The most fundamental and important, if boring, point. On paper, USA had the stronger Ryder Cup team by a considerable margin. If they played to their full potential, Europe would not have enough strength in depth to compete with them. And so it proved; there was not a single failure in the home team, justifying their heavy favouritism before a ball was struck. Sport would be a terribly dull place if expected outcomes based on talent level was the outcome all the time but in this case it was precisely what happened. Every USA player returned at least a point, three Europeans won none.
Number of wildcards
Steve Stricker’s decision to afford himself six captain’s picks was a masterstroke. Pádraig Harrington stuck to three, with a messy qualification process closing eight days before the European team was due to board a flight. Shouldn’t a captain prefer to increase his influence rather than reduce it?
The default position by many is that Harrington erred in not selecting Justin Rose. The bigger question is how Rose – conspicuously quiet when it came to public support for Europe over the weekend – has slipped to the position where he does not automatically make the team and is 44th in the world. However, if Harrington had allowed himself more choice, the Rose question would not have arisen. Rookie Bernd Wiesberger, who did not win a point from three matches would not have been in the automatic placings. Harrington should have given himself more flexibility. Stricker’s six picks returned 11 points.
A struggling McIlroy
That Rory McIlroy was reduced to tears after his singles victory served as a timely reminder that Europe’s players care deeply about the outcome of the Ryder Cup. It was also a nod to those who believe McIlroy is somehow unaware or unconcerned if his form is not of the level it should be. The opposite is true.
For Europe to hold any hope they needed their finest players to hit their peak. That clearly includes McIlroy. He struggled over days one and two, which seemed almost a metaphor for his season. A much-heralded coaching alliance with Pete Cowen has not yet brought the kind of results many had expected.
Golf benefits hugely from a fully firing McIlroy. The European team benefits hugely from a fully firing RoMcIlroy. As we learned on Sunday evening, McIlroy benefits hugely from a fully firing McIlroy. He has a crucial winter ahead.
Inflexibility over pairings
Harrington placed great stock in the adaptability of his players. Yet Shane Lowry, who would seem a natural in the format, did not play a foursomes match. Tommy Fleetwood, a star during the 2018 victory in Paris, likewise. Instead, Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick were paired for successive foursomes sessions and lost them both.
The Spanish duo of Jon Rahm and Sergio García proved an inspirational – if not wildly adventurous – pairing. Yet Europe did not strike gold anywhere near enough with partnerships elsewhere. We are no closer to knowing, for example, with whom the outstanding Viktor Hovland may form a successful alliance with for years to come.
In heavy defeat, Europe’s players showed a collective and admirable spirit. The camaraderie within the team room appeared to strike an emotional chord even with the most experienced players. “I said to the boys on Saturday night, ‘I’m having the time of my life here and we are six points behind,’” said Lowry.
In the past, the USA scene has been more fractious. Gleneagles in 2014, when Phil Mickelson publicly castigated his captain, Tom Watson, is a case in point. Now, unfortunately for Europe, the USA are more collectively invested in the Ryder Cup than has been the case for a long time. Stricker is due high praise for that.
The Brooks-Bryson hug was one thing, the joy on the faces of their teammates as it played out quite another. Having tasted victory, it is unlikely this spirit will dissipate by the time the Ryder Cup rumbles on to Rome.