09/26/2016

Introduction by Dillon Friday

Change is too mundane a word. It’s vague too. That’s why so many people resort to it when discussing problems—”Things need to change”—or when they need to reinforce a controversial decision: change is good.

So when the Americans flew back from Scotland two years ago with their tails tucked between their legs, “change” was the word on everyone’s tongue. “We would’ve changed this s*** years ago,” said a defeated Jim Furyk.

He had good reason to curse. Since 1999, the United States has lost six out of seven Ryder Cups. Put another away, the Europeans have gone 6-1 against the Red, White and Blue this millennium. But why give them credit when the Americans, seemingly, have more talent? Something needed to change.

A change of philosophy. A change of leadership. A change of player selection. A change of process. When you have such wide-sweeping change, the word change no longer suffices. No, what the Americans needed was a Task Force. And that’s what we got.

Two years on from the debacle at Gleneagles, it’s difficult to pinpoint if the Task Force worked. Davis Love III is an admirable captain, at least from afar. But the “change” we were promised has yet to unfold on the course.

Seven of the 12 players who competed in 2014 have returned. That includes the out-of-form Zach Johnson, the old Phil Mickelson (although, he’s enjoyed a renaissance season), the Skechered Matt Kuchar and the what-you-see-is-what-you-get Jimmy Walker. Even the young guns who impressed in defeat haven’t stoked the flames.

Patrick Reed has yet to win a major, and Jordan Spieth looks like just one of the best players in the world, a step down from his magical 2015. And then there’s Rickie Fowler. If anyone was going to restore America’s record at the Ryder Cup, it was going to be him. He may yet do that. But the only reason he’s playing next week is because Love picked him. Fowler’s play has been sporadic.

A lukewarm optimism has given to out-and-out nervousness as the cup approaches. Sure, it helps to have Dustin Johnson in tow—recall that he missed two years ago. But McIlroy is back on top and Justin Rose wears a Gold Medal around his neck. The Europeans look formidable once again. They don’t need change.

The Americans do. It’s such a simple, confusing concept. What change? Who cares about change? Let’s just go win. Changing an L into W is the best kind of change.


History of Hazeltine

by Tom Hill

Beginning Friday, Hazeltine National Golf Club will be the center of the golf universe as the host site of the 41st Ryder Cup Matches where the US will seek to break a three-Cup losing streak to the European team.

Hazeltine is no stranger to the spotlight of international golf. Since the course opened to members in 1962, the Robert Trent Jones design has hosted two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships, as well as two U.S. Women’s Opens and a U.S. Amateur tournament.

Hazeltine was not highly rated by some of the pros who played the first national open there in 1970. Dave Hill – who finished second by 7 strokes to Tony Jacklin – famously said the only thing missing at the rural suburban Minneapolis layout that year was “80 acres of corn and a few cows.”

In the late 1970s, the course had a major design overhaul with the renovations straightening some of the dogleg holes, remaking the 16th hole as a par-4 along Hazeltine Lake, and changing number 17 to a 182-yard par-3 while keeping the original green from what had been a par-4 hole.

Before the 2002 PGA was contested at Hazeltine, designer Rees Jones was called in to tweak the layout again. Jones primarily added more bunkers and some new tee boxes to the course bringing it to over 7,600 yards from the tournament tees.

No additional design changes were made to Hazeltine for this year’s Ryder Cup matches, however the scorecard will look different.

Number 16 is usually the course’s signature hole, but starting Friday it will actually be hole No. 7, as the course will be played in a new routing sequence. The front nine will consist of what are normally holes 1 – 4 and 14 – 18, while the back nine will be ordered from the current holes 10 – 13 and 5 – 9.

[bctt tweet=”Hazeltine will be played in a new routing sequence for the 2016 Ryder Cup. ” username=””]

The most recent major at Hazeltine was the 2009 PGA Championship which was won by Y.E. Yang who outdueled Tiger Woods to finish at 8-under par for a three stroke victory. (Woods also finished second in the 2002 PGA at Hazeltine.)

 

2016 Ryder Cup Participants at Hazeltine

Six of this year’s Ryder Cuppers were in the top-10 at Hazeltine seven years ago including Europe’s duo of Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, who tied for third at 3-under par. Also in contention in 2009, were Europeans Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson who tied for sixth at 1-under, and Americans Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson who finished the week even par in a tie for tenth.

How tough was Hazeltine in 2009? Four members of this year’s Ryder Cup teams failed to make the cut that year: Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar. And of the six players who finished in the top-10 and will return to Chaska for this year’s Ryder Cup, only Stenson played a round in the 60s – a third round 68.

On paper the teams look relatively even: the US players’ Ryder Cup match record is 39 wins – 40 losses – 21 ties, while the European team’s cumulative record is 42 – 38 – 22.

The US will start only one Ryder Cup rookie, while the European 12-man team includes six. The other six Europeans have each played in at least three previous Ryder Cups – just three US players have that level of experience.

Experience counts only for so much in the Ryder Cup though – birdies and eagles count for so much more. And as Hazeltine’s scoring history shows from previous major tournaments, there aren’t likely to be a huge number of birdies and eagles made this week.

