One of last year’s many casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic was the Ryder Cup, which had to postpone its biannual event one year, to this fall.
But while delayed, the folks at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin weren’t denied, and they are set to be the center of the golfing world this week as the Ryder Cup is played again three years after Europe recorded a convincing win in 2018 at home in Paris.
Friday and Saturday morning will feature four matches in which each side has two-player teams that hit alternate shots.
Friday and Saturday afternoon will consist of four matches in which the two-player teams for each squad hit their own ball.
The final day, set for Sunday, will feature 12 singles matches with every player on each team.
There are 28 possible points, with the U.S. needing 14 1/2 to take the cup back. As the current holders of the trophy, Europe retains it by earning at least 14 points.
Here are three things to know about this weekend’s Ryder Cup:
1. Why home-course advantage has been important -- it has little to do with the fans.
Sure, it’s nice to have a majority of a raucous crowd chanting “USA! USA!” or when the event is in Europe, “Ole, Ole, Ole!”
But that’s not the reason why the Ryder Cup has turned into such an advantage for the hosts, especially since there are plenty of opposing fans at the competition anyway, even if they are a minority.
For all its dominance overall at the Ryder Cup since 1985, Europe has lost two of the past three Ryder Cups in the U.S., with its 2012 victory outside of Chicago requiring a miraculous comeback on the final day.
The U.S. hasn’t won a Ryder Cup in Europe since 1993.
The reason the hosts have such an edge is because they are in charge of course setup.
The Europeans prefer to emphasize precision and shot-making, and thus tailor their courses to have narrow fairways, thick rough and slower greens.
On the other side, the Americans are all about power and fast greens.
U.S. players want to be able to bomb it 300 yards or more off the tee without penalty, and attack pin placements with wedges in an effort for more birdies, so American officials cut down what’s normally penalizing rough and make sure greens are fast.
In 2008, U.S. captain Paul Azinger made sure to modify some of the tee boxes on certain holes so his players could drive it over bunkers, and he made sure the rough beyond the bunkers were cut, according to Golf Digest.
The U.S. ended up winning the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1999 after entering as heavy underdogs.
Europe made sure Le Golf National in Paris had heavy rough and thimble-sized fairways in 2018, and it worked to the tune of a 17 1/2 to 10 1/2 rout of the Americans.
After 2008, there was some modification in that a match committee took control of course setup 11 days before the event started.
But still, the host captain has up until then to set up the course how he prefers, to give his guys an edge -- something U.S. captain Steve Stricker (a native of Wisconsin) assuredly did before last week.
2. The youth of the U.S. vs. the experience of Europe.
It’s a good thing the U.S. is playing at home, because having half of its team comprised of Ryder Cup rookies would not be ideal at all if the event were in Europe.
Instead, the six rookies on the U.S. team should be buoyed by the majority of fan support as they get their feet wet in the event.
The good news is that three of the rookies are two-time major winner Collin Morikawa, FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay and Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele.
On the other side, Europe is trotting out living legends in the event over the past two decades, who have played big parts in the Europeans winning nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups.
Lee Westwood will make his 11th appearance and tie Sir Nick Faldo for most all-time on the European team. Sergio Garcia is on the team for the 10th time, Ian Poulter for a seventh time, Rory McIlroy will be competing in his sixth Ryder Cup, while Paul Casey has qualified for a fifth time.
The most-tenured Ryder Cup player on the U.S. team is Jordan Spieth, who will be making his fourth appearance.
3. Whistling Straits has features that will benefit both sides.
Of note, when the Ryder Cup is held in Europe, it’s typically at courses that host a European Tour event each year, so the Europeans have a major advantage knowing the bends and breaks of the greens and other features on the course.
When the U.S. hosts, it’s usually not at a place that hosts a PGA Tour event each year, so course knowledge is usually about equal, and that will be the case again at Whistling Straits.
Going in, both sides feel the course will give them an advantage.
For the U.S., Whistling Straits is a long course that will require distance and play into the hands of a power game the Americans prefer.
For Europe, the course does resemble a typical seaside links course in England or Scotland -- since Whistling Straits is right on Lake Michigan, has rolling hills, steep drop-offs to the water on the edges of fairways and greens, heather and over 1,000 bunkers.
Add the fact that the weather forecast is supposed to range from low- to high-60s during the three days of play, and the Europeans might feel more at home at Whistling Straits than they have at other U.S. Ryder Cup venues.
For viewers, they should be in for a treat with the typical intense emotions, breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, and seeing how the pros navigate difficult shots to greens and fairways, with any slight mishit resulting in their ball dropping off a cliff or going into crippling bunkers.
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