Why Bjorn and Europe should fear the US Ryder Cup team
by Colin Callander
It is now some 24 years since a European team lost a Ryder Cup on this side of the Atlantic, but current captain Thomas Bjorn might well be wondering if that long run is about to come to an end under his watch in Paris in 12 months’ time.
The Dane could certainly be forgiven for harbouring such negative thoughts at the end of a recent run that has seen the last three major championships all won by young Americans and several others producing the sort of form that suggests that it might not be too long before they join that trio in the major league.
It has been quite a summer for American men’s golf and it started back in June when Brooks Koepka equalled the championship’s 72-hole scoring record while winning the US Open at Erin Hills and in the process becoming the seventh rookie major winner in a row.
The 27-year-old former European Tour member was no flash-in-the-pan winner. Only 13 players made the cut at all four championships and Koepka topped the lot in terms of cumulative scoring at 21-under-par – ahead of Hideki Matsuyama and Matt Kuchar (both -20), Rickie Fowler (-16) and Jordan Spieth (-10) – having finished tied-11th at the Masters, first at the US Open, tied-sixth at the Open and in a share of 13th place at the PGA.
That is mightily impressive form but Koepka still has much to do if he is to stand comparison to compatriot Spieth, who at the age of 24 completed the third leg of the Grand Slam with his victory over Kuchar at the Open at Royal Birkdale.
Spieth failed to become the youngest player to complete the set at the subsequent PGA Championship but there is no doubt he is the leader of the current American revival and it is surely only a matter of time before he joins Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen in winning all of golf’s big four.
Spieth had been the firm favourite to win at Quail Hollow so it was fitting the title should go instead to his great friend Justin Thomas, whom he has known since the pair travelled as 14-year-olds to an Evian Junior Masters in France. Both were to progress to the PGA Tour via the collegiate system by the time there were 21.
Both were winning tournaments at 22 and now they have become the first players under 25 to become back-to-back major winners since Bobby Jones and Sarazen all the way back in 1923.
Spieth, Thomas and Koepka are at the vanguard of America’s latest resurgence but what might concern Bjorn even more is that their successes can only act as an incentive for buddies like Rickie Fowler, Bud Cauley, Daniel Berger, Patrick Cantley and others.
Following Thomas’s success Berger tweeted: “I can’t even explain how I’m feeling right now! Justin Thomas makes me want to go and hit range balls for five hours!”
Thomas also alluded to the likely repercussions of his victory when he said: “It’s a cool friendship we have. We obviously all want to win, want to beat the other guys. But if we can’t, we at least want to enjoy it with our friends. This is going to make them more hungry, just like it did to me when Jordan won [the Open] last month.”
There would seem to be few problems in the US camp at present but as the countdown for the next match starts it is certainly not the same on this side of the Atlantic.
Europe’s talisman Rory McIlroy has seen his season wrecked by a rib injury. Father Time is catching up on Lee Westwood and the likes of Danny Willett, Matt Fitzpatrick and Andy Sullivan have all regressed since making the European team last year.
Under the circumstances it is just as well that old warhorse Ian Poulter has regained his form and that Bjorn is reportedly winning the battle to persuade Paul Casey to rejoin the European Tour.
We might need them more than ever now that the young Americans are here.
Do you think Team Europe can hold off the youthful American invasion? Or is the Ryder Cup headed back across the pond for at least another two years? Let us know in the comments below, or you can tweet us @NCGmagazine.