Ryder Cup Recap: United States Dominates Europe
By Kyle Sorgi, Staff Writer
On September 24-26, 2021, the world witnessed the 43rd edition of the biennial Ryder Cup golf tournament between the United States and Europe. (This was supposed to happen last year since the most recent edition was 2018, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation to 2021). While the field comprised loads of talent from established veterans and young budding stars from both sides of the Atlantic, this year’s result was surprisingly dominant as the Americans posted a 19-9 victory to capture the trophy for the first time since 2016. The Europeans had not suffered a defeat this bad since Europe became a full-continent team in 1979 and fell victim to a new widest margin of victory in Ryder Cup history. In their previous 42 meetings, there were 26 American wins, 14 European wins, and two ties; however, the Europeans had won 11 out of 19 times since 1979. Let’s evaluate how the Americans so mercilessly imposed their will on their cross-the-pond counterparts.
Before the players arrived at Whistling Straits Golf Course in Kohler, Wisconsin, the participants on both sides either qualified through recent performance or were hand-selected by American team captain Steve Stricker and European team captain Padraig Harrington. These were the assembled teams entering the competition:
Evidently, the United States represents most of the world’s top ten players (all except #1 Rahm and #8 South African Louis Oosthuizen) and possessed greater individual talent and depth. Although, despite the seemingly clear edge on paper, this was not a purely individual event and required strategy with selective pairings and careful distribution of talent across different matchups and formats.
Friday and Saturday featured groups of four players- two Americans and two Europeans- while Sunday provided one-on-one matchups. However, the mornings and afternoons of Friday and Saturday played differently. The mornings featured four-ball action in which each golfer played their own ball and the duos only counted their best score for the hole. On the other hand, the afternoons called for more strategy in foursomes, where players on each team switched off hitting the same ball until it rolled in the hole. On Sunday, there were 12 singles matches in which each player simply used their own ball in pursuit of more points than his opponent.
The overarching match play system scores points based on holes rather than strokes. Equal scores on a hole result in no points for either side, but better scores result in one point. With hole-by-hole scoring, matches can end before 18 holes if one side’s lead is greater than the number of holes remaining. The outright winner of a matchup receives a full point; in the event of a tie after 18 holes, both sides receive a half point. There are 28 total points up for grabs in the Ryder Cup, which would typically necessitate 14.5 points for either side to win. But, since the Europeans won in 2018, they only needed 14 points to retain the Ryder Cup (win or draw, “tie goes to the runner”). The United States, meanwhile, needed 14.5 points to take back the Cup and
end their five-year drought. That was where things stood before the first tee was taken Friday morning by Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth.
That morning, Garcia and Rahm claimed Europe’s first and only victory of the day, winning three-and-one (three points up with one hole left to play) against Thomas and Spieth. The United States won the next three matchups in 16, 17, and 15 holes. That afternoon brought more good news for the Americans: they halved two matchups and won the other two in 17 and 15 holes. At the conclusion of Friday’s action, the score was 6-2 in favor of the United States.
Saturday morning almost played out the same way as Friday: Garcia and Rahm won the first matchup of the day three-and-one (this time against Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger) and the Americans won the next three matchups (this time in 17, 18, and 17 holes). In the afternoon, both sides picked up two wins with the Europeans doing so in 18 and 17 holes and the Americans doing so in 17 and 15 holes. This bumped the American lead up to six in an 11-5 tally going into the decisive final day of the weekend.
On Sunday, Rory McIlroy got Europe started in the right direction by winning the first matchup of the day three-and-two (three points up with two holes left to play) against Xander Schauffele. Despite McIlroy’s start, Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler, and Bryson DeChambeau rattled off three consecutive American victories to make the score 14-6 and give Collin Morikawa the chance to seal the deal. He did just that by going one-up with one hole to play against Viktor Hovland and guaranteeing a half-point regardless of the outcome of the 18th hole (which Hovland won) to give the United States the magic 14.5 points to return to Ryder Cup glory. Of the seven remaining matchups still going when Morikawa played the hero, there were four United States wins, two European wins, and one tie, adding up the final score to 19-9.
The United States outscored Europe on all three days to hoist the Ryder Cup trophy (6-2, 5-3, and 8-4) and celebrate a long-awaited victory after a convincing wire-to-wire effort. If this Ryder Cup says anything, it’s these three things: first, this generation of American golf is unlike many others; second, the sport is quickly getting younger; and third, the trajectory of the future of American and international golf is poised to go nowhere but up.