This is going to be a hard sell for many of you. Unless it’s time for Augusta (that’s where they play the best golf tournament on the planet, The Masters) or you tag along with some buddies who enjoy the best hobby on the planet, golf is irrelevant, or your sports plate has no room for it.
HOWEVER, every two years, golf gifts us all with a wide, welcoming entry into its greatness through the Ryder Cup. For the uneducated, the Ryder Cup is a three day, team competition between a selection of the twelve most elite American and European golfers. This year’s Cup will be held on American soil, in Wisconsin, and then in Europe, the next go round.
Before getting too deep into the weeds, the Ryder Cup’s appeal is a lot like the allure of The Olympics. Anyone can jump in at any moment, figure out who to cheer for and where they stand, and there’s a clear, defined rooting interest with zero knowledge of the sport required. So here’s a crash course on one of golf’s most unique events.
All Ryder Cup play is in style of “match play” meaning stroke count doesn’t really matter, but scoring better than your opponent on a given hole does.
Friday and Saturday-4 fourballs and 4 foursomes in both the morning and afternoon (Fourball-Each golfer plays his own ball throughout each hole, and then best score for each team counts for who wins that hole. Foursomes-Basically alternate shot, Justin Thomas hits it off the tee, then Jordan Spieth hits the next shot, etc.)
Sunday-12 singles matches. Mano y mano, every player in the tournament squaring off against one other guy. The drama really builds here on Sunday afternoon as every shot counts, the tournament usually hangs in the balance, and TV coverage is bouncing all around the course.
A total of 28 “points” are available, with one point being awarded per match, so all weekend it’s a race to 14.5 points (half points are awarded in ties). 8 points are up for grabs both Friday and Saturday, and then 12 on Sunday.
In the Ryder Cup, some players for each side automatically qualify from their performance throughout the previous season (six for USA, nine for Europe), and the others are Captain’s picks. This year’s squads are led by Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington. I shouldn’t have to tell you who leads which side, based on the sounds of those names.
Automatic Qualifiers: Collin Morikawa (best iron player since peak Tiger), Dustin Johnson (Jekyll or Hyde?), Brooks Koepka (alpha who might not try), Bryson DeChambeau (fake alpha who tries too hard), Justin Thomas (team compass), Patrick Cantlay (a golf robot and my pick for American MVP)
Captain’s Picks: Daniel Berger (glue guy), Harris English (iron flushing machine), Tony Finau (Surprisingly Mormon), Xander Schauffele (all-around solid), Scottie Scheffler (bombs away), Jordan Spieth (Magic Man)
Many of the Captain’s picks are Ryder Cup rookies, and rookies make up half the squad, which is ballsy and awesome. The US has long relied too much on older, established guys. All indications are that Stricker doesn’t get a shit about our player’s feelings and just wants to win. There seems to be no coddling of egos, which is a welcomed change for our side.
Automatic Qualifiers: Jon Rahm (best player in the world), Tommy Fleetwood (best hair), Tyrell Hatton (potty mouth), Bernd Wiesberger (How??), Rory McIlroy (always disappoints), Viktor Hovland (best smile), Paul Casey (massive forearms), Matt Fitzpatrick (massive dork), Lee Westwood (Old AF)
Captain’s Picks: Sergio Garcia (Ryder Cup assassin), Shane Lowry (stereotypical Irishmen and just here for a good time), Ian Poulter (The Matthew Dellavedova of Europe. He sucks but will absolutely steal a point or two and be seen pounding his chest and pissing us all off at some point on Sunday afternoon)
Year after year at the Ryder Cup, we have more highly ranked players across the board and are the betting favorites. But Europe has a knack for banding together while we fulfill American stereotypes and play as a bunch of separate, talented entities.
This is one of my favorite elements of the Ryder Cup. Captains play a vital role in his nation’s success. There’s plenty of strategy involved, like who to pair together based on complementary skill sets, who can handle playing up to 90 holes in just three days and who needs to sit, and one of my favorite set of decisions is going into Sunday, which order to send out his players in.
