Europe’s team chemistry trumps U.S. firepower in Ryder Cup rout

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 30: Captain Thomas Bjorn of Europe celebrates with The Ryder Cup after singles matches of the 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National on September 30, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) David Cannon/Getty Images

Europe’s team chemistry trumps U.S. firepower in Ryder Cup rout

2018 Ryder Cup

Europe’s team chemistry trumps U.S. firepower in Ryder Cup rout

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – They filed into the winner’s press conference one by one, plucking a slender glass of champagne from a tray before climbing the dais to take their seats. The band of merry Europeans mocked Sergio Garcia’s laugh (think horse’s neigh) and traded inside jokes. Ian Poulter hinted at a secret motivation: Captain Thomas Bjorn must now get a tattoo in a place only his girlfriend can see. (“The worse decision I made this week,” Bjorn said.) When Jon Rahm waxed on about Garcia, a childhood hero, the senior Spaniard wiped away fake tears with a flag that was draped around his neck and blew the rookie a kiss. The European lovefest likely went on all night.

“What this team did was not drop their guard until this moment right here,” said Justin Rose, adding a moment of seriousness to the proceeding. “This team was relentless in its pursuit of excellence.”

The Americans came into the 42nd Ryder Cup with arguably its strongest team to date, a dashing and bashing group that boasted six of the top 10 players in the world, not to mention a resurrected Tiger Woods.

But the Europeans found a flow rivaled only by Tommy Fleetwood’s rock-star hair. After trailing early, Bjorn’s lineup won eight consecutive points to match a record set by the Americans in 1967. And when Le Golf Miracle never materialized in singles play, Europe was handed its ninth victory in the last 12 Ryder Cup matches.

The final tally: 17 ½ to 10 ½.

Francesco Molinari was popping big bottles after Europe’s win.  (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson went a combined 0-6. Jordan Spieth continued his inexplicable streak of singles losses, and Tony Finau was the only captain’s pick on Jim Furyk’s roster to put points on the board (2). Bjorn’s four veteran at-large picks, however, combined for 9 ½ points.

The Europeans took what should’ve happened on paper, crumpled it up and tossed it in the faces of their detractors.

“I think that a lot of people thought that the Ryder Cup was over before it was played,” said Garcia, “… they picked the wrong team.”

This latest beatdown will be picked apart and second-guessed for the foreseeable future. Was the Task Force assembled after Gleneagles really more of a task farce? After all, Europe’s margin of victory in France is a full two points higher than 2014.

The honorable Fuyrk accepted the heat when it was over, pointing to Europe’s leadership as a key to their success.

“Thomas was a better captain,” said Furyk, “and their team out-played us. And there’s nothing else more you can say. They deserved to win.”

• • •

Le Golf National was built for the masses. Fans packed in around greens, up banks and on top of mounds, creating a wall of opposition against the U.S. The Albatross Course was designed for the French Open, with a dream of one day hosting a Ryder Cup. For three years 300 trucks per day hauled in over 5 million cubic feet of soil, rocks and rubbish to create the amphitheaters that made 50,000-plus fans per day actually work.

Add in that behemoth of a grandstand around the first tee that sat 6,900 and this year’s Cup felt more like a football match. The home team showed Woods so much love they might have adopted him had he actually produced. Even red Make Tiger Great Again hats were on the scene. The rest of the American squad, however, was regularly booed.

The first man to hit a shot in the shadow of golf’s first mega-stadium was the humble Finau, whose journey to the spotlight began with a free set of Majek clubs, supplemented with pawn-shop purchases, that he used through high school. Finau’s opening tee shot came within a whisker of the drink, foreshadowing a Ryder Cup that came second only to the annual caddie competition on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass in water-ball count. (As examples – two players hit from a bunker into the hazard on the first hole Sunday, and the Cup was officially decided when Mickelson dunked his tee shot on the par-3 16th and conceded.)

Sep 30, 2018; Paris, FRA; Europe golfer Ian Poulter celebrates on the 18th green during the Ryder Cup Sunday singles matches at Le Golf National. Mandatory Credit: Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Poulter was pumped on 18 Sunday after winning his singles match, (Ian Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports)

It started out so promising for the visiting team. The Americans took the opening four-ball session 3-1, with Europe’s only spark coming from the newly-formed dream team of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari.

