The 36th Ryder Cup is a little over three weeks away, and everyone is already starting to get Ryder Cup fever. The major championships are in the past, and the main focus has shifted towards the Europe/United States grudge match. The European side has won four of the last five despite playing the role of underdog. I guarantee they are the favorites to win this year.
The Europeans obviously have things figured out. Woosnam's squad must simply follow the same formula they've used the past decade and they will be tough to beat. The U.S. team, on the other hand, needs a little help getting organized.
When I first started watching the Ryder Cup, I didn't put much weight on the team captains. I figured the players were all that mattered in the competition, but I was dead wrong. The 2004 United States Captain, Hal Sutton, showed the world that the match-ups and pairings can win or lose a Ryder Cup. Sutton tried to be the hero, but he ended up as a zero.
The fiery captain paired Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson together despite obvious personality differences. The 2004 Ryder Cup was lost then and there. The United States never got off to a good start, and trying to make up ground on Sunday, finished even worse. It's crazy to think that one decision can cost a team the Ryder Cup, but it has and could again.
The U.S. will need to do several things to win this Ryder Cup. Captain Tom, if you're listening, here they are:
Tiger Tiger Tiger
The world's best player has an abysmal 7-11-2 Ryder Cup record. Say what you want about Tiger's partners not picking up the slack, but Woods hasn't always played well either. Foursomes have been hell on Tiger. Because sitting out isn't an option for the planet's best golfer, things have to change.
In foursomes, Tiger needs to leave his driver in the clubhouse. He's won four events in a row hitting very few drivers, and the same approach should be taken at the Ryder Cup. Though Tiger is capable of playing the shots his wayward drives leave him, his partners simply cannot. Tiger needs to put the ball in the short grass for his playing partner to have any chance at success.
Tom Lehman will pair Tiger with Jim Furyk in the foursome and fourball competitions. Furyk is a great long-iron player, so Tiger should feel good about hitting his 3-wood, 5-wood, or 2-iron off the tee. Furyk and Woods, despite their record, are stalwarts that must step up.
If Tiger has another shaky Ryder Cup performance, the United States will lose. Woods is now a veteran leader. The European side hasn't been intimidated by him in this event like they are in major championships. This must change at the K Club. It's time for Tiger to bear down and lead his team to victory. A winning attitude starts at the top.
Win or Break Even on Day One
The United States rarely gets off to a good start in the Ryder Cup. When they won in 1999 at Brookline, they had to make the great comeback on Sunday in singles competition. Their shaky play over the last decade starts on Friday in the foursome and fourball competitions. The European side specializes in this format because of their team camaraderie.
The European side is no pushover when it comes to singles competition. In the past, the U.S. team could count on a winning singles Sunday to catch up and pass the Europeans, but 2004 put an end to that strategy. The European side dominated on all three days at Oakland Hills.
The United States team downplays the role camaraderie plays in the Ryder Cup, but they need to accept it as a vital key to success. It's easy to see that the Europeans enjoy playing alongside each other more than their American counterparts. It wouldn't be the end of the world if the Americans had a little fun as well, as it has obviously worked well for the Europeans.
Play the Rookies
Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson, and Brett Wetterich will all be making their debuts in team competition. These guys aren't exactly household names. Though most people seem to be worried about these rookies, I'm taking a different philosophy: it's nice to send some fresh faces to play for my country. Besides, these rookies can't do worse than the team did in 2002 and 2004.
Former Ryder Cuppers Davis Love III, Freddie Couples, and Justin Leonard will miss out this year. Love and Couples have played well in past Ryder Cup events, but they aren't playing well in 2006 and aren't 100% healthy. The last thing the United States needs is to forfeit points due to injury.
Say what you want about the points system, but the rookies we'll be sending over to the K Club had nothing to do with it. They played their way onto the team. I'm not a big fan of Taylor, Henry, or Wetterich, but I may be after this year's Ryder Cup. It will give them a chance to prove themselves, and they may be household names in a month's time.
Vaughn Taylor and Zach Johnson are two of the most underrated golfers on the PGA Tour, and they will show the world why next month at the K Club. Both guys are very competitive - a great attribute in match-play events. Johnson finished third at the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier in the year. Taylor has six top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season (including The Mercedes Championship, The Players Championship, Wachovia Championship, and The Memorial).
J.J. Henry actually comes into the Ryder Cup playing pretty well. He finished tied for 10th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this past weekend. Now that the pressure of making the team is out of the way, Henry will play better. Brett Wetterich makes a lot of birdies, and that will serve him well in fourball. Tom Lehman would be wise to play Wetterich in the Friday and Saturday fourball competitions. Wetterich will be a pleasant surprise in this Ryder Cup.
The European side hasn't utilized the rookies very much in the past couple playings of the Ryder Cup. Instead, the respective captains have chosen to stick with eight key guys while mixing in rookies when needed. Tom Lehman will probably go the same route, but that's a mistake. The U.S. rookies will have a better week than Chad Campbell, David Toms, and Phil Mickelson. All three have been plagued by injuries or inconsistency over the past couple months.
The Final Say
Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk need to play all five of their matches. They are playing great golf right now, and they are going to be the engine starters for the United States team. Other than Woods and Furyk, Tom Lehman just needs to mix and match depending on who is hot and who is not. I'd like to see every United States golfer play on the first day.
It's scary to think of playing the rookies a lot, but something has to change. Despite being the underdogs this time around, the United States still has a lot to lose. The formula hasn't worked very well lately, and Tom Lehman may be the just the guy to shake things up. Team U.S.A. has an uphill battle, but I have a feeling they'll come out on top.
Now it's your turn to speak your mind. Which United States golfer is the key for the United States team? Also, will the Americans have any success in the foursome and fourball matches? Finally, do you think the United States rookies will be a factor at this year's Ryder Cup? If you have anything to add, feel free to comment below or discuss it in the forum. Thanks for reading this week's Thrash Talk!