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U.S. Ryder Cup Team: This is the moment

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By John Wunder

GolfWRX Contributor

It’s Ryder Cup week and the top 24 players from Europe and the U.S. will descend on Medinah Country Club in Chicago, Ill. Since 1999, with the exception of the Valhalla matches, the Ryder Cup has been a source of pure disappointment and confusion for American golf. Some may say that the culprit is bad luck or the U.S. Team’s inability to make putts at the right time, but I would call it a lack of connection among the players. These matches have been more of an exhibition in European camaraderie and character building than anything. If America is ever going to truly turn the page, this is the team and this is the moment.

The 2012 team very much mirrors the victorious Valhalla squad. Swapping FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker for Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson for J.B. Holmes, Jason Dufner for Boo Weekley and Keegan Bradley for Anthony Kim, the U.S. Team has the personality and talent blend to make a statement. The 2008 squad looked like the team we all hope to watch every Ryder Cup. It wasn’t the victory that solidified this point, but the faces of the U.S. players during the matches. The celebrations, the tenacity and more than anything the laughter. We watched 12 guys having a blast… together.

This process starts with Captain Davis Love III and his ability to blend personalities and not necessarily styles of play. I agree that this tact has been effective in the Presidents Cup, but this is not apples to apples. The Ryder Cup is a different animal than The Presidents Cup.

History plays a big factor in the pressure of these matches, but even more so is the the fear by the Americans that they will be overtaken by the Europeans on the world stage. For that reason,the Americans know they have something to prove this year. It’s not that the U.S. dominates the sport, but they know they have the better team this year.

If you watch previous Ryder Cup matches, it’s apparent that the blinding difference in styles is purely social. As an example, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are good partners not for the reason of ball flight or golf ball model, but simply because their personalities work well together. If you pulled their uniforms off it’s just two buddies having a game.

Seve Ballesteros set the tone for this in 1995 taking a young David Gilford under his wing and literally fathering him to good play. In 2006, the European team came together like the Clarke family and dominated alongside their emotionally wounded brother Darren. It’s the human element that the 2010 U.S. team lacked. It’s that yin-and-yang and selflessness that wins these matches.

The bonds that can be created in these matches are invaluable to young players. Fred Couples has mentioned numerous times how his pairing with Ray Floyd in 1989 literally changed his career. That friendship still lasts today. Mickelson formed a similar bond with Anthony Kim in 2008. Mickelson more than anyone has attempted to create this vibe but it’s fallen on deaf ears. Even to this day you will find him on Tuesday practice rounds playing with Bradley, Mahan and Dustin Johnson.

For the first time 36-year-old Tiger Woods can use his life experience to truly mentor a young player and guide him thru the week. In past years he has been more deity than player and his human side was hard to find. But 2012 is different — he has picked himself off the ground and is no longer the biggest stick on the street. Medinah has been a source of good memories for Woods (he won the PGA Championship there in 1999 and 2006), and beyond his physical ability his past memories to draw from have been his greatest weapon. He can take this chance to pair up with a Keegan Bradley or Bubba Watson and literally stoke the fire.

I challenge Tiger more than anyone to take on a new idea. We all know he prefers the quiet grinder type, but If you turn the clock back to 1999 it wasn’t Furyk or Stricker who inspired Tiger’s best golf, it was Steve Pate. The combination of the stoic Tiger and the unpredictable Pate led to not only great viewing but pure electricity that inspired the rest of the team. Tiger had no choice but to just enjoy the show, and the birdies flew. As an onlooker I still find Tiger isolating himself in practice and rarely bonding with anyone. Look back in GolfWRX tournament pictures and notice the one constant besides his Nike Blades… Arjun Atwal. I’m hoping this pattern changes. It’s what the U.S. team needs.

The U.S. approach to winning these things reminds me of the movie Moneyball. Jonah Hill’s character mentioned that the decision makers in baseball had an “imperfect understanding of where runs come from.” This is true for U.S. golf. If I’m Davis Love, my pairing decisions are not going to be made based on what happens on the course, but based on the social interactions my players have. Who makes who laugh, smile, tick, etc. Let’s face it — all of these players can play under pressure, hit the shots and make the putts. They wouldn’t be here otherwise. But when push comes to shove the X factor of these matches is the ability to settle down and go have the time of your life with someone you have a connection with.

Come sunday evening we will know if the scope of U.S. golf has evolved and become the fraternity that everyone likes to call it. I’ll be watching along with the rest of the world and I hope to see 12 individuals become a family.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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John Wunder was born in Seattle, Wash., and grew up playing at Rainier G&CC. He moved to Southern California when he had the rare opportunity of working in the Anaheim Angels clubhouse and has been living in Cali. ever since. He has a severe passion/addiction for the game and has been a member of GolfWRX since 2005. He now works as the Director of Development and Production for The Coalition Group in Los Angeles, Calif.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Lee

    Sep 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    ‘Settle down and have the time of you’re lives’ come on this is the Ryder Cup and Europe are going kick butt!
    Seriously this will be sport at it’s most dramatic and highest level. Let’s appreciate it for what it is and embrace it. In the long run it’s irrelevant who wins as long as golf does which surely it will.

