by Ronan MacNamara
Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker by Golffile
Golf course set up is a huge part of the Ryder Cup, the home captain has the final say on how the course will play throughout the week and it can have a huge bearing on the final result.
It’s one thing to set the course up to play to your team’s strengths but it’s another thing to set a course up to expose the weaknesses of the opposition.
The 2018 matches in Paris done the US team like a kipper as Del boy would say, as the big hitting Americans were suckered into the seemingly wide fairways only for them to be pinched in the key areas to catch out the likes of DeChambeau, Woods and Thomas who would run out of fairway at the narrowest point of the bottleneck, coupled with unusually thick and juicy rough.
In 2016 when the US won only their second of eight Ryder Cups, Davis Love III had Hazeltine set up to a tee which favoured the big hitting Americans with wide fairways and short rough so the wayward drives were not penalised.
However, Whistling Straits does not offer that luxury and can be seen as a leveller from a European point of view.
The famously quirky Pete Dye links layout doesn’t provide the hosts with the flexibility to tailor the course to their strengths.
The traditional American birdie fest set up won’t be there this week, instead with the wind likely to get up and the elements likely to have a huge part to play, Stricker showed his hand with his captains picks.
The selection of perennial grinders like Daniel Berger, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler and Xander Schauffele, who all have proven links records shows that Whistling Straits is far from a bomber’s paradise.
The rugged terrain of Whistling Straits will undoubtedly suit the European team and I feel the performance of some of the European contingent at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island can be seen as a reliable form guide for this week.
The aforementioned Finau and Scheffler were inside the top-10 and have been selected as wildcards while Koepka came in a share of second with Open Champion Collin Morikawa in a share of 8th.
Shane Lowry and Paul Casey tied for 4th place and Matt Fitzpatrick came in a respectable 23rd and he in particular should feel right at home in Wisconsin with his low ball flight.
Add to that the fact World Number one Jon Rahm was perched inside the top-10 too shows that there is no glaring advantage for the Americans this week.
Personally, I don’t see how this course can suit the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Harris English, who have retched links records while the likes of McIlroy (who has an Open title and came close here at the 2010 PGA Championship), Poulter, Westwood, Hatton, Fitzpatrick, Fleetwood, Lowry and Garcia all have links pedigree in their arsenal.
If the wind gets up, taking the driver away from Bryson really brings him back to the pack while the Europeans will relish the prospect of the wind blowing over the three days.
The less birdies on offer, the better for the Europeans.
If you could pick a course for the Europeans on US soil it would be Whistling Straits or Kiawah Island and the irony that Pádraig Harrington has loved links golf and tough weather could play right into his wheelhouse this week.
The course will still be set up for excitement with the fast and furious fairways, but the rough will be seen as a leveller as the natural terrain of the Wisconsin course prevents wholesale changes from taking place.
Steve Stricker will make the fairways as wide as possible to aid his star drivers but birdies won’t be as plentiful which will suit the Europeans who relished the ‘pars are good scores’ nature in 2018.
I have heard that the rough will be chopped down this week but with the potential for inclement weather that almost becomes irrelevant and a premium on accuracy off the tee rather than length could favour the visitors.
While the US are hot favourites given their world ranking with all twelve inside the top-21 all the pressure is on them.
I think the rankings are extremely flawed. Shane Lowry has been in great form since March and hasn’t seen his ranking improve from 40th to date, the European players haven’t had the opportunity to play for the same points as the Americans due to the Covid implications on the European Tour so that coupled with the fact this is a fairly European course in terms of its features bodes for a much tighter contest than many are expecting.
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