From the “Concession” in 1969 to the “Miracle in Medinah” in 2012, memorable moments and the Ryder Cup come hand in hand.
Delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament will be composed of its usual foursome, fourball and singles format in front of a partisan US crowd hoping their players can return the trophy to American soil after Europe last won in 2018 in France.
US captain Steve Stricker and Europe captain Pádraig Harrington have selected strong sides, stocked to the brim with major winners and current and former world No. 1’s and even an Olympic gold medalist.
So three years after “Moliwood” – the pairing of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood, which took golf by storm and led to one of the sport’s most viral videos with the two of them in bed with the trophy – who will be the competition’s next break out player?
Will Team USA reclaim the trophy or can Europe make sure it will be joining them on the flight back over the Atlantic?
Meet the teams
For the home team, Stricker had almost an embarrassment of riches to select from when it came time to make his picks.
Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay all automatically qualified based on points earned from performances over the past two years.
That’s 10 major titles and three FedExCup titles between the six of them.
In addition to those, Stricker selected Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Harris English, Scottie Scheffler, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau.
That’s an additional three majors, 26 PGA Tour victories and one Olympic gold medal to add to the team.
The biggest name to miss out for Team USA was Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters winner, which was a “very difficult call,” according to Stricker.
But finding the balance between rookies and veterans and players that fit the Whistling Straits course was paramount for Stricker and his assistant captains.
“We are looking to the best players to perform here at Whistling Straits, and these six guys that we picked, we feel like fit Whistling Straits to a T,” he told the media.
“We have done some analysis of those rookies since 2008, and US rookies are a 40-29-17 record in Ryder Cup. So rookies fare very well in this type of form, and we’re excited to have these rookies. Some of them aren’t really rookies. They have played in past Presidents Cup teams. Some of these guys have match play competition under their belt as well and other events that they played.”
There is also the matter of rivalries bubbling inside the US team, most notably the frosty relationship between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
There is little love lost between the pair with their minor spats often spilling over onto social media. The moment Koepka rolled his eyes when DeChambeau walked behind him at this year’s PGA Championship perhaps perfectly sums up their strained relationship.
But both have previously said their rivalry is good for golf and Stricker does not anticipate it being a problem during the Ryder Cup.
“It’s a non-issue, really, for me and the team. We got together a few weeks ago, the six of us and I’ve had conversations with them both,” Stricker said. “They have assured me it’s not going to be an issue. I have no worries whatsoever.”
“Will we pair them together? I don’t think so at this point but things could change. Could always happen. But probably not.
“But again, I had a dinner; they all showed up. We had great conversation, great talks. So I’m not seeing it as an issue at all and they are completely on board.”
A European advantage?
For the European team, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Lee Westwood, Matt Fitzpatrick and Bernd Wiesberger all earned automatic qualification based on the world and European points lists.
Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry were selected by Harrington as he completed his 12-man team to take on Stricker and the Americans.
“I’m really happy with my team,” Harrington said during the announcement. “It’s a great team for foursomes and fourball play, a lot of good ball-strikers and it’s a team going to Whistling Straits that is well-suited to the golf course. It’s a strong, well-rounded and very balanced team.”
Whistling Straits is a course that harks back to golf’s British and Irish heritage.
Based on the shore of Lake Michigan, the course is “defined by the open, rugged and windswept terrain,” the course’s website says.
Designed by legendary golf course designers Pete and Alice Dye, it offers “throwbacks to the raw freshness of Ireland.”
As well as the US Senior Open, the course has hosted the PGA Championship on three occasions over the last 17 years. On each occasion, it was won by a non-American: Fiji’s Vijay Singh (2004), Germany’s Martin Kaymer (2010) and Australia’s Jason Day (2015).
Could the challenges the course offers up – with strong winds and unforgiving rough – be one that the European team are more accustomed to facing and therefore more prepared to overcome?
Even Stricker called the course a “tremendous test” for his players, but he believes he’s picked the right ones for the job.
“You can get some big winds here or breezes off Lake Michigan, and it’s going to be a challenge for all the guys and there’s birdies to be made out there but there’s also danger that lurks around every corner. I think it’s going to be a tremendous place to have this event.”
Might not have been here
For some, their golfing careers might not have taken off if it wasn’t for the Ryder Cup.
For world no. 1 Jon Rahm, the 1997 Ryder Cup held in his home country of Spain was the introduction to golf his father and, by proxy, he had.
Captained by legendary Spanish golfer Seve Ballesteros, the European team retained the trophy at the Valderrama Golf Club in the resort of Sotogrande in Spain.
Rahm’s father and his friends traveled to the course to watch Europe win by a narrow 14.5-13.5 margin and returned with a desire to try the game for themselves.
“They thought it was a really cool atmosphere, very unique event in sport, and when they got back home they said: ‘Oh, let’s try this,’” Rahm told CNN Sport’s Alex Thomas.
“And that’s how my dad got into golf. So I guess because of the Ryder Cup and Seve and a lot of other people in Spain is why my family is playing off, why I’m here.”
With his maiden major victory under his belt and sitting atop golf’s rankings, Rahm is aiming for a more positive result than he registered at the 2018 Ryder Cup, winning only one of his three matches.
Will it be the stars and stripes of the US or the dark blue of Europe which drapes the Ryder Cup? Will the star-studded US team be able to shine or will Europe’s team spirit once again be decisive?
One thing is for certain: the European team have to deal with a bear-pit of an atmosphere in Wisconsin if they have any hopes of retaining the famous trophy.