Nick Bonfield analyses the 2016 EurAsia Cup and asks if any lessons can be learned ahead of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine
A European team captained by Darren Clarke strolled to a 18.5-5.5 victory over Asia in the second edition of the EurAsia Cup, but what did we learn?
Here are five talking points from the EurAsia Cup..
Darren Clarke’s captaincy
The 2016 European Ryder Cup captain will be encouraged by his side’s performance in Malaysia, especially with a number of players set to feature at Hazeltine in September. “There have been a lot of positives this week. I’ve learned a few things, and hopefully I’ll do a better job come September,” he said. “We are Europe – we are a team. That’s why we are successful, because everything we do, we do together.”
Clarke certainly contributed to an excellent team spirit, ensuring his players were relaxed ahead of the contest. He seemed to say all the right things, motivation clearly wasn’t lacking and his players executed the game plan perfectly. What’s more, his pairings in the four-balls and foursomes were sound and his singles order made a great deal of sense.
Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood
The man charged with leading out Europe in the singles was Ian Poulter, one of Clarke’s captain’s picks. He duly delivered, while the other, Lee Westwood, thrashed Nicholas Fung 7&6. Both Poulter and Westwood ended the week with 100% records. But did we learn anything about whether they will feature in the Ryder Cup? Maybe. Poulter was put out first in the singles – arguably the most important position – and both were paired with potential Ryder Cup rookies during the first two days. With a number of first-timers vying for a place at Hazeltine, perhaps Clarke views experience as crucial, both on and off the course. At the event’s conclusion, Westwood said: “When you consider who wasn’t with us, then we should should go there with an extremely strong 12.” Read into that what you will.
Clarke added: “What Lee and Poults have brought to the team has been priceless. They have been very, very good. All the young kids have listened to them, they have all learned from them.”
Video: Lee Westwood swing analysis
The EurAsia Cup showed just how much strength and depth there is in European golf at the moment. The players missing from the team included Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell, plus potential rookies like Thomas Pieters. Virtually all the players who took part in the EurAsia Cup did their Ryder Cup chances absolutely no harm whatsoever. Andy Sullivan – a man who looks destined to make the team – won all three of his encounters and no one returned less than two points from three matches.
Potential Ryder Cup pairings
Clarke chose to employ some interesting pairings, and you sensed some were trialled with the Ryder Cup in mind. On day one, Danny Willett partnered Matt Fitzpatrick and Sullivan played alongside Shane Lowry. There’s a chance at least one of those pairings could be utilised in Minnesota if Clarke decides to take a leaf out of Tom Watson’s book. In arguably his only good move as captain, the eight-time Major Champion sent out Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed during the four-balls and foursomes at Gleneagles, with great success.
On day two, Poulter partnered Willett – a combination you wouldn’t be surprised to see at Hazeltine – while Westwood and Fitzpatrick demolished Anirban Lahiri and Wu Ashun. The latter, in particular, looks a very strong pairing. And, for the second day running, Sullivan and Lowry triumphed. I can’t imagine any American being too happy about the prospect of facing those two.
Bad week for Asia
In 2014’s inaugural contest, Asia played some great golf to ensure the tournament ended in a tie. This time around, they had four players from inside the world’s top 50 – Ben An, Thongchai Jaidee, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Anirban Lahiri – so expectations were naturally higher. However, the European team was also stronger. It was a disappointing result for the home side, but not hugely unexpected when you look at the world rankings. Team Asia had five players outside the top 170 – including Nicholas Fung at 426 – while Europe’s lowest-ranked player was Ross Fisher at 80. There was a clear discrepancy between the teams, but that mustn’t disguise the fact that Asian golf has come on leaps and bounds over the last few years.