It is a format that is simple in essence yet hard to get right. So how come the Europeans were so much better than the Americans at foursomes golf in the last Ryder Cup at Gleneagles?
It is a question both sides have given plenty of thought to in the build-up to these 41st Ryder Cup matches at Hazeltine National, in particular on the US’ side of the clubhouse following their 7-1 drubbing in 2014, when two half points were the slim pickings for Tom Watson’s side.
Surprisingly, Watson’s successor Davis Love III has decided to get this years edition under way with the alternate shot format, potentially risking his tournament favourites getting onto the back foot from the off if there is a repeat of the Gleneagles foursomes fiasco.
Love, though, is a captain in control and a positive thinker to boot. “It’s really logistics,” he explained, “and it just plays so much faster, gets us done before lunch.
“But we feel like it’s a great format for us. I don’t know what the actual numbers are overall, but we like that format. We like the teams we have in that format.
“This team didn’t play in 2014. This team’s never played together before. So we’re really not looking at what they have done in the past. We might have a couple pairings in there that have played before, but this team of 12, we’ve got some new guys, guys that have played Ryder Cups before, but like J.B. (Holmes), who haven’t played with these guys.
“We’re just looking to the future right now and not looking at the past. A lot of the stats that I get, I just throw them out because we’ve kind of got a good, fresh attitude right now.”
Love may be right that attitude is the key. Phil Mickelson may steadfastly believe his and Tiger Woods’s pairing in 2004 ended disastrously because their golf balls were markedly different, one high spin, the other low spin and from different manufacturers but the consensus among Ryder Cup players, who infrequently get to play foursomes, is that success in the format largely comes down to the chemistry between playing partners.
Of course there are technical aspects to a successful alternate-shot partnership, beginning with who plays first on which hole, the course set-up, where the important drives and approach shots are and assessing who may have to putt more, although Matt Kuchar added a proviso to that when he said: “There’s a lot of figuring out and all that can quickly go out the window if you’re not playing the game you hope and had designed with thoughts of playing.” So it does largely come down to the make-up of the partnership. You’ve got to have a good partner, and I had that,” said Henrik Stenson, who with his friend and Lake Nona neighbour Justin Rose took care of Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson in the Friday afternoon foursomes at Gleneagles and then Bubba Watson and Kuchar the following morning.
“I think it helps a lot to know the player that you’re playing with, and you just can’t have any regrets. If you’re out there feeling, you know, apologising for hitting bad shots or whatever, you’re both trying your hardest and no one is trying to hit bad shots on purpose. You’ve just got to get on with it, and you’ve got to play well if you want to win matches, of course, and foursomes is possibly the hardest one to get right. But it’s an important format.”
Rose concurs, naturally enough, saying of his partnership with Stenson, which this time around would bring together an Olympic gold medallist and Open champion: “I think we’ve got very similar golf games. We hit the ball a similar distance, so we can work off one another from that point of view, clubbing point of view. Statistically we play a similar game, our fairways and greens. Our ball-striking our strength.
“So again, we feel, the shots he hits, I’m comfortable looking at. It feels familiar to me. And then our caddies get along incredibly well. My caddie, Fooch, and his caddie, Lordy. So when we get out on the golf course, it’s not just a team of me and Henrik. It’s a team of four that feel comfortable together.”
Rose and Stenson’s captain Darren Clarke is, of course, no stranger to foursomes success himself, partnering Lee Westwood to two wins from two at Oakland Hills in 2004, including that famous scalp of the worlds number one and two in Woods and Mickelson.
“I think the secret to foursomes in my opinion is having complete and utter belief in your partner,” said Clarke, who last night had to put the theory into practice and submit his pairings for today’s opening session.
“I’ve had a few partners, but my main one in Ryder Cups was Lee. Lee and I travelled the world together. We played practice rounds together. We knew each other’s strengths and each other’s weaknesses. But as a pair, we came together and we had the utmost belief and trust in each other.
“I think that European bond is a very strong one, and it seems to work whenever the guys all pull together and they have that bond, and, in my opinion, that makes a strong foursome pairing.”
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