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Tour News

5 things we learned on Sunday of the 2018 U.S. Open

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Opportunity knocked for so many golfers, yet it was the 2017 champion who seized the moment when it was his. Brooks Koepka fired his second sub-par round of the week on Sunday to separate from playing partner Dustin Johnson, and enter the pantheon of multiple major champions. He became the 7th player to defend his title, joining old-school legends like Willie Anderson and John McDermott, mid-century icons like Ralph Guldahl and Ben Hogan, and the last man to accomplish the feat, Curtis Strange. With that introduction, let’s move to the main event, the 5 things we learned on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills.

5) The USGA gave golf a chance

True to its word, the USGA pulled out all the stops in the wee hours of Sunday morn. The course set-up team ensured that enough water was distributed to putting surfaces, that worthy shots would not be punished. Hole locations were assessed and confirmed, also ensuring that multiple opportunities for success were available. As a result, 15 golfers turned in scores under par of 70, highlighted by Tommy Fleetwood’s 7-under stunner. Although many fans, writers and players were quick to assault the organizers for losing control of the course, the USGA reminded us that it always had control of the conditions at Shinny, and that its only mistake was to soar too close to the sun.

4) Captain America ran out of gas

If Patrick Reed had been able to sign his card on the 9th tee, when he stood 5-under on the day and 1-over for the tournament, he would be in a playoff with the eventual champion as I type. Unfortunate for this year’s Masters champion was that 10 holes remained. Reed promptly bogeyed the 9th, added 3 more bogeys on the inward half, and summoned just one birdie toward the end. His fourth-place finish was his best in a U.S. Open, but knowing that victory was in the cards will sting for a while.

3) DJ and Finau gave it a run

Where to begin? How about this: DJ had four bogeys on Sunday. He totaled that many on Thursday-Friday combined. He had birdies, too, but couldn’t find the game that possessed him over the opening 36 holes. Oddly enough, this type of experience won’t be a setback for the 2016 champion. After all, he came back from a career-killer in 2015, when he 3-whacked his way out of a playoff with Jordan Spieth at Chambers Bay. As for Milton Pouhau Finau, aka Tony, the Utah native had never before been in the final group on any day of a major professional championship. He acquitted himself well, standing even on the day and 3-over for T2 at the 18th tee. Knowing that he needed eagle for a playoff might have taken the final winds from his sails, and he limped home with double bogey and solo third. Looking ahead to the final August playing of the PGA Championship, Bellerive near St. Louis might just be his type of course.

2) Tom Terrific nearly made his own U.S. Open history

I’ll write this cautiously, as I’m certain I would have intimated in the 1980s and 90s that Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood would have been major champions by now. Tommy Fleetwood ought to win one of these things soon. His record-tying 63 was a short putt away from a record-breaking 62. Eight birdies against a single bogey was the stuff of legend, and if only he had trusted that final putt a bit higher on the break … that’s not fair. Fleetwood right now is the fellow to watch at Carnoustie next month. Bet a few quid or bob or whatever on the Southport native, as he should contend for the title.

1) Brooks cooks up a winning broth

It’s easy to look back and see all the great shots that the defending champion hit over the four days of the 2018 U.S. Open, shots that would win him his second consecutive trophy. Remember that 60-feet bomb to save par on Saturday? Shades of Costantino Rocca. How about the approach shots to within mere feet that earned him 5 birdies on Sunday, including a competition-killer on 16? Koepka was the guy we thought Dustin Johnson would be. Perhaps it was the time off for wrist rehabilitation early this season that gave him the burning desire to win. Out for nearly 4 months, Koepka had plenty of time to ponder what he achieved last June in Wisconsin, and what might lay ahead for him. The begged question is, does the most recent, two-time major winner have the game to acquire more of the game’s cherished trophies?

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

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Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club (par 70; 7,440 yards) in Southhampton, New York. The U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since 2004 when Retief Goosen won (he failed to qualify for the 2018 event).

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Phil Mickelson, who has two top-5 finishes at Shinnecock Hills, will seek to fill out his career Grand Slam with a win this week. Also, it’s Tiger Woods’ 10-year anniversary of winning the legendary 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines — that was his most recent major championship victory.

Also in the field are headliners Dustin Johnson (now ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings), Justin Thomas (No. 2), Justin Rose (No. 3), Jon Rahm (No. 4) and Jordan Spieth (No. 5).

Brooks Koepka (No. 9) is the defending champion; he won last year by four shots for his first and only major so far in his career.

Check out our photos from Shinnecock Hills below!

Wednesday’s Galleries

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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Spotted at Shinnecock: #RVLife, superb staff bags, stellar stampings

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We’re on the famed grounds of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club for the second major of the year. With the U.S. Open returned to such a visually and historically rich venue, it may be a bit tough to focus on equipment.

Nevertheless, we spotted some cool stuff, Tuesday, as the players move ever closer to the second major of th eyear.

Let’s get to the photos.

#RVLife propronent, Jason Day’s putter cover is incredible.

Michael Greller displays an essential caddie skill…

Face of Tiger’s wedge. Do these look like standard TaylorMade MG grooves to you?

Greatest side panel on a bag ever?

Who isn’t happy to see “Woods” on USGA tournament signage?

Shintaro Ban’s unique dot stamping is, well, money.

A look at the Bridgestone U.S. Open staff bag and headcovers.

Kenny Perry: Still gaming R7 irons.

Scott Gregory with some solid wedge stamping.

What is this lead taped and war torn beauty?

All our photos from Tuesday

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums

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