Sunday’s win over the United States at Le Golf National was the latest installment in the storied battle, but for all their dominance, European players need to step up and conquer America with Whistling Straits in mind in two years’ time.
Traditionally, European golfers have struggled on American courses due to the soft fairways, smooth bunkers, thin rough and flat greens.
Of the 12 players who competed on Europe’s Ryder Cup team, only eight of them have recorded wins on the PGA Tour this season, in contrast to America’s 18 victories. But, in truth, this figure is a vast improvement from the three wins against America’s 14 in 2016-17.
But, for all the signs of progression, the form has not transferred to major events where American players continue to have the edge with five victories in the past eight events.
Success breeds success and Sunday’s Ryder Cup win should be a fitting point for European players to finally step up and realise they have the skill set, the confidence and the overall class to compete with the world’s elite across the Atlantic ocean.
Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy have all tasted major victories stateside in recent years, but on the PGA Tour, they have struggled with the flatter and faster greens.
Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson are all lethal operators on home soil, but if the form of Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood in America this year is anything to go by, then Europe should have plenty of hope for future years.
World No12 Fleetwood, aged 27, is an engaging personality who dramatically turned around a faltering career at World No188 in 2016 to become Europe’s number one.
His final round 63 at the US Open in June to finish one shot behind Koepka was among his stand-out displays of the season, adding to six top-10 finishes in his 19 PGA Tour events played.
Four years younger, Spain’s Rahm emphasised his class with victory in the DP World Tour Championship last November and also recorded top-four finishes at the Masters and PGA Championship.
Then there is Hatton, who at 26, is continuing to show improvements year on year. Although beaten comfortably in the singles to Patrick Reed on Sunday, the High Wycombe man finished sixth in the US Open and 10th in the PGA Championship this season.
Two years is a long time until Whistling Straits and a lot can change, but these fearless players are all capable of generating serious interest in the game as a result of their consistent and amicable displays in – not just the Ryder Cup – but over the course of the past 12 months.
Sadly from a European Tour point of view, these players – and many others – will opt to compete in PGA Tour events going forward because of the competition and the world ranking points on offer. Rahm is already based in the US, Henrik Stenson, McIlroy and Rose have lived there for the past few years and Fleetwood said recently that he wants to play across the Atlantic Ocean a lot more.
As it stands, Stenson tops the charts in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation on the PGA Tour. The 42-year-old Swede hit 74.25 per cent of greens from his 936 holes played, while also making 74.79 per cent of fairways from his 60 rounds played.
The advantages of a home from home set-up are clear.
And while eight of America’s 12 Ryder Cup players are ranked inside the top 50 for greens in regulation, only four European players make the cut.
This is in stark contrast to the PGA Tour driving accuracy stats, where Rickie Fowler – at No54 – is the only American Ryder Cup player ranked inside the top-60, while five European players occupy various positions inside the top-60. Such was the Europeans’ advantage when dealing with the less forgiving fairways in France.
Stats are only a small portion of the overall picture, with winning and positive results of course being more important. However, the steady rise of European golfers hitting form in America is sure to add optimism.
Although the European Tour events may suffer as a result of players opting to spend more time playing in America, it will no doubt be to the organisation’s gain in future years with the hope of securing more major wins on US soil.
For now, Ryder Cup bragging rights is enough for European golf but enthusiasts of the sport cannot rest on their laurels, with attention now turning to the tough greens of Whistling Straits in the not-too-distant future.
Consistency is key from here on in but Team Europe can be more than satisfied that they are in a serious sweet spot and can rival those across the Atlantic Ocean.
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