It shouldn’t have been that easy… should it? From the moment the first shot left the tee box last Friday morning at Whistling Straits, the 2020 USA Ryder Cup Team was clearly on a mission. Captain Steve Stricker carefully crafted a team built to win (in his own backyard). There wasn’t a weak link on the team and, as the final score showed, they all came to dominate. Now that we’re a few days removed, let’s take a look at just how this was accomplished.

Ryder Cup Team Selection

Team USA

The USA Ryder Cup Team is typically comprised of eight players who automatically qualified based on PGA Tour season results inclusive of the prior season and the current season up to the BMW Championship, along with four designated captain’s picks. When Steve Stricker was named captain in February 2019, this was the expectation. However, as a result of COVID-19 changing basically everything in the world, the number of automatic qualifiers was reduced to six, thus giving Captain Stricker six picks to make of his own choosing. This left difficult decisions like which player(s) get left at home rather than making the team – like Patrick Reed, for example. The following were the members of the 2020 USA Ryder Cup Team.

  • Collin Morikawa – Automatic Qualifier
  • Dustin Johnson – Automatic Qualifier
  • Bryson DeChambeau – Automatic Qualifier
  • Brooks Koepka – Automatic Qualifier
  • Justin Thomas – Automatic Qualifier
  • Patrick Cantlay – Automatic Qualifier and Ryder Cup Rookie
  • Daniel Berger – Captain’s Pick and Ryder Cup Rookie
  • Harris English – Captain’s Pick and Ryder Cup Rookie
  • Tony Finau – Captain’s Pick
  • Xander Schauffele – Captain’s Pick and Ryder Cup Rookie
  • Scottie Scheffler – Captain’s Pick and Ryder Cup Rookie
  • Jordan Spieth – Captain’s Pick

Team Europe

On the European side, Padraig Harrington was named captain in January 2019. Compared to the USA squad, the European automatic qualifiers are handled a bit differently, with qualifying still taking place all the way up until the week before the competition. Ultimately, there are nine automatic qualifiers and three captain’s picks. Similarly to the United States, this left some big decisions for Captain Harrington, since Team Europe has a larger breadth of locations and players to choose from. The following were the members of the 2020 Europe Ryder Cup Team.

  • Paul Casey – Automatic Qualifier
  • Matt Fitzpatrick – Automatic Qualifier
  • Tyrrell Hatton – Automatic Qualifier
  • Tommy Fleetwood – Automatic Qualifier
  • Rory McIlroy – Automatic Qualifier
  • Viktor Hovland – Automatic Qualifier and Ryder Cup Rookie
  • Jon Rahm – Automatic Qualifier
  • Lee Westwood – Automatic Qualifier
  • Bernd Wiesberger – Automatic Qualifier and Ryder Cup Rookie
  • Sergio Garcia – Captain’s Pick
  • Shane Lowry – Captain’s Pick and Ryder Cup Rookie
  • Ian Poulter – Captain’s Pick

Playing Format

The Ryder Cup is a three-day event played entirely in match play form. Friday has a morning and afternoon session, played as alternate shot foursomes and fourball (also called better ball), respectively. Saturday is the exact same, alternate shot in the morning and fourball in the afternoon. Each session has four teams from each side, so not everyone is playing in any given session. Sunday, though, all 12 members of each team go out and play solo match play. Each of the Friday and Saturday sessions has four points up for grabs, while Sunday has a whopping 12 available. In total, there are 28 points to be awarded. The defending champion team only has to earn 14 points to retain the Ryder Cup, whereas the challenging team must capture 14.5 for victory.

Captain’s Strategies

The beauty of the competition is that each team’s captain only knows the slots to pair and place his own players. Matchups are not announced until the day before the competition. This takes some serious strategizing by the captains and vice-captains to determine how best to send out your players, let alone who to send out. Between personalities to manage (Bryson and Brooks, anyone?), strengths and weaknesses (best/worst ball-strikers, putters, scramblers, etc.), egos, there’s a lot to consider.

