Great Debate: Is experience crucial for Europe at the Ryder Cup?
YES – says Mark Townsend
My abiding memory of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles is Graeme McDowell almost babysitting Victor Dubuisson, and his shy, apologetic smile, to two perfect foursomes wins.
The Frenchman had been singled out by Captain McGinley as needing an arm around the shoulder and McDowell was the perfect chaperone. Adieu messieurs Mickelson and Bradely on Friday, au revoir Walker and Fowler the day after. Then there was Jamie Donaldson who was shepherded through his first two days by Lee Westwood before emerging the all-conquering hero and with three points.
Westwood was a captain’s pick in Scotland in a team with just three rookies but his experience and easy-going manner made him the perfect foil for the Welshman.
Four years ago at Medinah Nicolas Colsaerts was the lone newcomer in the European lineup and once again Westwood was the one to partner him.
Poulter was the other captain’s pick and we all know what then happened.
They get it. They know what’s required and the mentality that it takes to produce your best at golf’s most frantic table. It might sound trite to repeat that this is different to anything else but it does throw up different feelings and emotions. And the more familiar faces who know what’s waiting for them on the 1st tee, the better.
The Americans have hordes of the same old faces at every renewal but their baggage is generally negative, years of coming up short and narrow defeats. This year Europe will be going for an unprecedented fourth straight win, otherwise we’ve won eight of the past 10.
Which still sounds ridiculous if you grew up watching these matches in the 1980s when finally winning away seemed to be on a par with Leicester winning the league.
When you listen to the stories from Europe’s EurAsia Cup side the fi rst thing that came up was the importance of both Westwood and Poulter. Their team-mates, to a man, praised the veteran gunslingers’ input that week and singled out their stories every night in the team room. Experience can be as valuable off the course as on it and takes the heat off the captain. You need your on-course lieutenants.
It takes something very special to expect a pair of rookies to be thrown together and it might well come off if your surnames are Reed and Spieth but generally it won’t.
NO – says Dan Murphy
There was a time when the European Ryder Cup team relied heavily on a handful of star names.
As recently as 2002, I would argue, we had to rely on certain players to win at least three points over the weekend and hope that an unsung hero could produce the performance of a lifetime to bring down an American Big Gun.
And it often worked. The likes of Phil Price, Costantino Rocca, Peter Baker and Paul Way all enthusiastically embraced their roles.
By 2004, under Bernhard Langer’s wise captaincy, something had changed. No longer were we flogging our best players to play all five sessions and it felt like our team had genuine balance.
Over the last decade or so, the likes of Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter have been inspired in the Ryder Cup.
But that doesn’t mean we need them there to retain the trophy at Hazeltine unless they are playing something like their best. If I were Clarke, putting personal friendships to one side, I would be looking to the likes of Matt Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters and Andy Sullivan to complement my automatic qualifiers.
In Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson, our team has bags of know-how. I’d rather we gave them team-mates who were bang in form than playing on memory.
That’s not to say I won’t be pleased should some of our past heroes turn back the clock and play their way on to the team – good luck to them.
I just don’t think we need to spend wild cards on them if they they are still struggling for form.
Come September, I expect we will see a very different looking team to the one at Gleneagles.
It may be none of Thomas Bjorn, Stevie Gallacher, Jamie Donaldson or Victor Dubuisson make it either, so we could be talking about half the team changing. I’d view that as a show of strength, not weakness.
By contrast, America can’t shed their experienced players quickly enough. You’ve got Major winners and long-time fixtures in the world top-10 who have simply been pummelled over the years in the Ryder Cup – Hunter Mahan, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods…
The number of rookies at Hazeltine could be in double figures – and if so the teams will be stronger for it.
What do you think? Is experience crucial at the Ryder Cup?