The whitewash that followed proved the ultimate French twist, with Europe sweeping Day 1 foursomes for the first time in Ryder Cup history. No match made it past No. 16, with two ending on the 14th hole. By day’s end the nickname “Moliwood” had emerged after an absolute shellacking of U.S. wunderkinds Justin Thomas and Spieth.

A night’s rest didn’t change much. Furyk doubled-down on his approach, sending out the same lineup for Day 2 four-balls. Paul Casey, a man who’d gone 10 years in between Ryder Cups, came out “guns blazing” in the opening match alongside Tyrell Hatton, making five birdies over the first six holes. The proud Englishman teared up after the 3-and-2 win.

“You don’t know what it’s like until you’ve been in one and played in one,” Casey said. “It’s like a drug – it’s amazing.”

Much was made coming into the week about the U.S. not winning on foreign soil since 1993. Several young American players mentioned the importance of getting it done for veterans such as Mickelson and Woods, who had yet to experience it.

“It’s not anything I need to mention in the team room,” Furyk said. “There’s not like a big ‘25’ sitting in there anywhere.”

Furyk could’ve wallpapered the place with 25s and it wouldn’t have mattered. By late Saturday afternoon, confident European fans were crooning “Bye Bye Miss American Pie.”

Team USA was down four points heading into Sunday, the same margin they overcame at Brookline, and managed to muster a charge in singles play. But when Woods and Johnson went south midway through the back nine, hope followed.

Despite the solid play of Justin Thomas on Sunday, there would be no magical Ryder Cup comeback for the United States. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“There have been two years, this year and 2006 with Tom Lehman,” said Mickelson, “where it breaks my heart a little bit more than others, because those two, we didn’t execute while we were given every opportunity to succeed.”

Furyk mostly dismissed the notion that Europe’s significant home course advantage had much of an impact on the lopsided affair. Bjorn’s team has a combined 69 appearances at the French Open, with both Fleetwood and Alex Noren as past champions. By contrast, three U.S. players have French Open experience and six came to the Ryder Cup having never laid eyes on Le Golf National.

The course’s pinched fairways and burly rough handicapped the Americans’ power play. But mostly, Europe putted lights out to win 16 ½ out of the last 24 points.

“I’ve always said one thing about the game of golf,” said Bjorn, “players, they stand up and they are counted for what they do in the greatest events in the world. But legends are made in this event.”

Moliwood, for example, went 4-0 in foursomes, establishing a partnership that could rattle cages for the next decade. Garcia, regarded as the heartbeat of Team Europe, cemented his place in history by overtaking Nick Faldo as the winningest player in European history with 25 ½ points. And Poulter pounded his puffed-up chest on the 18th green after taking down World No. 1 Dustin Johnson to extend his exquisite singles record to 5-0-1.

If it’s a question of heart, look no further than the answer Molinari gave about what this victory means.

“So much, so much,” he began, “more than majors, more than anything.”

This coming from the reigning British Open champion who became the first European player to go 5-0 at a Ryder Cup.

Or how about Rahm, who dropped his putter and unleashed a mighty roar after defeating Woods, whom he videoed winning his 80th title from the clubhouse at East Lake last week. Rahm called it the best feeling of his life.

“For Jon to go out in his first Ryder Cup singles and beat Tiger Woods, you know, that’s a pretty cool thing that you’ll have for the rest of your life,” said Bjorn, “and that’s something that he will carry in his career, knowing that on the biggest stage, against the best player that’s ever played, I can stand up and do great things.”

During Sunday’s bedlam, someone handed Poulter, nicknamed “The Postman” because he always delivers, a red mailbox costume that he plans to have framed in his Lake Nona home.

“This is it. This is as good as it gets, right now,” said Fleetwood, right before he was hoisted onto the shoulders of revelers and carried around like a god.

European teams are known for their camaraderie, but everyone from the captain on down believed this group in particular was special.

“This is the best team room I’ve ever been in,” Bjorn said. “It was calm. It was determined. It was focused. It was fun. Everything that this Ryder Cup was, is what I think the Ryder Cup should be about for a European Team.”

Now about that tattoo … Gwk

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

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