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Team USA became a united red, white and blue ship when captain Steve Stricker gathered his troops for a two-day reconnaissance voyage at Whistling Straits along the shores of Lake Michigan a week ahead of the 43rd edition of the Ryder Cup.
With all but the rehabbing Brooks Koepka on hand, the players, caddies and vice captains soaked in the surroundings, bought in on the mission statement, gathered nuggets about playing the rugged course, conversed on strategy, formed partnerships, and connected on the course and over many courses during dinners.
Upon arrival for Ryder Cup week, and with Koepka fitting right in, the Americans followed the untheatrical, positive leadership of Stricker and were a capable, comfortable, combative and confident bunch. Despite six players making their debut in the biennial pressure cooker against Europe, and with youth being served, the U.S. was 12 Strong and all in for one and all.
And then the Americans became hostile hosts.
From the opening tee shot on Friday, the U.S., which had lost five of the last six matches, nine of the last 12 and was coming off a pasting in Paris in 2018, battered its counterparts and secured possession of the 4-pound, 17-inch tall gold cup with seven matches to play on Sunday in singles.
Two-time major champion and Ryder Cup rookie Collin Morikawa provided the clinching point for the U.S. with his tie against Viktor Hovland. The score at that point was 14½-6½.
The final was 19-9; that’s the largest margin of victory since all of Europe joined the Ryder Cup in 1979. After two decades of being pummeled by Europe, the U.S. has now won two of the last three matches.
“Two weeks ago they came together. Showed me a lot about this group of guys,” Stricker said as he started to tear up. “They had a mission this week and you could tell, they played great and they came together.
“From day one, it was about out-preparing, getting the guys here, getting them on the same page. This is a new era for USA golf. They are young. They come with a lot of passion, a lot of energy, a lot of game. They are just so good.”
After surging out to a hefty 6-2 lead on Friday, the U.S. was relentless and ruthless and went up 9-3 Saturday morning and took a substantial 11-5 advantage into Sunday singles action. That was the largest lead held by the U.S. going into the final day since 1979.
The dominance was so thorough that every American won at least one point during the first two days while six of Europe’s charges won nothing. Only the Spanish Armada of Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia, who were a combined 6-0-1 in Foursomes and Four-Ball, kept Europe afloat, but with scant hope.
Heading into Sunday singles, the U.S. needed just 3½ of the 12 points available for victory. But there would be no let up. The lineup showed that none of the U.S. players in the first six matches had tasted defeat the first two days.
The resounding victory march started early.
After Rory McIlroy put blue on the board with his win against gold medalist Xander Schauffele in the leadoff match, the Americans became a Stars & Stripes wrecking ball by winning five of the next six matches and halving the other.
Rookie Scottie Scheffler put the first red flag on the board with an inspiring win against world No. 1 Rahm, who was undefeated the first two days. He won the first four holes and never trailed en route to a 4-and-3 win.
“We all saw it,” Jordan Spieth said. “We knew it was happening. If you looked at one thing on the board, you saw that.”
Rookie Patrick Cantlay, the reigning FedEx Cup champion, put the second red flag on the board with a convincing 4-and-2 win against Shane Lowry.
Red flag No. 3 came from the efforts of Bryson DeChambeau, who was animated throughout the week and won the large galleries over with his power and interaction. DeChambeau drove the first green at the par-4 first, made the eagle putt and defeated Garcia, the all-time points leader in Ryder Cup history, 3 and 2.
Morikawa got the clinching half-point. A few minutes later, four-time major champion Brooks Koepka added another point with a 2-and-1 win against Bernd Wiesberger. Justin Thomas made it 16½-6½ with an authoritative 4-and-3 win against Tyrrell Hatton, and then Dustin Johnson made it 17½-6½ with a 1-up win against Paul Casey. Spieth halved his match with Tommy Fleetwood and rookie Daniel Berger, in the anchor position, polished off the rout with a 1-up win against Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Europe, which needed to win 9 points to retain the Ryder Cup, won just three matches and halved two.
“I loved the team from the beginning,” Thomas said. “I loved everything about the entire week. Everyone did their part, did their job. The captains were great. The fans were great. I mean, just everything about the week was incredible.”
The average age of Team USA was 29, signaling good things are in the offing. As for the six rookies – Schauffele, Cantlay, Scheffler, Morikawa, English and Berger – they went a combined 14-4-3.
“This is going to be the next era of the Ryder Cup team for the U.S. side,” Cantlay said. “We have a lot of young guys and I think they are going to be on teams for a long time. We sent out rookies in four out of the first five matches. That’s unheard of. Everybody gets along. The atmosphere is light, but I know everyone has that killer instinct and we are going to bring that to future Ryder Cups.”
Added DeChambeau: “This is a start to new generation. I think we are going to be doing some incredible things moving forward.”
European captain Padraig Harrington just didn’t have the horses to make hay in America’s Dairyland. Much of the old guard from the Old Country came up flat, as Westwood, Poulter and Paul Casey didn’t even win as much as a half-point in seven matches the first two days.
“Of course we’re disappointed,” Harrington said. “But the U.S. played well. Look, they outplayed us. Strong team. They got their plan right. They got some momentum going. They started well.
“They just outplayed us at the end of the day.”