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Lawrence Donegan: Worse team ever? Meh. Here’s the case for Europe’s defence of the Ryder Cup

Worst team ever? The FedEx Cup king, two of this season's Major winners and a team that's won six of the last seven Ryder Cups. Top golf writer Lawrence Donegan on why the Yanks should be worried.

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And so  Europe’s “worst” Ryder Cup team in years arrives at Hazeltine, bringing with it the Masters Champion,  the Open Champion, the Olympic champion and the golfer who has just walked away with the richest prize the PGA Tour has to offer.

More depressingly for visitors, they have very little positive experience to call on. Poor souls. They just haven’t cracked the code that reveals exactly how to win, having won only six out the last seven Ryder Cups.

Join me as we walk , dazed and confused, through the looking glass world of American golf punditry, where perspective is a dirty word and the cold, hard facts are brushed off like dandruff from an R&A member’s blazer.

The question on that side of the pond is not whether the home team will win this year’s edition of golf’s greatest dust-up but why on earth the visitors were daft enough to spend all that money on air fares?

 

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The loudest voice peddling this Yankee Doodle nonsense has been that of chief blow-hard Johnny Miller, a cracking player in his day but not a man who ever had the occasion to look up  the word “humility” in a dictionary.

I do believe the Euros have got, on paper at least, the worst team they’ve had in many years. I just think with all those rookies … when you lose (Ian) Poulter, it’s like tearing your heart out. I think this is the year not only could the US win, they could win by five points.

There has been plenty more where that came from. Unlike Miller, the revered golf coach Hank Haney thinks before he speaks but even he was at it the other day, dismissing the notion that Europe will emerge victorious next Sunday.

Statistically, the visitors are fatally deficient in the one category  that matters more than any other when it comes to the Ryder Cup. “Putting,’’ he says. “The United States has the better putters.”

Statistically, he is right.  For instance, in the PGA Tour’s ‘strokes gained putting’ category – the best measure of who putts well through the season – all 12 American players rank  higher than the best European team member.  As for the “three-putt avoidance” stat (a favourite of Haney’s) Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia are among the very worst on tour.

You gotta be able to avoid three-putting says Haney.

True. A professional golfer needs to avoid three-putting if he wants to make a ton of cash on the PGA Tour. The Ryder Cup is different, though, isn’t it? Justin Rose wasn’t exactly a great putter in 2012 but that didn’t stop him putting Phil Mickelson into oblivion to win a crucial point on Sunday afternoon at Medinah.

 

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Ah Medinah, where once again the underdog Europeans overcame the statistics and the sneering (how could a team containing has-beens and never-weres like  Paul Lawrie, Peter Hanson and Nicolas  Colsaerts defeats the mighty Americans on their home turf?).

Davis Love was the American captain that year, the same Mr Love who last week described his 2016 squad as the “best golf team maybe ever”.

They never learn, do they? The Americans can play great golf individually from week-to-week. They can dominate the statistical categories.

But in recent times they have never  really grasped the nuts and bolts of this Ryder Cup business – that chemistry beats three-putt avoidance over the head with a crow bar;  that a bit of team camaraderie kicks sand in the face of Strokes Gained Putting.

What use is the US Ryder Cup “Task Force” when the American captain can’t get through an interview without saying something patently daft?

The best team ever assembled? Lee Westwood avoided a debate over which is the greatest Ryder Cup team ever assembled. He went for  the bullseye instead, responding to Love and his team:  “No pressure there then, lads”.

Too right the American players are under pressure – from the home crowd, from knowing that the Task Force was set up with the aim of ending their miserable run, from knowing that holing putts at Ryder Cup is a little trickier than holing putts at the Honda Classic, from knowing that Justin Rose might not  be the greatest putter in the game but for one week at least he has shown he is pretty good at faking it.

And now we have Davis Love, of all people, raising expectations to an unbearable level.

Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. Its weight. Its strength. Its suffocating power. Europe’s players and backroom staff  have proved over the years they can handle it.

As for the Americans,  the modern  history of the Ryder Cup tells us how they might respond – not well enough.

What do you think?