After dominant performance, next Team USA target is clear: winning in Europe
Goliath was at home. Goliath got out to an early lead. Goliath got annoyed and eventually Goliath won. Thus went the Presidents Cup last week in Charlotte, and even if David’s body is still warm, it marked the official commencement of Ryder Cup Season.
Now that the dust has settled on what was a very successful Team USA showing, we have no choice but to point out one glaring fact as we move forward: Goliath has not traveled well. It has been precisely 29 years since an American team won the Ryder Cup on European soil. By the time they tee it up again, it’ll be a clean three decades. Not only are the current crop of American players too young to have been involved in the last win abroad, most of the captains watching over them are too young as well. Captain Zach Johnson, who has lived many lives in pro golf, was still merely a high schooler in 1993.
The Americans have lost their last six chances to win in Europe, and perhaps most importantly, it hasn’t exactly been close. Only in 2010 did the Americans keep the score within two points, and never once during those six Cups did Team USA hold a lead on Sunday. Playing across the Atlantic has simply meant playing catch-up.
Europeans love these facts and Americans bemoan them. What’s great for the next 11.5 months of our golf-media lives is both sides have a right to be confident. Team Europe, for reasons stated above. And Team USA, for reasons that played out last weekend, and last year in record-breaking fashion at Whistling Straits.
“I’d take this team over [to Europe] against anybody in the world,” Jordan Spieth said. He was basking in the confidence you gain from celebratory alcohol as well as the kind you feel when you’ve gone undefeated. If Spieth scores five points for the Americans in Rome, you can plan the White House visit immediately.
After a week-long referendum on what the Presidents Cup is, offers and/or what it should be, an important aspect of it remains the rehearsal it represents for the ensuing Ryder Cup. Call it an important non-conference game if you’d like, but it’s a means for stabilizing Team USA processes. For giving rookies (think: Max Homa) a moment they’ll think about 12 months from now. For giving captains (think: Zach Johnson watching over Scottie Scheffler and Sam Burns) an idea of which players to pair together. It gave us all a reminder that Justin Thomas is rightfully the new, defacto Captain America. At its most basic level, it teaches these schedule-savvy maniacs another lesson that the FedEx Cup doesn’t mark the end of the important golf for the year. Team USA golf is a year-round thing. There’s a reason why Team Europe just announced a new team event for January, called the Hero Cup. They like run-throughs, too.
If that is all the Presidents Cup is perceived as by some — an audition of sorts before the Ryder Cup — then fine. Hierarchies aren’t such a bad thing. The Internationals will turn that hierarchy on its side soon enough, and when it happens American heads will roll. It’ll be a reminder that the American Exceptionalism evoked at the top level of the game is flimsy, at best, when major champions take part in match play. The 15-minute moment on Sunday when the Internationals appeared to be mounting a comeback was just a taste. If the same scenario plays out in Rome 12 months from now, it’ll be a good thing that Tom Kim happened. That Si Woo Kim and Sebastian Munoz happened.
The American team will be different in 2023, because turnover always happens. Cameron Young might be involved, and he may not be. Will Zalatoris is bound to take someone’s place. Spieth himself is 18th on the Ryder Cup points list, 12 full spots behind … Dustin Johnson! Sam Burns is further back and Tony Finau even further yet. Depending on how the ‘Mickelson et al vs. PGA Tour’ lawsuit shakes out, we could have LIV golfers re-entering the fray (for both teams). Roster-building, 2022 taught us, is a delicate act. But Team USA as we’ve known it for the past 24 hours and the past 12 months is exactly how Team USA views itself right now: really damn good.
“I think that winning at home is special in its own way, and there’s nothing that beats it,” Spieth said Sunday night. “But going over there on the road and winning would be incredibly special next year, and I really hope I’m a part of the team.
“The kind of team rooms that I’ve mentioned that we’ve had the last few years, it’s going to stay that way, and I’m very confident in our ability to go over there and win. You could tell me the last time it happened over there, but nobody here has any scar tissue.”
Zach Johnson, you have received the baton.