2021 Ryder Cup results: Say hello to the U.S. golf dream team, which aims to dominate for years to come

Written by on September 26, 2021

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — When did the Ryder Cup end? Ask 20 people and get 20 different answers to that question. The United States routed Europe 19-9 at Whistling Straits on Sunday in the 43rd playing of this event. Patrick Cantlay said after his singles match that he woke up and told the team he wanted to get to 20 points. The Americans fell short, but they still won by the biggest margin since in this event’s modern era since 1979.

Sunday’s finish seemed inevitable all day, so when did it end for you?

Perhaps it was as early as Friday afternoon when the United States took a 6-2 lead after Day 1. It certainly felt over then.

Perhaps Saturday morning when the U.S. tacked on three more points, including one when Jordan Spieth raised his putter to the sky as an eagle dropped on the 16th hole that helped put away his Euro opponents.

It could have been when Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger chugged beers on the first tee before the fourth session, or when Scottie Scheffler chest bumped Bryson DeChambeau late on Saturday en route to the Americans’ 11th point of the week.

Maybe it was when DeChambeau got up and down from 354 yards at the first hole against Sergio Garcia on Sunday and beat Garcia’s birdie with an eagle.

Maybe you’re conservative and didn’t believe it was truly over until Collin Morikawa hit an iron from 221 yards on the 17th to 3 feet to win that hole, guarantee a half point against Viktor Hovland and return the trophy to the U.S.

Maybe you didn’t think the Ryder Cup is over until Dustin Johnson popped the first champagne bottle, which happened as quickly as humanly possible following the U.S. destruction.

Whatever the case, wherever you land, the second your Ryder Cup ended, something new began for a much-critiqued, oft-maligned U.S. side.

There has been a lot of angst (much of it from me!) over the last few decades about United States team golf, specifically when it comes to the Ryder Cup. There have been teammates thrown under buses, captains run over by players, and ultimately, a very c-suite-sounding task force founded to try and turn the tide on this biennial event.

It worked until it didn’t when everything fell apart at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris. Even coming into this week, there were myriad questions about Brooks Koepka’s buy-in, DeChambeau’s focus, whether those two could be in the same team room and whether captain Steve Stricker had lost control of the team room before anyone had ever congregated.

Seven days later, Stricker was on a podium in the middle of a field next to Lake Michigan yelling into a microphone that this U.S. team was the best golf team of all time.

It’s not a crazy sentiment.

Not all dream teams end like this, though. The Patriots lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl. The Cavs beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Braves took several years to win a World Series. Sometimes, operating from out in front when it comes to talent is extraordinarily difficult, but this U.S. team made it look simple.

There are four primary reasons this U.S. team both became the best golf team ever and transformed expectations at future Ryder Cups.

A captain they trusted

In the post-event press conference, Stricker was asked if he would be interested in being the captain in Rome in 2023. He deferred, but every player on the team hooted, hollered or nodded that they wanted to play for him again. 

“100%,” said Dustin Johnson, who became the first top-ranked American and just the fifth player all time with a perfect 5-0-0 mark at the Ryder Cup.

“That’s a yes from us,” added Spieth, who along with D.J. and Koepka is the only U.S. player on this team to win multiple Ryder Cups.

They went out of their way to talk about how well Stricker managed both them and the entire week with an emphasis on the lack of extracurriculars throughout.

The U.S. team is not as impassioned by the history nor the hysteria surrounding this event as the Europeans. That stuff seems to really ignite the Euros, and it seems to exhaust the Americans. So they didn’t make any hype videos and didn’t bring in any motivational speakers. It was a business trip.

“It felt like a player-friendly environment,” said Spieth. “As Steve mentioned on stage, there were no big speeches. It was, ‘Hey, you guys took care of business today, go get your rest, take care of business tomorrow.’ He knew this team was playing phenomenal golf coming into this event and put us in position to stay out of the way … I don’t want to take away from what the captains did. They did a lot of work setting this up ahead of time and then kind of taking the back seat and guys really took over. And we made a lot more putts than they did and there were a lot more roars.”

A lack of black holes

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are two of the 10 greatest golfers of all time, and neither they nor you need me to list their credentials nor their bonafides when it comes to this sport. However, having mega-personas like them is not always the best thing on a team of 12. They can become black holes, likely unintentionally so, in weeks like this. Guys worship them, so it can be sometimes difficult to feel like equal parts of the same organization. 

It’s not coincidental that the first Ryder Cup in nearly three decades that neither played was the one that felt not just like a generational shift but also a complete transformation in the dynamic of the team. It felt as if all 12 players had equitable buy-in instead of it being disproportionately distributed.

(Not having Patrick Reed, a different kind of black hole, there was probably meaningful as well.)

It helps that nearly everyone on the team grew up together. That was a theme throughout the week. Spieth mentioned it, and it engendered a sense of similar ownership in this week that is necessary for the trust you need in one another at the Ryder Cup.