By Saturday night, the tournament is just over halfway done (with 16 of 28 points decided). With everything on the line going into Sunday, Captains choose which order their players will go out in. So Stricker may say, Justin Thomas is going in the first match, while Harrington decides that Sergio Garcia will go out in match one. Neither captain knows what the other is deciding, until the full lineup is revealed early Sunday. Mixing in the guys who have being playing best, throughout Sunday’s lineup is usually what we see, with the best players going out last, as they may be the ones deciding things down the stretch.
The Captains also attempt to set the temperature of the team as they spent a week plus together at the course. Like I mentioned, this type of attitude from Brooks Koepka “It’s tough. There are times where I’m like, I won my match. I did my job. What do you want from me? I know how to take responsibility for the shots I hit every week. Now, somebody else hit a bad shot and left me in a bad spot, and I know this hole is a loss.” typifies some of the American team struggles from the past, while the Euros’ usual team dynamic is hilariously captured here.
We’ll see if Stricker can navigate the big personalties in his locker room (please for the love, pair Bryson and Brooks together), and if Harrington can continue to squeeze more out of the sum of his parts as is typically the case for the Euro side.
The Course and Atmosphere
Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wisconsin will play host of the first time at a Ryder Cup. A much more thorough and meaningful course breakdown than I can give can be found here. But my takeaways are this is a course that sets up great for bombers. Guys like Bryson, DJ, Koepka, Scheffler, Rahm and Rory will be able to really uncork some bombs in the team play events. Stricker did a good job of building his team around longer guys, and that’s a clear advantage we have over the Euros.
The atmosphere, as always, will be awesome. Whistling Straits is designed as a stadium course, so plenty of holes will feature perched spectators and theatre-like setups. The crowd will be raucous, and noise will travel throughout the grounds. The Euros, especially guys like Sergio and Poulter, have a knack for playing great villains and eliciting boos and rancor from the American crowds.
One of the best elements of the Ryder Cup is that golf allows itself to become fun and look like other sports, in terms of the atmosphere surrounding the game. Nerds like myself don’t need rowdy crowds to be more engaged, but the non-golf fan probably views golf as slow, boring, and stuck up. The Ryder Cup allows golf to let down its hair and lean into its (relatively) wild side. Other than drooling over the natural beauty of Augusta (if you’re into that kind of thing), there’s no better TV viewing experience in golf than the Ryder Cup.
Also, kudos to the Americans for choosing a miserable part of our great country to host this tournament. The 2018 Ryder Cup was an American tragedy (we got obliterated 17.5 to 10.5), in Paris, France. It’s hard to think of cities in terms of stark opposites, but I can think of no more polar pair of cities than Sheboygan and Paris. Hopefully The Badger state unsettles the Euros and hometown hero Steve Stricker can lead his country to glory.
The Euros have won seven out of the last nine Ryder Cups. 2018 was an embarrassment for the Americans. After a quick start on Friday morning, the Euros boat raced us the rest of the way, including a dominant and deflating session of singles matches on Sunday that sapped any potential drama. It was flat out boring and embarrassing.
Our only victories since the turn of the century have come on American soil. And this time around, we’re even bigger favorites than we were after the stunning 2018 defeat, so take any odds with a grain of salt. There’s something that just can’t be quantified with how much the Euros grind and seem to hang around regardless of their talent.
I love the way Stricker has assembled this team and think we just have more firepower than the Euros. 11 of the top 16 players in the world make up America’s 12 man roster, while the Euros only have 3 of the top 20 players and have anchors like Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry, and Sergio Garcia who don’t even crack the top 40.
I think Patrick Cantlay and Daniel Berger end up being the American darlings and heroes. Cantlay seems like a guy who may get the nod for all five matches and my pick to collect the most points, and Berger is just a grinder himself who seems built for the Ryder Cup. Many wanted guys like Kevin Kisner or Kevin Na in Berger’s spot, but Stricker clearly believes in him and he’s a good fit for Whistling Straits.
More than anything though, this is us as golf fans at Cosas Totum, imploring Americans to give the Ryder Cup a chance. You won’t regret it.