Ryder Cup 2018

An 'A' for Europe in chemistry test

Team Europe's hero Francesco Molinari spraying the bubbly after their thrashing of the US at Le Golf National as Rory McIlroy pours more champagne on him.
Team Europe's hero Francesco Molinari spraying the bubbly after their thrashing of the US at Le Golf National as Rory McIlroy pours more champagne on him.PHOTO: REUTERS

Continentals click as team while Americans once again show that they are not a band of brothers

PARIS • Tommy Fleetwood sat at one end of the dais on Sunday night and blew kisses across the table to Francesco Molinari, who emerged, with Fleetwood's help, as the leading man in Europe's Ryder Cup victory against the United States.

Molinari, who sealed his 5-0 record with a 4&2 victory against Phil Mickelson in the singles, was fielding a question about becoming a folk hero after following his victory in July's British Open with his star turn here.

The Italian, whose expressionless manner was made fun of in a pre-competition team video, said with his usual poker face in place that statistically, he stood "a good chance of winning some points".

Before he could continue, Fleetwood leaned into his microphone and said: "You're so arrogant. Get over yourself."

Led by Fleetwood, the European players all had a good chuckle, and not just because Molinari is about as modest as Major winners come.

The group of players that carved out a 171/2-101/2 victory at Le Golf National truly seemed to enjoy one another's company.

A connection seeded in a WhatsApp group chat several weeks ago blossomed into a camaraderie that Rory McIlroy credited with the team's success.

Because of how well they all got along, he said, the players could be mixed and matched like interchangeable parts in the foursome and four-ball matches, where they built a 10-6 lead on the first two days.

"It gave us a lot of options," the Northern Irishman said.

And then there are the Americans. There is a myriad of reasons the US team lost their sixth straight Ryder Cup on foreign soil, a streak of futility that started after the 1993 victory at the Belfry when Bryson DeChambeau, the youngest member of this year's team, was only 10 days old.

Of US captain Jim Furyk's four wildcard picks, only Tony Finau (2-1) finished with a winning record. The others - DeChambeau, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson - lost all their matches.

The narrow fairways favoured players who are straight off the tee, and six of the 12 Americans were ranked in the bottom 50 in the PGA Tour statistics for driving accuracy (where Swede Henrik Stenson finished first). In the end, though, the US lost despite parading an all-star team that included nine players who have won Majors, for the same reason as ever: The Americans are not a band of brothers.

In 2014, after another defeat on foreign soil, Mickelson disparaged Tom Watson's my-way-or-the-highway leadership, leading to a rule-by-committee approach.

But, the harder the Americans try to manufacture a connection, a cohesion, the more spectacularly they fail.

The fellowship that the American team sought to create by papering their team room with inspirational sayings like "Leave your egos at the door" did not work this time.

And, at the Americans' losing news conference, the fissure that had existed all along nearly broke wide open.

The last question in the glum post-mortem was directed at Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. They were asked about not being paired despite compiling a 4-1-2 record together in two previous Cups.

"We were totally involved in every decision that was made," Spieth said, adding, "Jim allowed it to be a player-friendly environment."

In a telephone interview less than an hour later, Reed expressed his frustration with how the pairings were handled. He said he had conveyed to Furyk his desire to be paired with Spieth, who is not a good friend but with whom he has a chemistry that is hard to pinpoint, much less replicate.

Reed fully expected to be paired with Spieth, and he felt blindsided, he said, when Furyk decided to pair Spieth with Justin Thomas, who starred with Rickie Fowler in last year's Presidents Cup.

Spieth and Thomas have known each other since childhood and are great friends, but Reed did not see why that should have been a factor in splitting up two winning pairings (Spieth/Reed and Thomas/ Fowler).

Reed described the decision-making process as "a buddy system" that ignores the input of all but a few select players.

"The issue's obviously with Jordan not wanting to play with me," Reed said. "I don't have any issue with Jordan. When it comes right down to it, I don't care if I like the person I'm paired with or if the person likes me as long as it works and it sets up the team for success.

"He and I know how to make each other better. We know how to get the job done."

Reed thought of all the inspirational sayings he had read in the team room.

"Every day, I saw 'Leave your egos at the door'," Reed said.

Referring to the Europeans, he added: "They do that better than us."

NY TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2018, with the headline 'An 'A' for Europe in chemistry test'. Print Edition | Subscribe