TEAM USA are favourites to end Europe’s stranglehold on the Ryder Cup this year at Hazeltine National Golf Club, Minnesota, USA. The contest will again attract one of the biggest global television audiences for a sporting event, so we asked our European Tour ambassador Richie Ramsay – who won the 2006 US Amateur title at the same venue – for the inside track.
“I have been back to Hazeltine a few times since 2006 – including for my wedding to Angela four years ago – and the course lay-out is still very similar to when I played it in the US Amateur. A couple of new tees have been created a bit further back with the Ryder Cup in mind. The course will be changed for the match though, with the usual order of the holes being mixed up.
It might be 10 years since I won there but I remember all the holes vividly – every shot I hit, every putt I made. Winning the US Amateur title will always remain an immense source of pride to me.
Two years ago a lot was made about whether the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles would favour Paul McGinley’s European side. The home captain works in tandem with the greenkeeping staff to prepare the course, and looks to give his team an edge. But I don’t think Hazeltine will favour a particular team. Much may hinge on how Team USA captain Davis Love III sets up the course.
In my book, Darren Clark’s European Team is as strong as ever. One point to note, however, is that they do have more than the usual complement of rookies on board. Darren had a very tough call to make for his three Captain’s Picks and that must have had a bearing on his final decision.
Given that five first-timers had made the grade, battle-hardened pair Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer were certainties for the team given their track records. That left just the one spot up for grabs.
I predicted way back in April that Thomas Pieters would play, but I have to confess I didn’t think he would leave it quite so late. His last three Tour finishes – fourth, second and a win with a stunning 62 in round one while playing alongside Clarke in Denmark – really cemented his spot, and that was unfortunate for my fellow Scot, Russell Knox, who has been doing so well in the USA this season.
On paper the European team certainly looks to have a good blend of experience and youth. Darren’s vice captains will have a key role to play, as I’m sure the six rookies will look to lean on them because they are all past or current players with impressive pedigrees.
The Americans are smarting after losing three Ryder Cups in a row. Like us, they don’t like losing and the last day defeat at Medinah four years ago from a winning position hurt them badly. It’s certainly not known as the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in the United States!
This looks to me like one of the strongest American teams in the last few years, with guys like Jordan Speith and Patrick Reed among their best players as rookies at Gleneagles. The option to leave the last pick until after the Tour Championship was a smart move by the Americans. Davis Love gave himself a chance to pick a hot player, on form, and ready to come in brimming with confidence.
I would be reluctant to single out any particular players as key men for either team at Hazeltine because in this contest history shows the importance of gelling as a team, leaving the egos at the team door, and playing collectively rather than as individuals. Inevitably, the captains have crucial roles to play because they will dictate pairings and that can be tricky, especially in Foursomes.
On home soil it’s no surprise that the Americans are being tagged as favourites, but the more this is talked-up the better it will be for Europe.
Like every other golf fan, I will be glued to the television set over the course of the Ryder Cup weekend. One thing’s for sure, you are guaranteed drama. The galleries at Gleneagles got the balance just right last year between being partisan and cheering on their team while being respectful of the opposition.
In my experience, galleries at Hazeltine will be great. Sure, they can be noisy and hostile, but you have to expect that in any sport when you are playing away from home! If anything, it should bring out the best in the Europeans, and if Darren Clarke’s men can establish an early lead it can change the dynamic and build pressure on Team USA.