This U.S. Ryder Cup team-building activity wowed Fred Couples (nope, not Ping-Pong!)

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Fred Couples holds champagne with U.S. players during victory celebration

U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Fred Couples, center, celebrates with the American players after a victorious Ryder Cup.

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

No one knows exactly why this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team was so dominant. Yes, they were the superior team on paper, but that is almost always the case, and in recent times Team Europe has had no problem outperforming expectations.

The truth is many different factors led to the Americans’ historically lopsided victory, some obvious and some less so.

One man with some valuable insight into the question is Hall of Famer Fred Couples, who witnessed the U.S. team’s triumph at Whistling Straits as a “throw-in” assistant captain (his words) in place of Tiger Woods.

This year's Ryder Cup was best seen up close at Whistling Straits.
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On Wednesday, ahead of the PGA Tour Champions’ Constellation Furyk & Friends event, Couples opened up about his experience behind the scenes with the U.S. players at the Ryder Cup.

The 1992 Masters champion explained that this year’s American squad blew him away in pretty much every respect, but especially when it came to handling the notorious Ryder Cup nerves and pressure.

The team “was a lot of fun to be around,” Couples said on Wednesday. “I’ve never seen people not nervous in my life… I don’t quite get it.” But a humbled Couples went further, saying, “They’re all better players than probably I’ve ever been, but there was just — there wasn’t much nerves… Everyone looked great and that’s why we won so easily.”

Later in the press conference, Couples peeled back the curtain on what went down in the U.S. team room, and in the process may have revealed another potential secret to their success.

Despite all the talk about how great the U.S. team’s chemistry was this year, a central theme to Europe’s winning teams, Couples said the U.S. team room at Whistling Straits was far less active than usual, admitting “maybe it was good that they all weren’t hanging around together in the team room.”

But with players prohibited from traveling off-site due to the Covid-19 precautions, what exactly were they doing all week if not enjoying team-building Ping-Pong competitions? According to Couples, they were sweating it out in the gym together.

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“In the old days there were Ping-Pong matches, there were pool matches, they were guys popping in and out, but [this year] they had a workout room right next door and most of them were in there,” Couples said. “My job for that was I could go to the door and just look in, but I never could step through there, because I thought I’d fall into some deep hole because I don’t go into workout rooms very often, but I did see some amazing things with Koepka.

“People say, ‘Why was the team room quiet?’ Well, the workout room wasn’t.”

It’s a fitting anecdote for this year’s team, one full of young stars who have quickly proven themselves on Tour, with the oldest veteran being 38-year-old Dustin Johnson. Unlike in Couples’ time, staying in the game’s elite ranks these days is a 24/7, 365-day pursuit. These pros never stop working to improve their bodies and games.

Tiger is largely responsible for the fitness obsession among modern players, and while he may have been skipping some Ryder Cup Ping-Pong matches against Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar to hit the weights, now the entire team does it together. So far, it seems to be a winning formula.

Kevin Cunningham

Golf.com Editor

As managing producer for GOLF.com, Cunningham edits, writes and publishes stories on GOLF.com, and manages the brand’s e-newsletters, which reach more than 1.4 million subscribers each month. A former two-time intern, he also helps keep GOLF.com humming outside the news-breaking stories and service content provided by our reporters and writers, and works with the tech team in the development of new products and innovative ways to deliver an engaging site to our audience.