Scoring Results

As the introduction says, Team USA basically ran away with this thing from the beginning. Looking at the tallies after each session, it was as close to a blowout as was conceivably possible. The day-by-day results started stacking the odds against Team Europe to the point where come Sunday, they needed to win 75 percent of the available points (nine of 12) just to retain the Cup. Ultimately, the 2020 USA Ryder Cup Team prevailed 19-9, setting a scoring record.

How the United States Won

Youth Movement vs. Old Guard

As evidenced by the combined eight Ryder Cup Rookies amongst both teams, there was an obvious youth movement among both teams, but nowhere was it more evident than on Team USA. There were four players over 30 with Dustin Johnson being the oldest at 37. The youngest player for Team USA was Collin Morikawa at 24 and their average age was 29. Compare this to Team Europe who had four players over 40 with Lee Westwood being the oldest at 48. Viktor Hovland was their youngest team member, also at 24. Their average age, however, was almost 35 years old. That’s six years older than the United States. Safe to say the United States mixed a little of the new stars of the sport with the savvy veterans while Europe wound up with more of the latter.

Official World Rankings

Earlier, we touched on the fact that the United States automatic qualifier system is a bit different from Europe’s. Implicit in this is that Europe is drawing from several different ranking systems to determine theirs. This led to a very top-heavy United States team, with the players all ranking in the top 25. More specifically, they ranged from number two, Dustin Johnson, to number 21, Scottie Scheffler. Team Europe, on the other hand, was very light on work rankings. They had the top player in Jon Rahm, but the next highest was Viktor Hovland at number 14. Everyone else fell between number 15, Rory McIlroy, all the way to number 63 in Bernd Wiesberger.

Team Chemistry

Both captains did a good job of putting together some electric pairings to generate chemistry and, sometimes, results. Team Europe had a couple of good groups when Captain Harrington paired fellow Spaniards Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia together multiple times, and then found some success with the pairing of Tyrrell Hatton and Shane Lowry as well. Captain Stricker hit it out of the park, though, with Team USA. From the calm, cool, and collected pairing of Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa, to the electric Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger chugging… I mean combination, and even the grouping of the unconventional Bryson DeChambeau with the apparently unflappable Scottie Scheffler. It was obvious that the captains knew what they were doing and, in the end, it definitely helped put the United States over the top.

Home Field Advantage

The United States had previously won only three of the last 10 Ryder Cups, with two separate three Cup losing streaks (2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010, 2012, 2014). The gold world was looking to Europe as the model of how to craft a winning team. The deck was supposed to be stacked against the 2020 USA Ryder Cup Team. They were wrong. With the competition back stateside with the benefit of a full gallery (unlike had the competition actually been played in the midst of the early days of the COVID pandemic in the fall of 2020) and difficult international travel restrictions severely limiting international fanbases, the time was right for United States domination. And dominate they did. And then they deservedly celebrated.

Final Thoughts

All in all, this was arguably one of the best Ryder Cup competitions in recent memory. These are the types of events that make golf a fun sport to watch. A typically individual sport is now a team competition with pride – not money (aside from that which is donated to charities in captains’, vice-captains’, and players’ names) – on the line. Even though he was on the losing side, Rory emotionally summed this up so well on Sunday following his match in which he defeated Xander Schauffele.

Speaking of summing things up, Captain Stricker made a very poignant emotional statement with his interview in the immediate aftermath of clinching the Ryder Cup, albeit with play still ongoing. This isn’t just about the golf, it’s about the team and the players and growing together. Listen in particular to his comments about rivals Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka.

Although Tiger Woods was unable to be there in person, he followed with a keen eye from afar. Numerous Team USA members had visited him prior to the competition, and he kept in touch with Stricker throughout. It was his message prior to the Sunday singles that was the most direct, though. “Step on their necks.” And step on their necks, Team USA did.

Oh, and speaking of Bryson and Brooks… I guess the Ryder Cup really brings out the best in people.

Bring on the 2023 Ryder Cup. Rome can’t get here soon enough.

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About Author

Christopher Brown

I'm a proud husband, father of four, and resident of Houston, Texas who has always lived and breathed sports, both as a participant and as a fan. I've done it all: baseball, basketball, soccer, football, and wrestling competitively (aka badly), and golf for fun. I love all professional Houston sports teams (especially the Astros) and I'm a die-hard fan and alum of the Texas Longhorns.

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