Ryder Cup 2018 Preview: The American view
With a star-studded cast of players, USA travel to Europe with their strongest squad for many a decade, on paper at least. Will the big names live up to expectations? Gregor Kerr previews.
For the first time in a very time long, USA will cross the pond to Europe as the favourites. So woeful is their travelling record, without a win abroad since 1993, that they may be unfamiliar with the expectancy of victory.
Paris will be as somewhat unfamiliar venue for a Ryder Cup, as will the course, with only the 1997 edition being the only other edition to take part in mainland Europe. With three of the four major champions in their ranks, the Americans look in their strongest shape for a long time.
Without doubt the biggest success story of 2018, yet still one of the most under talked players on tour, Brooks Koepka has handled almost every question fired in his direction. With three of the last six majors heading to his collection, the US Open champion is an expert on handling tense situations.
His performance at Hazeltine in 2016 introduced Koepka to the world stage. The partnership with Brandt Snedeker brought victories in both the fourballs and foursomes matches, with a crushing win over Danny Willet in the Sunday singles ensuring a strong record, and setting the tone for his country’s eventual win.
His one defeat though did come when paired with good friend Dustin Johnson, so picking the pair together could be a possibility for captain Furyk. Johnson enjoyed another excellent, and consistent, PGA Tour in 2018. Wins in the St. Jude Classic and the Canadian Open capped off a fruitful summer, complimented with 12 top-ten finishes in the year. With three Ryder Cups under his belt he has become one of the experienced heads in the team, but a reputation for faltering at the final hurdle in majors has been the only blip on the World number one’s CV.
Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth burst on to the stage in Gleneagles four years ago, and it would be surprising not to see the pair together at some point over the weekend. The former finally reached the fulfilling moment in his career five months ago, as he claimed his first major in style at Augusta. Known as the pantomime villain at Ryder Cup, he teased Gleneagles in 2014 and fired up Hazeltine last time around. His singles clash against Rory McIlroy ranks as one of the tournament’s finest match ups, and you can expect the same fiery persona in Paris.
Spieth, however, was trailblazing at a far younger age. Since his double major victory in 2015 he remains on the biggest draws in golf. Disappointing though will be his 2018 form, failing to pick up any wins on tour, and recording five top-tens. Surprisingly, he is the youngest member of the entire USA team along with good friend Justin Thomas, putting his achievements already into context. Pairing the two together In the opening fourballs could prove a wise move from Furyk.
It’s quite hard to believe that Justin Thomas will arrive in Paris as a rookie, as unfitting as the tag sounds. 2017 seems like a long time ago now, but it was the year when Thomas broke free from the shadows of the likes of Spieth and Reed. Five wins on the PGA Tour resulted in the Fedex trophy, and a maiden major title in the PGA Championship. The same form has carried into this season, with wins at the Honda Classic and Bridgestone Invitational. Strong friendships with Spieth and Rickie Fowler offers a variety of options for partners.
Bryson DeChambeau offers a degree of unpredictability to the team. With a noted short temper he might need to guidance of a Phil Mickelson to guide him through matches. One of the most interesting characters in this tournament, DeChambeau very much follows his own path, designing a unique swing and even creating his own golf clubs, which could make for interesting viewing to see how he fits into a team environment. His three wins between June and July proves an undoubtable quality, but inconsistent form means that his results will be difficult to call.
Tony Finau has become a fan’s favourite over the last year, particularly for his extraordinary performance in this year’s Masters tournament. Despite a dislocated ankle earlier in the week in the annual par 3 tournament, he fought well to land his first top-ten finish at a major. Since then, he has gone strength to strength, finishing 5th and 9th at the US Open and British Open respectively. Despite this, he hasn’t won a tournament for over two years but consistent performances, 11 top-ten finishes this year, means that Finau will offer a degree of reliability to Furyk.
This year’s Ryder Cup is star-studded, and the inclusion of Tiger Woods only adds an extra layer of excitement to this weekend after his Tour Championship win at the weekend. While his record at this tournament is far from impressive, his sheer presence can either inspire USA or strike pressure and fear into them. Considering how Woods’ manner has changed recently compared to his earlier career, it’s likely that he will become more comfortable in a team environment, as oppose to his usual single-mindedness which has often been criticised.
His partnership with Patrick Reed could be a perfect blend of personalities. Reed’s fist-pumping, attention-drawing persona contrasts with the silent focus of Tiger, perhaps they can be the perfect foil for each other. Should sense prevail, Woods will not be partnered with Mickelson at any team for numerous reasons. With their $10 million showdown to come in November there will be natural competition between the two. While the relationship has cooled with time, their fourballs partnership in 2004 is one of the all time Ryder Cup balls ups, failing to win a single point.
Jim Furyk has a mixed bag of experience when it comes to the Ryder Cup. Most of it though is negative, losing seven of his nine tournaments. This can bring both positives and negatives to the table. His counterpart Thomas Bjorn boasts nothing but wins, but the American knows both sides of the coin, well aware of what to do in a winning and losing situation.
Like Davis Love III who came before him, Furyk is a very methodical analyser of golf courses, and the water hazards prominent throughout Le Golf National are unlikely to catch his players by surprise. Compared to the ego-filled dressing rooms of the past, this USA camp are a tighter bunch and Furyk will keep a lid on any unrest.