HAVEN, Wis. – Team USA became a united red, white and blue entity when captain Steve Stricker gathered his troops for a two-day reconnaissance voyage at Whistling Straits along the shores of Lake Michigan a week ahead of the 43rd edition of the Ryder Cup.
With all but the rehabbing Brooks Koepka on hand, the players, caddies and vice captains soaked in the surroundings, bought in on the mission statement, gathered nuggets about playing the rugged course, conversed on strategy, formed partnerships, and connected on the course and over many courses during dinners.
Upon arrival for Ryder Cup week, and with Koepka fitting right in, the Americans followed the untheatrical, positive leadership of Stricker and were a capable, comfortable, combative and confident bunch. Despite six players making their debut in the biennial pressure cooker against Europe, and with youth being served, the U.S. was 12 Strong and all in for one and all.
And then the Americans became hostile hosts.
RYDER CUP: Breakdown of the Sunday singles matches
From the opening tee shot on Sunday, the U.S., which had lost five of the last six matches and was coming off a pasting in Paris in 2018, battered its counterparts and secured possession of the 4-pound, 17-inch tall gold cup with seven matches to play. Two-time major champion Collin Morikawa provided the clinching point for the U.S. with his tie against Viktor Hovland.
The score at that point as 14½-6½. After two decades of being pummeled by Europe, the U.S. has now won two of the last three matches.
Team USA’s Patrick Cantlay reacts to his putt on the third hole during a singles match at the Ryder Cup at the Whistling Straits in Haven, Wisconsin. Photo by Ashley Landis/Associated Press
After surging out to a hefty 6-2 lead on Friday, the U.S. was relentless and ruthless and went up 9-3 Saturday morning and took a substantial 11-5 advantage into Sunday singles action. That was the largest lead held by the U.S. going into the final day since all of Europe joined the Ryder Cup in 1979.
The dominance was so thorough that every American won at least one point during the first two days while six of Europe’s charges won nothing. Only the Spanish Armada of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia, who were a combined 6-0-1 in Foursomes and Four-Ball, kept Europe afloat, but with scant hope.
Heading into Sunday singles, the U.S. needed just 3½ of the 12 points available for victory. The lineup showed that none of the U.S. players in the first six matches had tasted defeat the first two days.
And the victory march started early.
After Rory McIlroy put blue on the board with his win against gold medalist Xander Schauffele in the leadoff match, the Americans unleashed a torrent of superiority.
Rookie Scottie Scheffler put the first red flag on the board by taking down Rahm, who was undefeated the first two days. He won the first four holes and never trailed en route to a 4-and-3 win.
Rookie Patrick Cantlay, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, put the second red flag on the board with a convincing 4-and-2 win against Shane Lowry. Red flag No. 3 came from the efforts of Bryson DeChambeau, who was animated throughout the week and won the large galleries over with his power and interaction. DeChambeau drove the first green at the par-4 first, made the eagle and went on to defeat Garcia, the all-time points leader in Ryder Cup history, 3 and 2.
Morikawa got the clinching half-point. A few minutes later, four-time major champion Brooks Koepka added another point with a 2-and-1 win against Bernd Wiesberger.
“This is going to be the next era of the Ryder Cup team for the U.S. side,” said Cantlay, referencing the average age of 29 of the team. “We have a lot of young guys and I think they are going to be on teams for a long time. We sent out rookies in four out of the first five matches. That’s unheard of and those guys are performing. Everybody gets along. The atmosphere is light, but I know everyone has that killer instinct and we are going to bring that to future Cups.”
European captain Padraig Harrington just didn’t have the horses to make hay in America’s Dairyland. Much of the old guard from the Old Country came up flat, as Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey didn’t win a point the first two days.
And Europe’s heart and soul, McIlroy, lost his first three matches and didn’t make a birdie in his last 30 holes played in Four-Ball (he did make one eagle). While he won his singles match against Xander Schauffele, McIlroy fought through tears after the win, the pain of the team’s imminent defeat evident.
“I love being a part of this. I love this team and I love my teammates so much,” McIlroy said. “I should have done more for the team. I’m glad I put a point on the board, but I wish I could have done more. I can’t wait to get another crack at this.”
The next Ryder Cup is in 2023 near Rome. The U.S., meanwhile, had a stable of thoroughbreds here in farm country. The Americans boasted a roster featuring eight of the top 10 players and all 12 being in the top 21 in the world.
They played to their ranking.