It was never to be. Team Europe was superb, and in the end, it defeated Team USA by a score of 16.5 to 11.5, the largest margin of victory since 2006, when the Europeans massacred a clearly inferior American team by eight points. The top-ranked Americans failed to keep up with the stars of Europe, while Watson made blunder after blunder in constructing pairings and deciding who to play and who to bench. Simply put, everything fell Europe’s way.
The Americans started off well. In the first session on Friday morning, the famed pairing of Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson found success with a comeback win, and youngsters Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed were magnificent, blowing out the doomed team of Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher. Additionally, the pairing of Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker turned in a gutsy performance to halve their match and earn a half point. It all added up to a nice little advantage for Team USA heading into the afternoon session.
It was between the two sessions when Watson made the first of his many mistakes. Despite the fact that Reed and Spieth had the largest margin of victory out of all the morning pairings, they were benched in the afternoon. The captain never gave a clear explanation. Instead, he sent Mickelson and Bradley back out, even though the former was, at the age of 44 years old, clearly gassed from playing 18 holes on a long, hilly course. Predictably, they lost their match to Victor Dubuisson and Graeme McDowell. In fact, the Americans were almost completely blanked on Friday afternoon; their only score came from another halved match by Fowler and Walker, giving them half a point. By the end of the day, Team USA’s one-point lead had turned into a two-point deficit.
Things appeared to be looking up on Saturday morning, when the Americans edged the Europeans thanks to great showings by Reed and Spieth and a new pairing of Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan. Those hopes, however, were quickly dashed thanks to more afternoon dominance from the European side, which came close to shutting out the Americans. Once again, Team USA only managed one half of a point, this time thanks to Reed and Spieth, who had quickly proven themselves to be Ryder Cup stars. Meanwhile, Walker and Fowler, who were playing in their fourth consecutive match, got crushed, while the other two pairings were simply outplayed. At four points back, Team USA needed a Sunday miracle.
They failed to find one. While the European stars kept their heads above water on one of the most pressure-packed days in golf, the American stars looked bad; Spieth, Fowler, Furyk and
Bubba Watson all lost their singles matches. Europe’s big lead carried over, and for the third consecutive time, they won the Ryder Cup.
What went wrong for Team USA? The obvious answer is that they lacked proper leadership. Tom Watson was aloof and failed to connect with his players. He was authoritative, but he jaded his team by failing to listen to them. Yes, the Americans failed to win the previous two editions of the Ryder Cup, but that was not due to bad captaining—it was due to bad luck. They only lost by one point in those years. This year, Team Europe dominated Team USA. There were many things that went wrong for Team USA; Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler both went winless, while none of the captain’s three picks did much to help. However, athletes cannot be perfect. They are human and are unable to craft a perfect golf shot every time they address the ball. Ryder Cup captains, on the other hand, can be perfect. Tom Watson was not.