Bad luck Europe, you gave it your best shot with a team full of Englishmen from a country who voted out of Europe. It was never going to be easy facing an American team on home turf hell bent on stopping European momentum, let alone the fact that Darren Clarke’s men sported an unprecedented six rookies. And maybe, just maybe, when everything and everyone has calmed down, it was a good thing for the event as a whole. The European team was only created because America kept on beating Britain and Ireland, and the Britain and Ireland team was only created because America kept on beating Britain. In more recent times the golf shoe has been on the other foot. Europe has bossed the Ryder Cup to the point of it almost — almost — becoming predictable. So, in the week of the passing of the great Arnold Palmer, it was indeed the right thing for America — or “U.S.A,” “U.S.A,” as the home fans shouted for three incessant days — to win back the famous old trophy. Already narrowed European eyes are looking forward to Paris in 2018 and revenge, although the locals in the French capital are more likely to give the Americans nonchalant, Gallic shrugs than full bore, USA-style abuse.
So how did the European team fare after all that? Here is my player by player assessment, in the order of their singles matches yesterday.
Rory McIlroy: With 3 points out of 5 this was a pretty good Ryder Cup effort by a man seen to be one of Europe’s leaders now, although not in an Angela Merkel sense. A win over Patrick Reed yesterday might — might — have made a big difference but it wasn’t too be. Surprisingly let the hecklers get to him. As always the best way to shut them up is to win, but never has he been seen quite so pumped up and emotional.
Henrik Stenson: Did well to beat American superstar Jordan Spieth in the singles yesterday but the current Open champion will be disappointed with his overall effort for Europe. He and his team would have expected more.
Thomas Pieters: It was a case of Thomas Who? when he gained the captain’s pick. Darren Clarke won’t be remembered for getting too much right but he certainly got this one spot on. Pieters, with his 4 points out of 5 making him the best ever European rookie, now joins the small list of famous Belgians, his surname appearing just before Poirot. Is it too early to suggest this could be golf’s next big star? Europe will look to him in two years’ time, that’s for sure.
Justin Rose: Will remember 2016 forever by becoming Olympic champion, a title he can enjoy bragging rights for the next four years. Just as well as he won’t have too many bragging rights about Hazeltine. Like Stenson we expected more from this Ryder Cup stalwart.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello: If it wasn’t for Pieters he’d be the star of this European effort. His form made him a deserved — and automatic — choice for the European team but few expected him to perform quite as well as he did. Both in the singles and when paired up with Garcia this man looked at home. Spain have played a massive role in European Ryder Cup success, starting with Seve, then Olly, then the cigar-smoking Miguel Angel Jiminez and, of course, Sergio. We can now add Rafa to this list. He’s so good he has three names!
Sergio Garcia: An above average Ryder Cup. Like his other big name teammates he may have expected a tad more but, in fairness to the Spaniard, he performed well when teamed up with Cabrera Bello and was involved in that epic singles yesterday with Mickelson. Lefty hit ten birdies and still could only halve the match with Garcia who, in turn, scored 9 birdies. Phenomenal golf and one of the best singles matches ever witnessed.
Lee Westwood: As he will be the first to admit he had a shocker. A return of 0 from 3 was not what his long-time friend Darren Clarke envisaged when he selected him as one of his captain’s picks. The added shame of it was he needed two points to draw level with Nick Faldo on 25 to make him the all-time greatest European in Ryder Cup history. Yesterday’s singles said it all. Two up with three to play against Ryan Moore, an American selected literally last weekend, Westwood managed to lose the match and give Moore the chance to claim the point that secured the Ryder Cup.
Andy Sullivan: He would probably like to rewind a week and have another go. 0 from 2 points is obviously not a good weekend’s work, although it also showed the lack of faith captain Clarke had in him. The only positive is that he will better for the experience. The challenge now is to see the Englishman make the next European team and deliver.
Chris Wood: Only given two games and nabbed a point, Wood also gave Dustin Johnson a good fight in the singles before succumbing by a single hole. Won’t necessarily look back on Hazeltine with fond memories but did himself no harm and should be the stronger for it.
Danny Willett: Will be bitterly disappointed not just with the last three days, but with the past week. How much influence his brother Pete’s ill-timed article laying into American golf fans and the subsequent apologies had on his woeful performance we may never know, but Willett had a mare of a Ryder Cup. In the end Brooks Kopeka put him out of his misery yesterday with a 5&4 win in the singles. Willett was a rookie, but he is also the current Masters champion. He will be determined to put this right in 2018.
Martin Kaymer: Another heavyweight who expected more. Kaymer’s not quite been his self in recent months and it showed in Hazeltine, but I liked the fact at least that he was determined to have a last say by coming back from two down with six to play to beat Matt Kuchar by one in the singles, especially as the Ryder Cup had been lost by then.
Matthew Fitzpatrick: Everyone in golf knows that this kid has the makings to become a big star. Indeed, to qualify outright for the European team having just turned 22 last month was, in itself, some achievement. With 0 points from 2 he will be obviously disappointed but, if he is half the star people predict he will become, he will no doubt put this right in Paris in 2018.
Darren Clarke: Easy to analyse in hindsight. I knew for a fact he was concerned by the number of rookies he had in his team because I had a drink with him a few weeks back. Ordinarily a debut Ryder Cup, especially in the bear pit of America, is no easy task for a rookie. As a result Clarke placed way too much faith in his under-performing experienced hands with a disappointing return. Ironically two of his stand out performers were rookies Pieters and Cabrera Bello. Of the other rookies, Sullivan, Wood and Fitzpatrick were given little chance to shine.