US superstars reduced to headless chickens

Heading into yesterday’s singles matches, Europe held a number of decisive advantages, writes John McHenry

US superstars reduced to headless chickens

More akin to a US Open of the late ’80s and ’90s, with spectator walkways far removed from the penal rough that borders every hole, Europe played to their natural ball striking strengths.

When you also factor in the cooler weather conditions as well as slower putting surfaces, then it gave them a compelling edge in their battle to win back the Ryder Cup.

The second advantage was that during this past week Europe had exposed many of the flaws in the American psyche — none more so than the non-impact its leading players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson would have on building unity and momentum within the US camp.

For someone who has been as vocal and instrumental in changing the American selection policy, Phil Mickelson was little more than an anonymous bystander.

The same could be said for Tiger Woods. Exhausted from getting back into the winner’s enclosure for the first time in five years the previous week, he also displayed all the signs of someone who was not motivated enough to “make a difference”.

The final factor was that the US team simply did not have enough players on form to possibly overcome a four-point deficit.

Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson enhanced their reputations last week and may form the backbone for many USA teams going forward but if the USA are serious about challenging Europe, in Europe, going forward, then they will have to do far more than just rely on ability and inspiration to have any chance.

Yesterday’s loss will sting Jim Furyk but he has a lot to answer for his team’s comprehensive defeat. Firstly, he needed to respect the European strengths more and understand how they have been effective in denying the USA in Europe over the past 25 years and counting.

His team’s body language was poor all week and while many of his selections made sense, tactically their gameplan lacked competitiveness. Where was the communication? As one of the greatest tacticians in the game himself, Furyk should have known, from the first practice day, that his team simply could not overpower the course.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that few if none of their leading lights would have used the same tactics if they were competing on the course for a major championship. Put simply, his team looked like a bunch of tactically headless chickens out there.

In contrast, Thomas Bjorn’s team were clearly playing to a plan. Gamely they went about bullying their more illustrious opponents, even after their first morning session setback in the fourballs.

Under his guidance, Bjorn’s team did not blink in adversity and by sticking gamely to their task, they quickly changed the momentum of the match that afternoon in the freshening winds.

Nowhere was that difference more noticeable than in their body language, which changed to smiles and boisterous hugs and high-fives.

Once the course leaders like Rose and Stenson and the brilliant Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari stood up, led in no small way by the irrepressible Ian Poulter.

In many ways yesterday’s final result would be determined by a number of factors.

From the US perspective, there was always the motivation to chase down Europe, something which the Europeans did so spectacularly at Medinah in 2012.

Playing once more as individuals, they needed a fast start from their star players at the top of the order and the singles draw suggested that an upset was possible if the likes of Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Web Simpson and Tiger Woods could get off to a fast-enough start.

That may have provided the necessary momentum and motivation to an experienced but largely out of form group at the tail which included the likes of Fowler, Mickelson and Reed.

In the end, it did get dramatic for a short while with early doors victories for Justin Thomas and Webb Simpson over Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose respectively, but once Paul Casey rescued a half against Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm beat his boyhood hero Tiger Woods, then the margin of a European victory became the main talking point.

The final score of 17.5 to 10.5 is a fair reflection of Europe’s dominance. In fact, since their 3-1 loss in the opening session on Friday morning, Europe went on to win the next four sessions with a score of 16.5 to 7.5. against a team fancied as one of their better selections in this event’s history.

In the end, great credit must go to Thomas Bjorn for the way he shaped this dominant victory, notably his wildcard selections, all of whom were instrumental in every aspect of their performance.

From the ever-reliable Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey, the inspirational Ian Poulter, to the most controversial and now the most successful European Ryder Cup player of all time, Sergio Garcia, all reminded the US Team as they fly across the Atlantic tomorrow that the collective will always be greater than any one individual.

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