Among other things it did, this not being among the most momentous of them, Covid-19 ensured the postponement of the 2020 Ryder Cup, which will now get underway at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin on Friday. It will be a Ryder Cup like no other. While there will likely be a few spectators cheering on the Europeans as they seek an eighth win in the ten matches played in the 21st century, they will for the most part be ex-pats. The serious noise will all be for the boys in the red corner. (Mind you, look how that worked out at the recent Solheim Cup!)
For a match like no other, the American captain, Steve Stricker, insisted the rules governing the selection of his team be amended to reflect the vastly changed scenario. This was not to do with the absence of European fans but because coronavirus significantly interfered with the tournament schedule and thereby the qualifying process. Stricker therefore asked for, and got, six wild cards. His European counterpart, Padraig Harrington, stuck with the three originally planned.
The final counting event for the Europeans was the BMW PGA Championship, which ended a week ago today. We will never know but a guess is that Harrington was hoping Shane Lowry, the 2019 Open champion, would qualify automatically and allow him to pick Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter (both whom he did select) and Justin Rose (whom he did not, Lowry getting the nod instead). So Bernd Wiesberger becomes the first Austrian to play in the match (and Viktor Hovland the first Norwegian) and the PGA Championship was won by Billy Horschel, who admitted he was “ticked off” not only to miss out on making the American Ryder Cup team – he had, after all, won the WGC Match Play tournament in March – but because Stricker had not even made a phone call to offer him an explanation for his omission.
Harrington said afterwards: “We are up against it but I’m delighted with my team.” We are, of course, used to the European team gloriously upsetting the odds and the world rankings at the Ryder Cup. But this would be one heck of a triumph. At the time Harrington announced his team at Wentworth, Wiesberger was, at 61st, the lowliest ranked played in the world to be taking part. The lowliest ranked American was Scottie Scheffler at 21st. Only four European players were ranked better than him. Stricker has gone with six rookies and there’s no place for ‘Captain America’, Patrick Reed. He also has six players who have won major championships. Harrington has four.
On a brutally long course where driving distance was the biggest statistical factor for the 2015 USPGA Championship, Harrington also has four players over 40. One of these, Poulter, is 45 and will be playing in his seventh match, five of them as a wild card. ’The Postman’ has routinely delivered for Europe in the Ryder Cup, never more so than at the ‘Miracle of Medinah’ in 2012, but Harrington has to hope this is not a reach too far. Mind you, Poulter had the best 2021 PGA Tour short-game stats of any of the 24 players who will be in action next week.
And the Americans? Well, Brooks Koepka has complained the match is “a bit hectic, a bit odd” and generally seemed a bit of an unhappy camper (he apparently also doesn’t get enough chances to take cat-naps), to the extent that Paul Azinger, the victorious American captain in 2008, suggested “if he doesn’t love it he should relinquish his spot”. (To Horschel, perhaps?) Meanwhile, Koepka’s big pal – NOT! – Bryson DeChambeau has got his sights set on an event beyond the Ryder Cup: the Professional Long Drive World Championships in Las Vegas the following week. His practice for that has been so intense that last week he declared: “My hands are wrecked from it.” That’s hardly music to Stricker’s ears but it might be a sound to make Harrington a little happier. Like you, I’m sure, I can hardly wait for it to start.
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