by Ronan MacNamara
Padraig Harrington by Golffile
“You can’t win anything with kids” was the famous line blurted out by Alan Hansen on Match of the Day in 1995.
The former Liverpool legend was critical of Sir Alex Ferguson’s young Manchester United side after they were downed 3-1 by Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1995/96 season.
The Red Devils went on to win the Premiership and FA Cup that season and Hansen’s comment went down in football folklore.
Steve Stricker’s USA side is arguably the strongest Ryder Cup side ever assembled with all twelve players inside the top-21 in the Official World Golf Rankings but it is also widely inexperienced with just 12 Ryder Cup appearances throughout the team.
To put that into context Lee Westwood has ten.
The average age of the US team is 28 years of age. In football terms if a Premier League side had an average age of 28 the fanbase would possibly think it was time for the owners to whip out the chequebook and bring in some young talent.
However, 28 is very young for golf as it is widely accepted that a golfer reaches their prime in their mid-30s.
Pádraig Harrington has gone for experience in his side and in many ways has got the band back together with the inclusion of four players in their 40s, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia.
Overall, the average age of the European side is 34 years old with a combined 38 starts, it is hard to get more experienced than that and with not a lot of scar tissue other than Valhalla 2008 and Hazeltine 2016, the ‘old guard’ have played their part in seven of the last nine Ryder Cup triumphs.
Stricker’s young side – whether he tactically made the decision to go down this route or not – will be unscarred by previous failures and post contest fall outs with the absence of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk being replaced by an abundance of optimism and fearlessness.
Can you win a Ryder Cup with kids? Having half your team as rookies is a huge ask given Europe’s experience, but Paul Azinger had six rookies on his victorious side in 2008 so perhaps you can.
Despite the youthful look about the home side, Stricker still has locker room tensions to sort out which is in stark contrast to the love-in the Europeans enjoy every year of the contest.
Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka don’t like each other, Patrick Cantlay and Dustin Johnson aren’t everybody’s cup of tea either, but the absence of Patrick Reed at least frees up Stricker to look after one extra prima donna in his side.
Usually when a young team goes up against a side vastly more experienced than them, they are branded as the underdogs where they can ‘have a go.’
Ryder Cups don’t work like that, the US always seem to be the favourites home or away and the 43rd edition at Whistling Straits is no different.
The average world ranking of Stricker’s youngsters is ninth as they boast eight of the world’s top-10, compared to an average of 30th for Harrington’s travelling side who have just one player in the world’s top-10 but no better player to have than world number one, Jon Rahm.
The world rankings stat is slightly skewed in my opinion, the situation was similar at the Solheim Cup but the seemingly outranked Europeans had been hampered by a financially struggling LET so perhaps they couldn’t earn as many ranking points in their starts on the LPGA Tour as they might have liked.
The same can be said for the men’s side with only Bernd Wiesberger plying his trade on the European Tour on a regular basis while Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood have trapsed around the States in solid form but struggling to make an ascent in the world rankings due to the calibre and depth of fields on the PGA Tour.
This vastly experienced European side is underrated in that respect I mean are Scottie Scheffler, Harris English and Daniel Berger better than the likes of Victor Hovland, Shane Lowry or Paul Casey? Not for me, Lowry has been the most consistent performer on the PGA Tour all season, with big finishes in big events but since missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March his ranking has remained at 40th.
Man United were able to win it all with kids, while Mayo once more were a shambles in an All-Ireland final with the same approach, will the USA win just their third Ryder Cup in ten attempts with kids?
I’m backing Harrington’s experienced Europeans.