Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

The Big Team Events – Why Team Europe Won the 2023 Ryder Cup

The Big Team Events - Why Team Europe Won the 2023 Ryder Cup
(PA Images/Alamy)

Another Ryder Cup on foreign soil produced another loss for the United States in October. That means the Americans have not won an away game since they prevailed at The Belfry in 1993. They’ve now lost the Ryder Cup in Spain, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy. That covers much of the continent. 

And every time it happens, the loss is accompanied by much hang-wringing and many questions from disappointed American fans. The most recent loss —the 16.5 to 11.5 whipping in Rome—was no exception, and it produced the regular assortment of reasons and excuses. It happens every time, almost like that scene in Casablanca where Claude Rains tells his policemen to “round up the usual suspects.”

There are dozens of reasons why the U.S. Ryder Cup team got throttled—again—on European soil. Among the most popular are:  

Reason No. 1: Lack of activity leading up to the event. When the TOUR Championship wrapped up, the members of the U.S. team packed away their competitive clubs until time to get ready for the trip to Italy. That’s five weeks off and hardly a great prescription for staying sharp. Captain Zach Johnson said, “I’m not going to slight the preparation of these guys.” But he was taking the high road. The issue definitely needs to be resolved and the matches should be scheduled a couple of weeks after the conclusion of the PGA TOUR season.    

Reason No. 2: The team isn’t close. This is perhaps the silliest argument that takes place after every loss. A Ryder Cup team doesn’t need to be made up of bosom buddies. (The New York Yankees won multiple championships with guys who didn’t like each other at all.) By all appearances, this was a close team. Justin Thomas said, “We truly all got along. We clicked. We had a lot of fun hanging out with each other.” Of course, it didn’t help the chemistry that Patrick Cantlay refused to wear a team hat as some viewed as a protest—a move that played into the hands of the raucous galleries. Truth is, these guys all get along just fine. 

Reason No. 3: The LIV curse.The ever-shifting situation with LIV players was certainly a distraction when it came to team selection, but that didn’t carry over on the course. Justin Thomas even made a point to talk about how nice it was to see Brooks Koepka, the only LIV player on the team. Sure, the U.S. could have benefited from the presence of Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, who brings a swagger that was missed in the competition. But the Europeans were dealing with a serious LIV handicap, too. They had to play without perennial Ryder Cuppers Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. The Euros even had to replace Henrik Stenson as their captain—and didn’t miss a beat. 

Reason No. 4: Lack of an inspirational captain. While Zach Johnson is a nice guy and he has enjoyed a wonderful career, he isn’t the kind of guy you’d ask to deliver a “run through a brick wall” speech—not that one is ever needed. The United States has won with Steve Stricker and Davis Love III serving as captain and neither would be considered the fire-and-brimstone type. There’s only so much the captain can do and Johnson generally stayed out of the way, although his captain’s selections went 4-12-4.  

Reason No. 5: The caddie kerfuffle. It may have been the most interesting thing that happened in Italy. On the 18th green of the final match of Saturday’s four-ball round, veteran caddie Joe LaCava and Rory McIlroy got into a dustup when the caddie was seen as being too close to the player while he was preparing to putt. Words were exchanged. Bad feelings persisted. But the incident had little impact on the outcome of Sunday’s singles, other than to inspire McIlroy to play even harder and beat Sam Burns 3 and 1. 

All those reasons, real or imaginary, and any others, they don’t really hold water. In fact, the real reason the Europeans won the Ryder Cup was simple. They just played better. 

During the height of his superpowers, Tiger Woods told more than one would-be challenger to “play better.” Simple and succinct advice to anyone who aspired to take down the champ.

That’s the same advice that needs to be applied to the United States Ryder Cup team. Stop searching for excuses and bring the “A” game.

Just play better. That’s what it’s going to take. If that happens it won’t matter who’s on the team, who serves as the captain, whether or not the players like each other, or whether a caddie (or parent or wife) gets involved.

Playing better is all it will take. 

This was first published in Essential Golf – you can read the complete magazine here.