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The Chaska Champions

The 41st edition of the Ryder Cup was held this weekend at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.

Bird Golf has two connections with Hazeltine because one of our East Coast professionals, Jim Terry, was the teaching professional at the club for 15 years. Senior BGA West Coast professional, Craig Waryan’s uncle Don was the first golf professional at the club and is honored with a directional path called “Waryan’s Way” on the course.

On paper, the U.S. team was once again prohibitive favorites in the biannual battle between America and Europe, but the European team has won 8 of the last 10 events, so paper is worth very little.

The American team’s Achilles heel has always been the Foursomes (alternate shot) format. In the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, they only won one of the eight points available in Foursomes en route to a 16½ point to an 11½ point defeat https://www.birdgolf.com/eagles-landed-glen/ .

On Friday morning’s opening 4 matches, the U.S. side stunned the Europeans with a clean sweep in the Foursomes to take command of the Cup. The home team was led by Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed (who were undefeated as a team in 2014 and were their side’s best players) who won the opening match over Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose 3 & 1.

Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler followed that up with a 1 up victory over Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup rookie, Andy Sullivan, while Jimmy Walker and Zach Jonson dispatched Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer 4 & 2. Completing the morning whitewash with a 5 & 4 trouncing were Dustin Jonson and Matt Kuchar over Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.

Rose and Stenson started the European comeback winning the first of the afternoon Fourball matches with a resounding 5 & 4 win over the previously unbeaten Spieth and Reed. The U.S. returned the favor though with Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka winning by the same margin over Masters champion Danny Willett and Kaymer. With the Americans now leading 5 points to 1, a lot would depend on the last two afternoon matches.

Garcia and fellow Spaniard, Ryder Cup rookie Rafa Cabrera-Bello, closed the gap with a 3 & 2 win over Americans JB Holmes and Ryan Moore. Playing in the anchor leg, McIlroy and Pieters bested Dustin Johnson and Kuchar with the same score to end the day with the U.S. holding a 5 point to 3 advantage. What could have been a rout was prevented.

Europe won the opening match in Saturday morning’s Foursome contest when McIlroy and Pieters beat Mickelson and Fowler 4 & 2 to narrow the overall margin to a single point. Snedeker and Koepka righted the ship for the U.S. besting Stenson and Matthew Fitzpatrick 3 & 2. Europe prevailed in the 3rd match when Justin Rose playing with another European rookie, Chris Wood, trumped Zach Johnson and Walker 1 up.

The American Dynamic Duo of Reed and Spieth had total command of the morning’s final match leading Garcia and Cabrera-Bello 4 up, with only 6 holes to play. In a stunning comeback, the Spanish team won four of the next five holes to pull even with Reed and Spieth. Ultimately, Reed needed to make a gritty 6 ft. par putt on the 18th hole to tie Garcia and Cabrera-Bello, but while each side won a half point, it had the earmark of a loss for the Americans.

The score after three sessions of the Ryder Cup was whittled down to a single point, 6½ to 5½ heading into the afternoon Fourball contests.

In the first of those matches, current world #3, McIlroy, teamed once again with Pieters and they prevailed, 3 & 1, over Koepka and Dustin Johnson. The crowds were bordering on becoming a soccer audience and heckled and booed McIlroy, who returned their emotion in equal measure and brilliant play. The more they cajoled the Northern Irishman, the better he played as he and Pieters levelled the score at 6 ½ points apiece.

Mickelson at 46, the elder statesman of the U.S. team making his record 11th consecutive Ryder Cup appearance played masterfully with his partner Kuchar to defeat Garcia and Kaymer 2 & 1.
Holmes almost singlehandedly edged out Westwood and Willett 1 up in the penultimate match with partner Moore to give the Americans a two point advantage.

Playing in the anchor group once more, Reed and Spieth put their capes on; particularly Reed who was, sensational. Reed made 7 birdies and holed out for an eagle-2 on the par 4, 5th hole, in a rare and ingénue decimation of both Hazeltine and Europe’s marquee pairing of Rose and Stenson. Despite quality opposition from the European tandem, Reed would not be denied and he and Spieth recorded a 2 & 1 triumph.

Heading into Sunday’s closing 12 singles matches; the European team once more faced overwhelming odds, reminiscent of the 2012 Cup https://www.birdgolf.com/a-miracle-at-medinah/ but how many rabbits can you pull out of a hat?

The first singles match on Sunday put fire against fire with Reed and McIlroy who produced fireworks. Reed closed out McIlroy with a final hole birdie to win 2 up and leave the Americans just four points away from victory.

Clarke front-loaded his lineup putting his best and most in form players in his opening 7 positions to try to capture early momentum and by and large his plan worked.

Stenson beat Spieth 3 & 2, Pieters (who was a terrific 4-1 in his Ryder Cup debut) took down JB Holmes 3 & 2 and Cabrera-Bello prevailed over walker with the same score.

Fowler halted the European rally though winning a hard fought match with Rose 1 up on the 18th hole drawing the home team to within three of victory.

Mickelson and Garcia played what may go down as the greatest match in the history of the Cup with a record breaking display of supreme golf. The two stalwarts of their respective teams have combined to play in 19 Ryder Cups. That was the same number of birdies they had in a see-saw match that culminated with both players making birdies on the final hole to fittingly end their epic performance tied.

When Snedeker beat Sullivan 3 & 1 and Koepka won 5 & 4 over Willett, the U.S. led 14 points to 10. Ryan Moore won the last three holes of his match with Westwood to win the clinching point and give the Americans the Cup so coveted by all.

Zach Johnson beat Fitzpatrick 4 & 3 and Dustin Johnson was a 1 up winner over Wood while Kaymer recorded a win in the final match over Kuchar 1 up. For the record, the U.S. won by 17-11 which was their most lopsided win since the 1981 matches at Walton Heath.

For the U.S. team Captain, Davis Love III, the victory was redemption of sorts after having been at the helm of the side four years ago at Medinah. Perhaps the U.S. had benefited from all the committees and studies that the last two years have produced after the meltdown following the matches at Gleneagles. Perhaps this team jelled in a way others have not in the last few years or maybe it was the five Vice Captains who included Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson (who had asked to be a part of the team after not being one of Love’s Captain’s picks despite being the #7 ranked player in the world).

But of one thing there can be no doubt, the best team won the 41st edition of Samuel Ryder’s Cup, by playing the best golf.