The American team that touched down in France as hot favourites to retain the Ryder Cup was reckoned to be the best in the competition’s history. They got hammered. And the highest accolade has to go to Thomas Bjorn.
Europe’s ice-cool captain got everything right: his wild card picks all justified their inclusion and his bold decision to blood four rookies in the first session ultimately paid dividends.
Bjorn didn’t so much as have a hair out of place. Saying that, he’d love to have some more hair to be out of place.
When Bjorn announced his wild cards as Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey they were greeted with some negativity – but to a man they proved the critics wrong and their captain right.
Garcia, in particular, was nowhere near making the team and seen as a dubious choice. Now the Spaniard is Europe’s all-time record Ryder Cup points scorer, having won three of his four matches.
Casey was magnificent too on his first European appearance for 10 years, while Stenson won all three of his matches, including a 5&4 thrashing of Bubba Watson on Sunday.
And what can you say about Poulter? He may have only claimed two points but they were so crucial, especially his singles defeat of world No1 Dustin Johnson.
DJ is one of the longest drivers in the game but Poulter hit it 20 yards past him at the 18th, that’s how pumped up he was.
Faith in rookies
Bjorn showed great faith in his rookies by putting one in each of the fourball matches in the first session on Friday morning, alongside a more experienced Ryder Cup player.
To go 3-1 down, then, was a huge blow. But it didn’t faze Thomas; he’s like a big iceberg – you can’t move him. And his faith was rewarded in spectacular style over the next two sessions.
In fielding those rookies he had bloodied them for the battle to come. And his team showed how strong they were by racking up eight points in a row – a Ryder Cup record for either side.
Tommy Fleetwood was the pick of the debutants, winning all four of his matches alongside Francesco Molinari and spawning the phenomenon that is “Moliwood”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player as happy as Fleetwood looked in France.
The other rookies did their bit too. Thorbjorn Olesen didn’t do badly on the first day but then didn’t play again until Sunday, when he found himself up against Jordan Spieth. He hammered him anyway. Jon Rahm, meanwhile, had lost two out of two and was drawn against Tiger Woods but still beat his hero.
Molinari, meanwhile, was extraordinary. The Open champion became the first European player to win maximum points from five matches, his defeat of Phil Mickelson clinching the cup. What I loved was that he said winning a Major didn’t come close to the Ryder Cup – even though it didn’t earn him a penny in prize money.
Europe underline strength in singles
Momentum always fluctuates so much on the final day and there was a moment after Justin Thomas had beaten Rory McIlroy in the opening match when it looked dicey for Europe.
Thomas gave the USA the best start they could have asked for, and they went on to cut Europe’s lead to one point by winning three and a half points from the first four matches to finish.
But back came Bjorn’s men, winning seven of the last nine matches. It just showed the depth of talent in the European side.
It also made a mockery of the idea that the Americans are better than us on singles day. Europe went into Sunday having won the singles session in five of the previous eight Ryder Cups; that record is now six of the last nine. These things stay with a team.
Europe won because we played the better golf, but home advantage was humongous. From start to finish the USA players tried to overpower it and it never worked. In one session there were 11 balls in the water at the first two holes.
The course at Le Golf National was out of this world and, I think, offered a glimpse at the future of the game.
It’s not about reining in long drivers. If you make the rough severe like it was in France then it becomes about hitting fairways and greens – basically, playing golf.
The US Open has been set up that way for a long time and the result is that golf is the winner.