The Ryder Cup 2016 a fitting tribute to Arnold Palmer
First published in The Telegraph on the 27th September 2016.
Passion always runs high at The Ryder Cup but this year's event promises to be even more emotional than usual following the death of Arnold Palmer.
There is a different feeling to the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine now. There has to be. Arnold Palmer was such a huge figure in golf and Ryder Cup history that his passing on Sunday at the age of 87 means that this week’s match will always be slightly overshadowed by the loss of “the King”.
Ryder Cups are emotional affairs anyway, but with Palmer’s memory invoked this promises to be the biggest tear-jerker of all. The United States have every right to use Palmer to inspire them. He was one of them, arguably the greatest one of them. He would have hated seeing his country lose time and time again as much as any patriot.
But what he loved most was golf, and he loved it to be played in a fiercely competitive way. He was never any more animated than when the tension was up, when the rewards were in direct correlation to the risk. Where others feared to tread, Arnie marched valiantly on and in many respects that is what the Ryder Cup is all about. Who can handle the pressure? Who is courageous enough to pull it off? Ecstasy and agony: the twin forces that drive heroes such as Palmer.
Davis Love’s team have to be classed as favourites, despite the United States having lost seven of the past eight matches. They are at home and their players are, on average, better placed in the rankings.
In Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed they unearthed two gems at Gleneagles in 2014, a pair of born matchplay fighters whose passion matches their talent. And if the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler can follow their lead then it looks ominous for Darren Clarke’s Europe team.
Yet do not discount Europe’s youngsters. True, in an ideal world Clarke would not have wanted to travel overseas with six rookies in his ranks. Yet the Ryder Cup has too many variables for everything to go to plan. Clarke has even picked a first-timer in the big-hitting Belgian Thomas Pieters and accepted that if youth is to win it for him then it must be given his head. He has vowed not to hide the rookies and he will have had 1999 in mind when saying it.
Then, at Brookline, Mark James chose to ride his senior players hard and leave three of his team on the sidelines until the singles. It was a tactic that appeared to have worked as the visitors compiled a 10-6 advantage after the first two days. But the over-tried and trusted were exhausted come the Sunday singles and with the ignored trio all succumbing when belatedly thrust on to big stage, the US staged a remarkable comeback to win. The lesson was obvious. Everyone on the team needs to be blooded.
So Clarke will pair the new boys with his senior men, with Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Sergio García and Martin Kaymer. He is likely to allow Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose to play four matches together and reprise their winning ways from Perthshire.
Expect Pieters to play in the foursomes with Kaymer, Andy Sullivan to play in the fourballs with McIlroy, Danny Willett to play in the foursomes with Westwood, García in the fourballs with Rafa Cabrera Bello. And Chris Wood is such a fine putter he can be paired with anyone.
They are all very capable and quite conceivably can pull off another shock to make it a record four wins on the spin. The only question then would be how great a shock that would be and where exactly the US team goes before France in 2018.
Love will not be thinking of defeat. In 2010, Medinah hurt him so hard, hurt the US so hard. Again it was a long course that supposedly favoured the Starred and Striped. Except the Ryder Cup never follows neat scripts. Its propensity for drama is what makes it unique and this week it promises to be an occasion fit for the King.