In this Ryder Cup final day report, we look at where it went wrong for Europe. Were the US simply too good or could anything have been done differently
Final Day Ryder Cup Report: Where did it go wrong for Europe?
Before they even arrived at Hazeltine, the task facing Darren Clarke’s European Ryder Cup team was daunting. This US side, captained by Davis Love III, had a neat blend of youth and experience, it had a plethora of great putters, power hitters and major winners. By contrast, Europe’s side was one in transition. Six rookies and a much lower average world ranking were the indisputable facts that Clarke’s men would need to overcome. Despite their recent record in this event, this was never going to be easy.
Losing the opening round of foursomes 4-0 was the last thing they needed. A combination of American brilliance (Reed and Spieth set the tone) and poor play from two of Europe’s key veterans (Westwood and Kaymer), created a crisis they fought valiantly against until the very end.
Darren Clarke made some very good decisions. His handling of Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera Bello in particular was a master stroke. That these two returned six and a half points from eight matches defies belief. Don’t forget Thomas Pieters was a wildcard pick who went on to win more points than any Ryder Cup rookie before him. Clarke was right to trust Pieters after his opening round defeat alongside Lee Westwood but how many would have left him on the bench?
There were mistakes from Europe’s captain too. After the Saturday morning foursomes, Europe were right back in this contest. Three of the six rookies had risen to the challenge, tasted the unique Ryder Cup action and emerged victorious. Wood, Cabrera Bello and Pieters were assured, calm and in form. Now was the time to go with them. Instead, Clarke left two of them on the bench for the afternoon fourballs in favour of Westwood and Kaymer. He chose experience over form and it backfired.
Clarke also persisted with pairing Rose and Stenson. In a team with six rookies, there was reason to split Europe’s dream team and harness the energy of the new comers. Conventional wisdom says that keeping them involved in the team formats might have helped them through the final day singles. Sullivan, Wood and Fitzpatrick only played once each before Sunday. On the fringes of the team and the periphery of the event, it was no surprise they all lost. As the Ryder Cup came to its final act, it was in the lower order where America took control.
One factor that was out of Darren Clarke’s hands was the predicament of his rookie major winner. That Danny Willett’s off course issues affected him on it was painfully clear to see. For a man who usually isn’t shy in coming forward he seemed uncharacteristically subdued, lacking in confidence. For the Masters Champion, this was a big opportunity missed. His heavy defeat in the singles to Brooks Keopka was the exclamation mark on a very difficult week. It was sad to see.
The American team were, at times, nothing short of brilliant. But that’s the point. Clarke and his team knew what they were walking into. A hostile crowd and a re-energised US team were always going to be hard to beat. With Patrick Reed leading them out, they holed putt after putt, day after day. Europe had to be perfect in every department. They weren’t. Another chapter in Ryder Cup history has been written. Europe’s golden run has come to an end.