Ziehm: Europeans the team to beat in Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits

  • Team Europe captain Padraig Harrington is flanked by Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood while displaying the Ryder Cup trophy Tuesday at the Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis.

    Team Europe captain Padraig Harrington is flanked by Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood while displaying the Ryder Cup trophy Tuesday at the Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis. Associated Press

  • Team USA's Daniel Berger works on his chipping during practice Tuesday for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Competition begins Friday.

    Team USA's Daniel Berger works on his chipping during practice Tuesday for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Competition begins Friday. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 9/21/2021 10:21 AM

HAVEN, Wis. -- Most of the world golf media is labeling the United States the favorite in the 43rd Ryder Cup matches, which tee off Friday at Whistling Straits. I'm not part of that group. Frankly, it'd be shocking if this U.S. team made a game of it against the Europeans.

Here's why:

 

The 12-man team captain Steve Stricker is working with is much different from the teams of the past. Six of the 12 are Ryder Cup rookies and three of the others have appeared in only one previous Ryder Cup.

Stricker's choices for the six captain's picks for the squad were questionable, too. He picked four Ryder Cup rookies among his six selections -- Xander Schauffele, Harris English, Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler. (The other two rookies on the team are Collin Morikawa and Patrick Cantlay, both of whom had great seasons and earned automatic spots on the team.)

In going for Schauffele, English, Berger and Scheffler, Sticker bypassed Patrick Reed, who was such a stalwart on recent Ryder Cup teams that he earned the nickname of "Captain America." Reed had health issues later in the season, and that impacted Stricker's decision to exclude him.

Stricker also bypassed Webb Simpson, who owns titles in both the U.S. Open and Players Championship, and Kevin Kisner, a great match play competitor. He was runner-up in the World Match Play in 2018, won the event in 2019 and captured the Wyndham Championship -- last event of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season -- in a playoff. Match play success is critical in any Ryder Cup.

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If Stricker's team needs some seasoning Phil Mickelson, the reigning PGA champion, might have been a consideration. Mickelson, whose game faded late in the season, was made Stricker's fifth vice captain.

The U.S. team is young, with an average age of 29. Europe's, with an average age of 34.6, is filled with veterans who are proven Ryder Cup winners. The 12-man European squad has 38 players who played in previous Ryder Cups and 28 were on winning teams. The U.S. roster has a combined 12 Ryder Cup appearances and three were on winning teams.

Both captains addressed the experience factor during this week's first on-site media season at Whistling Straits. Clearly it's an issue that will be closely scrutinized this week.

"We've got some young guys, and they bring a lot of enthusiasm and energy and have no bad experiences (in the Ryder Cup)," said Stricker. "We're using that as a positive."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We're very comfortable that our team has that experience," answered Europe captain Padraig Harrington. "We're strongly relying on experience."

Stricker, who grew up in Wisconsin before playing collegiately at Illinois, believes Whistling Straits will provide a home course advantage. In a departure from previous Ryder Cups, Stricker brought his team together two weeks ago for two-day preparatory session. He hopes that will help, but Whistling Straits has hosted three major championships and U.S. golfers didn't win any of them. The three PGA Championships held there went to Vijay Singh of Fuji in 2004, Martin Kaymer of Germany in 2010 and Jason Day of Australia in 2015.

Harrington knows the gallery will be against his team, but is playing down its importance.

"We want the noise, the excitement," he said. "It's much better than no fans."

That would have been the case had the matches been played as scheduled last year. They were canceled because of pandemic issues but that doesn't detract form Europe's success in the series.

The U.S. may hold a 26-14-2 edge in the Ryder Cup, but most of that success came when the opponent was Great Britain-Ireland. Since the opponent was all of Europe the Europeans led 11-6-2. Europe has won seven of the last nine Ryders Cups, 12 of the last 17 and four of the last five. The most disheartening loss came at Medinah in 2012, when Europe trailed 10-6 before Sunday's singles matches and then mounted a rousing comeback to win.

So, maybe it is good the U.S. has a "different" team in this Ryder Cup. Their immediate predecessors were hardly world-beaters. I don't expect this U.S. team to be one either.

Here and there: The last big event on the Illinois tournament calendar immediately follows the Ryder Cup. The top 35 on the Illinois PGA's Bernardi point standings will battle in the 36-hole IPGA Players Championship at Knollwood in Lake Forest with player of the year honors on the line. ... Northbrook's Nick Hardy started his career as a PGA Tour member with a tie for 36th (along with veterans stars Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar) in California's Fortinet Championship, the first event of the 2021-22 season. ... Lincolnshire's David Feder won the Illinois State Senior Amateur at The Preserve at Oak Meadows.

• Illinois Golf Hall of Famer Len Ziehm is on the "Golfers on Golf Radio 820" show at 4 p.m. Saturdays. He co-hosts the "Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series" on social media. Past columns are at lenziehmongolf.com.

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