teams, and doesn’t really care.

“I can’t explain why we are such a cohesive unit,” Casey said. “I don’t have the answer and I don’t need to know the answer. I just know we have something special and it was there again this week. It just comes naturally for us.”

Bjorn insisted all week this match wasn’t about individuals, but one 12-man team that bonded in one common cause.

“This turned out pretty exciting because of the way the 12 of them have just joined up together as a team,” Bjorn said. “The way they looked after each other and have been there for each other throughout the whole week made captaincy pretty easy.

“A Ryder Cup team brings the best out in all Europeans. That is what we are. We are cross nations. We have different cultural backgrounds. We believe in different things, but when we get on that team, we are proud of being European. It’s forgotten that we have so much in common.”

So much in common that players from different nationalities can pair seamlessly together to deliver points. An Italian and a long-haired Englishman did something in this Ryder Cup no European pairing had ever done. Open champion Francesco Molinari and reigning European No. 1 Tommy Fleetwood were trending on Twitter for winning all four points as a pair. #Moliwood will be forever remembered from this Ryder Cup. It was the basis on which Europe won back the cup.

“Thomas trusted us to be 12 players that would come together, 12 individuals working towards the same common goal,” Justin Rose said. “That was his strength this week.”

Sep 30, 2018; Paris, FRA; Europe golfer Tommy Fleetwood celebrates winning the Ryder Cup during Sunday singles matches at Le Golf National. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

There were some natural pairings for Bjorn at Le Golf National based on nationality, yet Bjorn didn’t feel compelled to pair players just because they shared the same language. Henrik Stenson introducing Alex Noren to his first Ryder Cup was a no brainer, yet the Swedes never played once together. Noren began his Ryder Cup career alongside Spaniard Sergio Garcia.

A Jon Rahm-Garcia partnership seemed another certainty, yet they never paired up. Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen might have been expected to pair with another Scandinavian yet he teamed with Rory McIlroy in Friday’s four-balls.

McIlroy gave a hint of just how cohesive a unit European teams are when he talked about parking reputations at the team room door.

“That’s one of the big things about European Ryder Cups over the past few years,” McIlroy said. “We’ve basically left any sort of egos at the door, and no one’s allowed to have an ego.”

Logically, the U.S. Ryder Cup team should be the most cohesive in every match since they all pledge allegiance to the same flag.

“We’ve known each other for a long time and there’s a continuity in our group that maybe the other side don’t quite have,” McIlroy said.

“The togetherness of the team, the great camaraderie we have, that’s built up on the European Tour. Obviously we all have our separate lives going on, but once we get together for the Ryder Cup, we all come together as one.”

Perhaps that explains why every European contributed a point in this match. Why “out of the shadows come heroes,” as 2002 European captain Sam Torrance said.

Olesen took down Jordan Spieth 5 and 4 in a singles match that seemed a foregone American win on paper. He followed in the footsteps of similar giant killing matches such as Christy O’Connor Jr. beating Fred Couples in 1989, Costantino Rocca defeating Tiger Woods in 1997 and Phillip Price downing Phil Mickelson in 2002.

Egos are left at the captain’s door, too. Every U.S. captain has been a major winner, while Europe picks captains not by reputation but on the basis of who’s the best man for the job. Bjorn is a European Tour winner, but not a major winner. Ditto for Paul McGinley (2014), Colin Montgomerie (2010), Torrance (2002), Mark James (1999) and Bernard Gallacher (1995).

Most importantly, European captains are in touch with their players. The European Tour learned in 2008 with Nick Faldo’s disastrous captaincy at Valhalla that it needed good managers as opposed to legends players might or might not look up to. After Faldo, they instituted a very simple policy of ensuring future captains had served as back room staff before they took up the main role. Bjorn was a three-time vice-captain before Paris, ditto for Darren Clarke and McGinley, while Harrington was making his third appearance as a vice-captain. There’s a continuity to European teams.

Maybe the PGA of America doesn’t need another task force to see what went wrong in France. Maybe potential American Ryder Cup players and captains just need to spend more time in Europe. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the November issue of Golfweek.)

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