Ryder Cup Preview: U.S.A.’s Road to Redemption

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, September 26th, 2014

RyderTeam-USA

By Tom Ward
tompward@sbcglobal.net

When the Ryder Cup tees off in Scotland at Gleneagles G.C. the U.S. squad will be the decided underdog chomping at the bit to engage against their formidable European counterparts. This will be the 40th edition of the biennial matches and it was just two short years ago that the U.S. team experienced a major meltdown at Medinah C.C. outside of Chicago losing 14  to 13 after holding a big lead heading into the final round.
All the pent up emotions and frayed nerves by the Americans will be boiling to a head and fortunately these players will have a calming force guiding them as they do battle with captain Tom Watson at the helm. Watson, a 5 time British Open champion (4 of those won in Scotland) is the perfect man to help lead these players into what will certainly be an uphill climb to wrestle away the coveted Ryder Cup from the feisty European contingent. Watson was the captain the last time the U.S. team won the Ryder Cup on the road at the Belfry in England back in 1993. Since that last U.S. win on foreign soil the Europeans have dominated the matches with a stellar 7-2 record.
As they head into this weekend I’m sure Watson will have the players focused on the task at hand, but not letting them forget what happened at Medinah. The shocking results of two years really have got to be the rallying point for this year’s U.S. squad.
As the oldest Ryder cup captain at age 63 Watson isn’t a rah-rah type of guy, but  imagine he will get his point across to the young team in a manner that will yield good results once they hit the links.
This past Tuesday evening Captain Watson invited two Wounded Warriors  to speak to the team. Watson used this moment to inspire and help put things in perspective, reminding them that no matter how great the pressure will be at Gleneagles, it s just golf.
The 2014 U.S. team features a few familiar faces that have played in past Ryder cups like veterans: Phil Mickelson   (10th appearance), Jim Furyk (9th appearance), Zach Johnson (4th appearance), Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson (Masters champ) and Hunter Mahan (3rd appearances), Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Richie Fowler (2nd appearance).
First timers are Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker who all call Texas home along with veteran Hunter Mahan.
As much as the U.S. team would have liked to have had Tiger Woods playing, it turns out that in his absence (recovering from broken leg) they won the Ryder Cup in 2008 at Valhalla in Kentucky. Tiger’s overall record in the Ryder Cup is a dismal 13-17-3. So Woods not playing might be considered a good omen.
The Europeans are lead by World Ranked number #1 Rory McIIroy, current U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter. Thomas Bjorn, Jamie Donaldson, Stephen Gallacher and Victor Dubuisson. The team is lead by Captain Paul McGinley who told the media that Tom Watson was his boyhood hero growing up.
The crowds and the cool weather maybe a big advantage for the Europeans, but the course itself might turn out to be the greatest equalizer giving the U.S. a possible advantage. The reason is because the PGA Centenary course was designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus and it has an Americanized look to it. It’s a par 72 layout that plays to a yardage of 7,243 yards. Nicklaus explains: “when we built the course it was a pretty challenging layout. With the equipment and the golf balls in 1993 we were still using wound balls and everything going much farther, it needed alterations. So we set out to make it more relevant in today’s game, from some of the bunkering to the strategy.”
The PGA Centenary Course has successfully hosted a European Tour event since 1999, in its present form known as the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, but the work undertaken during the winter of 2011-12 transformed the course with changes being made to no fewer than 12 holes, in addition to the bunkers on all holes being remodeled. The most significant alterations were to the ninth, which is like beauty and the beast as it is both aesthetically striking and artfully challenging, and the 18th hole. Nicklaus Design supplied Gleneagles with a very detailed and extensive plan on how to develop the 18th and then left it with them to make a decision based on time and available resources. Nicklaus added:
“among the adjustments we collectively decided to move forward with was to place a bunker off the right side of the first landing area. Obviously the more you challenge the bunker, the better the opportunity to reach the green in two. We also added a group of diagonal bunkers short and right of the new green which gives the golfer three options on how to play the hole; hit short and right and leave a pitch; play left to open the green for a pitch; or take it all the way home.  In a nutshell, the ninth and 18th are now par fives that provide a risk-and-reward element that transcends the course, offering the opportunity for the players, especially in the match-play environment afforded by The Ryder Cup, to raise the excitement level. The lowering of the 18th green to create an amphitheatre effect has installed the space for more spectators to enjoy those matches which go to the wire.
In the Friday morning four ball competition, to get the fireworks started, Captain Watson is sending out Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson to go up against Captain McGinley’s players Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
The next pairing for the U.S. in match 2 is Ricky Fowler and Jimmy Walker who ll tee it up against Thomas Bjorn and Martin Kaymer.
The 3rd match features an intriguing pairing of Texan’s Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed who are both Ryder cup rookies. They will face Stephen Gallacher who has played the course over 100 times and Ian Poulter who always seems to step up his game for this particular event.
The American duo in the 4th match of the morning is going to be one of the most interesting to watch as Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley re-team after their success from 2 years ago against the powerhouse team of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. This is most certainly going to be a must watched match.
Captain Watson is taking a big gamble by playing all 3 of his rookies in the morning matches. Europe countered by putting 4 of the top 6 ranked players in the world out of the gate immediately. One thing the U.S. most not do is get too far behind in these opening matches in both the morning and afternoon sessions. If the U.S. can hang in there on Friday and Saturday this Ryder Cup come Sunday could end up being an exciting finish.
I’m a big Tom Watson fan and if anyone can light a fuse under these American players I think he’s the guy. His love of the history of the game and with the Ryder Cup in Scotland makes this weekend’s event really special. I know how much Watson and his team would like to win this prestigious Cup back especially from the country where the game of golf began centuries ago.
My prediction is the U.S. team will win and the 4 players that make up the Texas connection (Mahan, Speith, Reed and Walker) will have a lot to do with the outcome. The road to redemption starts Friday and hopefully on Sunday we’ll be seeing the U.S. players hoisting the Samuel Ryder Cup and help erase the misery at Medinah by replacing it with Glory at Gleneagles.

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