“It’s a different group of guys,” said Koepka after his singles match on Sunday. “It’s a lot more fun than in years past.”

A complete buy-in

This is linked to No. 2. This generation of players — the U.S. had eight in their 20s and six in their first Ryder Cup — has feelings about the Ryder Cup that may not have existed before. That sometimes results in shotgunning beers on the first tee before the event is over, but there are some guys on this squad who seem to embrace this week differently than players have in the past.

“I think 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,” said Rory McIlroy, who went 1-3-0 for the Europeans. “I think that was probably missing in previous generations. But guys like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, you know, the sort of heartbeat of that U.S. team, they really bought into the team aspect of Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups. And having guys like that on the team, yeah, 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.”

A ton of overwhelming talent (with a plan)

There’s a big difference between being the most talented team ever and the best team ever. We already knew this was the most talented team coming into the week, playing on a golf course perfectly suited to its strengths. It became the best team because Stricker managed that talent perfectly. Everybody knew their partners. If they deviated from their original plan, it was only minutely. 

The Americans rode their best thoroughbred in D.J. to that record-setting 5-0-0 mark, and everyone else played a role. Tony Finau and DeChambeau came off the bench to play four-ball in the afternoon. Spieth, Thomas, Cantlay, Morikawa and Xander Schauffele all sat when necessary. Scheffler went out on Sunday and lit up the best player on the planet (and of the week) 4UP and never trailed a hole. The Americans were favored in 11 of the 12 singles matches.

They’ve had immense talent before, just not this far down the roster.

This is the problem for the European side, which  got caught between generations this year. Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood combined to go 2-4-0, and their succession plan is unclear. The Americans? You just watched the succession plan.

The United States was up 11-5 on Saturday night and craved the record for the biggest blowout in modern history, which it also got on Sunday.

Only four players on the U.S. side are older than 30, and Spieth made it clear that, while this may have been the end of this particular Ryder Cup, it’s just the beginning of what the U.S. certainly hopes is a mirror of the great European generation they closed the curtain on this week.

“We needed to win this one, and I think it was a massive stepping stone for this team,” said Spieth. “The group that we have here that have really known each other since almost back to grade school to continue to try to work hard to be on these teams to go over there. It’s one thing to win it over here and it is a lot easier to do so and it is harder to win over there. If we play like we did this week, the score will look the same over there in a couple years, and that’s what we’re here for.”

“This is a start to new generation,” added DeChambeau. “I think we are going to be doing some incredible things moving forward.”

That plays well on Sunday evening after a historic Ryder Cup. It feels different on a Friday morning in Rome when it feels like half of Italy is chanting Rory’s name and the fairway is skinnier than Chesson Hadley. Still, there are reasons to believe.

It’s foolish to declare the ushering in of a new era based on scores alone. The U.S. has won in routs on its own soil before, and yet, it has failed to back it up in Europe for the last three decades. However, among this century’s Ryder Cup wins for the U.S., this one felt extremely different.

Surely things did not go perfectly behind the scenes all week, but this year’s press conference felt less like a team of 12 individuals that was mashed together for the sake of this massive event that happens so infrequently and more like a group of 12 individuals that will remain a shadow team as they play on their own in the lead up to Rome.

Maybe that’s because of the six rookies or the eight players in their 20s or no Tiger and Phil or Stricker’s galvanization or Spieth and J.T.’s leadership or more buy-in or any number of other factors. Maybe it’s a bit of everything. That will be tested, though, and it will be tested both next year at the Presidents Cup but even more so in two years at the Ryder Cup in Rome.

But it won’t be tested simply based on whether they win for the first time on European soil since 1993 or lose another one to Rory, Rahm and Co. No, it will be tested in that team presser shortly after that competition.

Win or lose, the Europeans have always been gracious, emotional and wonderful in the wake of this event. They were again this year. They delight in victory and they shine maybe even brighter in defeat. They don’t sell one another out or destroy their captain. Instead, they talk about how this week is the greatest week.

“Like honestly, to be able to share the team room with these boys, to be able to play for [Padraig Harrington], it’s just been so special,” said Shane Lowry this week. “I said to the lads last night, ‘I’m having the time of my life, and we’re six points behind. What’s it going to be like when we’re leading?’”

That’s the litmus test for a new American era.

A generational change means you get a war in Rome that might end in a U.S. victory but that definitely ends with a unified group. That’s always been the point with these proud European teams. It’s the part I’m not sure the Americans have ever fully understood. The Euros have been so good for so long not because they win every single time but because they maintain belief and trust even when they do not.

The U.S. seemed to capture that this week, perhaps more than it ever has before. It is also combining that trust with a 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team-level of talent.

The result is that they have a real team — an all-time team — now with the potential for true long-term stability.

That portends the big question, as the champagne flows into Lake Michigan on a late September evening and Rome feels so close and so far at the same time: Will they keep it?

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