The reason why the Ryder Cup remains one of the most compelling events in any sport was etched on the tear-filled face
of Rory McIlroy after winning his golf match on the final day of the three-day competition at Wisconsin’s Whistler Straits course.
McIlroy’s victory leading off the match-play singles finale had little effect on America’s steamrolling beatdown over their European rivals.
The U.S. was never challenged.
After building a commanding 11-5 lead after the first two days of foursome, and fourball (alternate shot) play, all the Americans
needed was three wins and a halve (tie) in the final head-to-head battles to capture the Cup.
But this group was not merely content on simply winning, they were out for blood.
No team had ever amassed 19 points since the new format of 28 matches was adopted in 1979.
In going 7-3-2 on the final day, the American team achieved their objective.
Before we delve into the heroes who made it happen, and the long-range perspective, there’s more to say about McIlroy’s
emotional comments. The Irishman was crying outright through his heart-felt tribute to what the Ryder Cup means to all
who have been a part of it. How representing a team….your country’s team, carries a special, and indelible meaning that
transcends the individual, insulated world pro golfers live in.
McIlroy, a disappointment until the final round, said he wished he had done more in the three days, but hoped to return.
He undoubtedly will.
Eight of the top 10-ranked players in the world wear the red-white-and-blue and that was a strong enough case to make the
U.S. a strong favorite.
But the Ryder Cup is a different animal and over the past decade or so, there’s been plenty of heartbreak on the U.S. side.
America has always boasted of having the best professional golfers overall.
But there have been classic letdowns which have opened the door for the opponents across the pond to wind up ahead.
Some of the European comebacks have been dramatic.
Heading into this year’s reunion, delayed a year due to the pandemic, Europe had won nine of the last 12, and
four of the past five.
But those days appear to be over.
The story of America’s decisive triumph was all about the younger players, the new wave of U.S. golfers who are prepared
to establish a dynasty of their own.
There were six Ryder Cup rookies on the American team and they all came through in spectacular fashion.
There was, top be sure, a veteran leader setting the tone. Thirty-seven year old Dustin Johnson was a perfect 5-0 for the weekend.
He became the first American since 1979 to go five-for-five, and only the fifth all-time.
Johnson played the role of the steady, unemotional champion under pressure who, in effect, was guiding the younger
players to “follow me”.
And they did.
Collin Morikawa, the youngest of them all at 24, clinched the half-point needed to win the Cup with a birdie on the final hole.
Twenty-eight year old Daniel Berger scored a 1-up victory in the final match to nail down that record 19th point.
In between, the other rookies made significant contributions, and played with poise, aggressiveness, and determination that
signals a changing of the guard in the American golf scene. We could see it coming even before the Ryder Cup.
Now, it’s a foregone conclusion.
Perhaps the young turks are oblivious to the recent failures of our country in this particular competition.
It was evident on the final round that these golfers are undaunted when facing a superior foe,
when Scottie Scheffler, playing the third singles match, dominated the world’s number 1, Jon Rahm, winning 4&3.
Scheffler is 25. The big guns now, on the pro tour, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, and
Bryson DeChambeau are all 27 or 28. Brooks Koepka is a bit older at 31, but not like many of the Europeans who were
counting on “veteran experience”, to overcome American youth.
Now, the Europeans must go back to the drawing board.
Sprinkled throughout the three-day telecast on the Golf Channel and NBC, were memorable moments of past
Ryder Cup competition. From more than a decade ago.
We witnessed many of the European players who were still competing at Whistling Straits.
They are not what they were.
Lee Westwood, 48, Ian Poulter, 45, Paul Casey, 44, and Sergio Garcia, 41.
Even rookie Bernd Wiesberger checked in at 35 years of age.
This is no knock on those highly-distinguished golfers.
It’s just the way of the world. In every sport. In life.
But the Europeans must find more young players like Victor Hovland.
They already have, of course, Jon Rahm, who was a giant in defeat for his team.
The scene at Whistling Straits was electric. The fans, raucous as they should be, were in a celebratory frame of mind
from start to finish.
The pictures of triumphant players, coaches and their families surrounding the greens was unforgettable.
Maybe the best of all was Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, combatants all season, hugging each other
among the jouyful Americans, hopefully bringing their ridiculous feud to an end.
That’s what this event does to people.
You had to wonder what Samuel Ryder would be thinking if he were still around.
Ryder, was an English businessman who was infatuated with the sport which he took up at the age of 50, and promoted it
to the point of holding a competition every two years between Americans and Englishmen.
In 1936, that very idea was proposed. It was not an official contest, but a year later, the first Ryder Cup took place.
It was held in Worcester, Massachusetts. Ryder donated the gold trophy, a mere 18 inches high, and the rest is history.
Steve Stricker, the Wisconsin native and captain of the U.S. squad said he knew, when he gathered his array of talented
players two weeks ago, they were dedicated to the mission at hand.
He saw, right away, the solitary ways, characteristic of pro golfers would give way to a unified, team attitude.
And it paid off.
The Ryder Cup is a unique enterprise.
There is nothing else like it.
Just ask Rory McIlroy.