Three Americans to Watch

by Bradley Smith

See Team USA

Rickie Fowler

Fowler was a controversial choice by Captain Love. 

If the Ryder Cup were held last year, Fowler would’ve qualified with ease.  He won twice in 2015, including The Players Championship.  This year however has seen a drop in form.  Fowler did win in Abu Dhabi in January, but hasn’t done much since then.  He missed the cut at both The Masters and U.S. Open and was a non-factor in the other two majors.  Fowler did not qualify for the season ending Tour Championship either.  Then, there’s the issue of his Ryder Cup record. 

The next Ryder Cup match he wins, will be his first.  As a rookie in 2010 he went 0-1-2 and in 2014 was marginally better with an 0-2-3 record.  Fowler is a member of the Ryder Cup Task Force and perhaps that helped sway Captain Love.  When Fowler is good, he’s very good. But he hasn’t shown much of that form this season.

He’s a player to watch this year, not because he’ll been an American cornerstone, but because he’s been projected as one for so many years. 2016 at Hazeltine will be a telling year for the future of this American star.

[bctt tweet=”2016 at Hazeltine will be a telling year for the future of this American star. ” username=””]

Jimmy Walker

Walker will be making just his second Ryder Cup appearance, but the Texan seems ready for a starring role. 

Walker shined as a rookie at Gleneagles in 2014, earning 2 ½ points and beating Lee Westwood 3 & 2 in their singles match.   He only won once this season, but it was a big one, holding off Jason Day with a clutch par on the 18th hole to claim his first major at the PGA Championship. 

He’s currently riding a four-year winning streak on the PGA Tour and finished 5th in the final Ryder Cup qualification standings.  Although 35 years old, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Walker on future Ryder Cup squads for the next six years.  The setup at Hazeltine figures to be pretty similar to Baltusrol which should suit Walker’s game just fine. Hazeltine is a stepping stone for Walker. And hopefully another step in a positive direction.

J.B. Holmes

Another captain’s pick, Holmes can simply overpower any golf course on the planet. 

One of the longest hitters on Tour, he could be an intimidating factor while blowing drives 40 or 50 yards past almost anyone on Team Europe.  He’s also unique among the Americans because he’s never been on a losing team, or lost a match.  His only previous Ryder Cup experience was on the victorious 2008 team, where he posted a 2-0-1 record and beat Soren Hansen 2 & 1 in singles. 

Holmes is winless this year, but posted impressive top-5 finishes at both The Masters and The Open Championship (he missed the cut at the U.S. Open & PGA).  Holmes played well enough down the stretch to earn a second straight trip to the Tour Championship and perhaps that was enough to convince Captain Love to make him a pick.

[bctt tweet=”Holmes is winless this year, but posted impressive top-5 finishes at both The Masters and The Open Championship” username=””]

Three Europeans to Watch

by Troy Klongerbo

See Team Europe

Matt Fitzpatrick

If he’s not the youngest person in the field, he definitely looks the youngest.

No, but I went ahead and checked. He’s the youngest.

Here’s what I like about Fitzpatrick (and as an American, it’s something I don’t like). In the majors this year, Fitzpatrick played his best golf. He made the cut in 3 of the 4 and this is the scary part. In the three final rounds he played, his scoring average was 68.33. In the Masters, he finished T7 with a final round 67. He’s a former United States amateur champion and at age 22, earned his way onto a European Ryder Cup team that has historically fielded seasoned veterans.

Fitzpatrick is a player who could do one of two things. He could either wilt away under the extreme Ryder Cup pressure, or become a clutch American killer. I’m fearing the latter.

Rory McIlroy

How is he NOT a player to watch after that finish on Sunday? Rory’s seizing of the FedEx Cup will add further fuel to his already burning fire to continue to hand it to the Americans. He and teammate Lee Westwood had a nice laugh with Davis Love’s “best team ever” talk last week, and claimed the material was worthy of the European bulletin board.

His ball striking is second-to-none in the world of golf. The story in 2016, has been his putter. But trust me, as Rory faces must-make putts down the stretch at Hazeltine, he’ll channel the final putt that won him the FedEx Cup over Ryan Moore.

But trust me, as Rory faces must-make putts down the stretch at Hazeltine, he’ll channel the final putt that won him the FedEx Cup over Ryan Moore.

He’s a player that the Americans will be sending a sacrifical lamb to this week. Rory=danger.

Danny Willett

In the events he’s played on the PGA Tour, Willett has earned .999 strokes on the field throughout every aspect of his game. With the putter even so, he’s in the positive (earning .100+). He proved his mettle down the stretch at the Masters in April where he was the eager predator who gobbled up Speith’s left-over green jacket.

As an amateur, Willett competed on the 2007 Walker Cup team that went against the stacked Rickie Fowler, Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel American team and came within a point of victory. He didn’t have the greatest of weeks, but earned a full point for his week’s efforts. As an amateur yet, Willett worked his way to #1 in the world, all before turning pro.

Willett’s confidence has taken a step in 2016, as he’ll be a European stalwart for many years to come in the world of golf. As it stands for international play, the 2016 Ryder Cup might be his coming out party. That is, if an American isn’t up to the task of stopping him.