As all true Ryder Cup fans know, the competition was initially held between Britain and the USA with Northern Ireland and Ireland “officially” added in 1947 and 1953 respectively. Looking at the current team, and those that are close to selection, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say a hypothetical British and Irish team could beat America for the first time since 1957.
The competition wasn’t a competitive affair until 1979. The crop of British golfers who had dominated the sport at the turn of the century were coming to the end of their careers. Harry Vardon had retired and Ted Ray was beyond his best – both portrayed as the likeable Jerseyan pair in the movie “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” They were not replaced with the same quality for many years. The Americans, on the other hand, had Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen who ensured a period of American dominance that would continue until the 1980s.
It was eventually decided, after a suggestion by Jack Nicklaus, that players from the continent should be included to make the competition fairer. Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer were brought in and led the way for a number of great European golfers.
Since 1979, Europe has won ten times outright and retained the Cup once in a tied match, with seven American wins over this period.
Looking at this year’s perspective teams, it is clear that each captain has their own set of problems. Davis Love III has a team full of experienced players with poor Ryder Cup records, whereas Darren Clarke has a team full of Rookies. One interesting feature of Europe’s team is the high number of Brits expected to show up in Minnesota.
This got me thinking about how good a team would look, hypothetically, if they were to revert back to the Britain/Ireland versus America format? There’s now six Brits with a confirmed spot at Hazeltine, seven if you include Lee Westwood, who is all but guaranteed. Russell Knox will be unlucky if he’s not given a wildcard pick, taking the total to eight. Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Luke Donald are all up for discussion, although I doubt either of them will make the cut. This leaves 11 British and Irish players who are of Ryder Cup quality. If you consider Ian Poulter’s unrivalled record – the Englishman is currently injured – you’ll see that for the first time in nearly a century the UK have a crop of players who could compete without help from the continent.
If Britain and Ireland entered a team (world ranking and Ryder Cup win percentage)
1. Rory McIlroy (4th, 57.1%)
2. Danny Willett* (9th)
3. Chris Wood* (25th)
4. Justin Rose (12th, 71.43%)
5. Andy Sullivan* (36th)
6. Matthew Fitzpatrick* (45th)
7. Lee Westwood (42nd, 56%)
8. Russell Knox* (20th)
9. Luke Donald (64th, 70th)
10. Graeme McDowell (70th, 60%)
11. Shane Lowry* (35th)
12. Ian Poulter (99th, 72%)
* Denotes rookie
To have the Masters Champion and only living Olympic gold medalist is an indication of the healthy condition of British golf. To think Lee Westwood was the only Englishman to represent Europe at the 2001 Ryder Cup shows you how far the players have come.
Europe go into this Ryder Cup as the underdogs – as usual. On paper the Americans are stronger – as usual. But again I fancy Europe. I still can’t see a team culture developing amongst the individualistic American team and the Europe’s continental guys always bring the fire! When you can get Martin Kaymer to scream, “Just no!” you know you have a good thing going.