It was, by consensus, the sensible and proper decision to postpone the 43rd Ryder Cup matches by a year to 2021. But the decision to play the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in September 2021 will produce winners and losers on both sides of the pond.
Once the likes of Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka voiced their disquiet at the prospect of a Ryder Cup without spectators, the idea of playing the event this September became a non-starter. All that was really left for the PGA of America was to renegotiate its existing 2020 contracts, consult their fellow stakeholders over scheduling arrangements for 2021 and then make the announcement. In a new landscape for professional golf of reduced prize funds, the players have got their way on this one. Now all they have to do is qualify.
Time waits for no Ryder Cup hopeful and hopes could now be fading for a clutch of 40-something golfers looking for one last hurrah in blue or red.
Step forward then, the 20-somethings on both sides of the Atlantic. If the PGA Tour has been any guide since its resumption last month, there is plenty of hope for Steve Stricker’s American team in the shape of Matt Wolff, Collin Morikawa, and Cameron Champ, who now have time to make a concerted run into the home side. As for the Europeans, 2019 Rookie of the Year Rob MacIntyre from Scotland, Italy’s Guido Migliozzi, and Spaniard Ardi Arnaus can build on impressive Tour bows.
A year’s postponement to 2027 doesn’t have a serious impact on preparations for the return of the Ryder Cup to Irish shores 21 years after its first visit at the K Club. Just the opposite, in fact, for it means that Ireland and the Co. Limerick gem has now become host to what will be the centenary edition of the greatest team event in golf.
Sorry to burst your bio-bubble, but let us read some of the small print that came with Wednesday’s announcement and the comments of PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh. What Waugh gave us was a reality check in the form of an admission that in this fast-changing, public health emergency that has taken a particular grip on the United States, there could be no guarantees that a 2021 Ryder Cup would go ahead with spectators or even at all. Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits sits in a state that last weekend saw a record-breaking spike in the number of new Covid-19 cases, hence the call to postpone for a year. Asked what guarantee he could give about full houses next year, Waugh replied: ”None, frankly.
“I think I would bet on science about the ability to figure out treatments/vaccines or protocols for safety, given that we have 15 months to do that. But there frankly is no guarantee."
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and the PGA Tour was suspended, it did not take long for the PGA of America to work out its qualification process would be compromised. In June it widened captain Steve Stricker’s flexibility by allowing him six wildcard picks and leaving just six spots for automatic qualification. With Team Europe announcing a freeze on its process on Wednesday until the New Year and keeping Padraig Harrington’s captain’s picks at three, Team USA can be expected to revise its process for 2021 and reduce the number of picks once more. That does not bode well for Americans currently outside the top six in the USA standings, who must build 14 months of form rather than a hot streak this August.
The biggest casualty could well be Tiger Woods. His policy of carefully selected appearances since his return from back surgery may need to be reviewed as the impact of his 2019 Masters victory becomes less meaningful for 2021 qualification.
He has been written off before, of course, but there is an awful lot of golf between now and September 2021, not least the grind of seven major championships in 14 months and if he does make Stricker’s team, the prospect of him being the go-to guy for all five sessions is highly unlikely.
Tiger may not be the only 40-something looking over his shoulder. You should never count them out but the calendar is never kind to veterans and those hopeful of one last hurrah for Europe or the United States will have been muttering into their bedtime cocoas on Wednesday night at the thought that this postponement could well end their hopes of a final appearance. Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, et al they will all need to find the will and resolve to dig deep and re-energise for another 12 months if they wish to be in their respective team rooms at Whistling Straits in 14 months.