The journey to
A year ago, Europe beat America by 16 and a half points to 11 and a half at Gleneagles in Scotland. This result meant that Team Europe had won three matches in a row, a fact that shaped the coverage of the event on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe’s captain Paul McGinley was hailed for his incisive leadership and his counterpart Tom Watson took some criticism for America's defeat. That’s how it works. The Ryder Cup captaincy tends to be a binary affair.
Given this backdrop, Europe will go in to the match at Hazeltine in 2016 as strong favourites. This is based on their recent record. After all, they are now going for four wins in a row, a feat that has not been achieved in The Ryder Cup since the 1970s, when American teams were made up of legendary players such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Raymond Floyd.
But how much should we allow the past to shape our expectations of the future? This is particularly relevant to predicting The Ryder Cup results. The matches take place every two years, a period which renders past form in the event virtually meaningless. Can a team that comes together every two years and which is made up of a slightly different set of players each time, ever really be on a winning streak?
The Ryder Cup consists of 28 matches over three days between two teams of 12 players. In total, the event consists of 64 player rounds, or around 1000 holes of extremely competitive golf. Over the three days in Hazeltine, the 24 players will have hit in the region of 4000 individual strokes.
Over the three days in Hazeltine, the 24 players will have hit in the region of 4000 individual strokes.
Yet, two of Europe’s victories - in 2010 and 2012 - were won by a just single point. That’s the equivalent of one missed putt or an errant drive out of many hundreds. Like any race, the winner is the first one that crosses the finish line. In The Ryder Cup, the finish line is 14 and a half points.
In the 2012 match, Jose Maria Olazabal led Europe to a single point victory, one that has become known to all sports fans as the ‘Miracle of Medinah’. In one of the most thrilling events in The Ryder Cup history, Europe came back from four points down on the final Sunday of the match to overcome Davis Love’s team. At Celtic Manor in 2010, the Northern Irish player Graeme McDowell holed a difficult, swirling fifteen foot putt on the last hole to win his match against Hunter Mahan. As the ball went in to the hole McDowell raised his fists in celebration and was swamped by his team mates who sprayed champagne across the green. Two years before that America won convincingly at Valhalla under Paul Azinger’s captaincy.
So, to put Europe’s ’Three in a row’ in to a different perspective, were it not for those two single point victories in ’10 and ‘12, America would have been going in to Gleneagles looking for their fourth win in four matches. So predicting a winner with any degree of certainty is far more hazardous than it may seem at first glance. Possibly the only thing of which we can be sure is that it will be enormous fun to watch.