“We had a lot of young guys and rookies in the Ryder Cup, but it didn’t feel like they were,” Johnson said. “They have all played well in such big moments and big tournaments that it didn’t feel like they were rookies. And they didn’t play like they were rookies. They stepped up to the plate and they all wanted it.”
Stricker felt blessed to be handed the reins of the side. He joined Arnold Palmer as the only two to win a Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup as Captain on their first attempts. And he did it in his home state. He presided over a 19-11 rout at Liberty National in 2017 and created history with the 19-9 win amongst his fellow cheese heads.
“I’ve said it a number of times all week long about how these guys came together … how they started two weeks ago when they showed up for the practice round. I could see the camaraderie then. I could see the willingness to prepare and get ready for this event prior to us even arriving,” Stricker said.
“It’s a special group of guys. I could see it in these guys’ eyes last night when we left the course, after just saying a couple words, I could tell they felt like there was unfinished business, and they came out and they were ready today. They wanted more.”
Stricker’s secret is staying out of the way and creating an environment for the players to thrive. He got rid of half the hoopla usually associated with the lead up and didn’t call in any motivational speakers and create any big video montages. He let players rest, take naps, even sleep in. And his players responded in kind by dominating.
But the team wasn’t without an old-fashioned rev up. That came via the injured Tiger Woods. Unable to attend as a vice-captain as he recovers from his car accident in February, Woods remained an honorary part of the crew via text messages with captains and players.
His message on Cup eve resonated all week. Without giving up the full details, the team confirmed the vibe was to not only win, but to dominate. To dispel the narrative that Europe come together better. To step on their throat. To ram home how special this group could be.
“We were told by a member of the team today that the record was 19 points and that we should go out and try to get 19 points, and that’s what we did,” Spieth confirmed.
Woods is a Captain in waiting. He was already in charge at the 2019 Presidents Cup. As to who will hold that position in Rome is yet to be decided. The succession plan put in place would indicate either Woods, Phil Mickelson or Zach Johnson is next in line if Stricker doesn’t reload. It will be their job to lead the team to true golfing immortality.
And so we must turn to Europe who will try to thwart that once more. Where to from here for Padraig Harrington’s squad who were blown off the park? Can they just expect to be able to repeat the home field narrative or do we face a serious crossroads?
They too may have a changing of the guard. Lee Westwood is 48. Ian Poulter 45, Paul Casey 44 and Sergio Garcia 41. Just Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick are in their 20s. Rory McIlroy has sensed the change in attitude from the U.S. and expects his side will need to lift.
Emotional after a 1-3-0 week where he needed to salvage a Singles win to contribute at all, McIlroy is under no illusions of the job ahead.
“It seems the way the Ryder Cup is going, the home team certainly has an advantage every time that we play this thing. That was apparent in Paris a couple years ago and it was pretty apparent this week, as well,” McIlroy said.
“But there’s phenomenal talent on that team. The most important thing for the U.S. Team is a lot of young guys that are great players have bought into the Ryder Cup. That was probably missing in previous generations.
“And having guys like that on the team they are going to be formidable opposition from now until I’m probably not playing Ryder Cups, whenever that is, in hopefully 20 years’ time.”
Captain Harrington refused to shift blame to his players and their commitment. And he’s not convinced a clean out of the old generation is needed. They were just beaten by a red-hot team in red-hot form. He reminded his side that to earn glorious moments you have to put your head out there … and sometimes you get your head knocked off.
“There are young guys in this team that will be the heart of the team going forward. Jon Rahm, clearly; Viktor, these are young guys that will be there for a long time. But there’s (also) a good heart to the team elsewhere,” Harrington stressed.
“Most of these guys were winning in Paris, so there’s still quite a winning mentality there going forward. Everybody keeps going on about the experienced guys, but there is a really solid heart on this team of players who are still coming into the peak of their careers.
“Yes, we would look to young guys coming in over the future, but the heart of this team will be here for a few more years for sure. We should see some strength going forward.”
Harrington wouldn’t throw up any young names but some of those in their 20s that might factor include Victor Perez, Robert MacIntyre, Thomas Detry, Rasmus Hojgaard, Sam Horsfield, Callum Shinkwin and Aaron Rai.
The veterans weren’t prepared to throw in the towel yet and Garcia was brilliant, going 3-0 with Rahm as a partnership. But Westwood was realistic. He’s actually a Captaincy candidate for Rome and showed guts on Sunday to rally from 2-down with four to play to win his match 1-up.
With his son on his bag the Englishman took a moment to reflect on his now record 11 Ryder Cup appearances. The tears came as he wrestled the desire to keep fighting as a player, against the reality of his age.
“The future is bright for European golfers. Shane (Lowry), Viktor (Hovland), Bernd (Wiesberger), Jon (Rahm) … watching him and Sergio is like watching Seve and Ollie. I’m 49 in April. The next time a Ryder Cup comes around I’ll be 50. It’s a bit old to be playing Ryder Cup isn’t it,” Westwood said with the emotion of the moment painted on his face.
“People keep coming up and saying are you going to be the captain in Rome … and I’d prefer to play, but father time is not kind is he. Being Ryder Cup Captain is a massive honor and it’s something I want to do. I’m sure Padraig has enjoyed it even though it’s not gone right for him this week. It’s going to be some time in the future but I don’t want to let go yet; I still feel competitive.”
To a man, the Europeans vowed the loss would make them hungrier. Stronger. More determined to reverse the result in Rome. McIlroy, who between the last two Cups matured into a father, knows the torch is his to be the leader he was off course, but also on the course come Italy.
“I was emotional because it’s a highly charged event and it sucks to lose, it really does,” McIlroy said while describing the moment he broke down in tears on live television.
“And listening to, “We Are the Champions” out there and those guys celebrating … hopefully I’m on that team in Rome and we have that opportunity. It will make getting that Cup back even sweeter.”
His teammates nodded in unison. They won’t go down without a fight.
Just 732 sleeps to go …