It was a case of when and not if. By how many rather than how. The scale of United States’ dominance in the 43rd Ryder Cup was such that post-mortems as relating to Pádraig Harrington’s European captaincy were well under way long before the event had even finished.
This proved a trouncing for the ages and, at long last, a case of substance to back up US hype. This quickly developed into the Lake Michigan mismatch, where the hosts were hot in pursuit of glory by a record margin. This US team became the first in the modern era to reach 19 points, to Europe’s paltry nine.
Harrington, who placed heavy emphasis on how this battle would impact his professional legacy, will be wounded by what transpired at Whistling Straits. Captaincy is defined by results, however unfair that is. Europe, the weaker side, were simply outplayed.
At 11-5 down heading into the singles, nobody really gave Europe serious hope of retaining the trophy. They were ultimately swept away by a wave of US momentum; the bad news for Europe is this team, pieced together by Steve Stricker, has scope to be around for a considerable time. The US had lost four of the last five Ryder Cups; their response could barely have been more emphatic. And this, significantly, arrived in what has quickly developed into a post-Tiger Woods world. “This is going to be the next era of Ryder Cup team for the US side,” said Patrick Cantlay. “We have a lot of young guys and I think they are going to be on teams for a long time.” Gulp.
From Rory McIlroy, there were tears. McIlroy broke down during media duties in the immediate aftermath of beating Xander Schauffele. It seemed incredible to recall McIlroy once branded the Ryder Cup an “exhibition.” In Wisconsin, he was clearly hurt at not being able to make a greater on-course contribution to Europe’s cause. Not that McIlroy alone determined the outcome of this Ryder Cup; the US were utterly dominant.
“I’ve never cried or got emotional over what I’ve done as an individual,” said McIlroy. “I couldn’t give a shit.
“I love being a part of this team. I love my teammates so much and I should have done more for them this week. I’m glad I put a point on the board for the team today. I just can’t wait to get another shot at this. It is by far the best experience in golf and I hope there are boys and girls watching this today who aspire to play in this event or the Solheim Cup. The more and more I play in this event, I realise that it’s the best event in golf, bar none.
“No matter what happens later I am proud of every single player, I’m proud of the captain and vice-captains. It’s been a tough week.” At least he cares.
Europe’s only singles bright spot, and it seems odd to label it that, arrived in the form of McIlroy. Sent out in match number one with the view of triggering a sporting miracle, the Northern Irishman put struggles of the opening two days firmly behind him. McIlroy saw off Schauffele 3&2, but the four-times major winner’s demeanour suggested he didn’t entirely know what to make of it all. Raw emotion followed.
The remainder of the scoreboard was a sea of red. Two veterans, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, joined McIlroy in delivering just three European singles wins.
Cantlay was behind to Shane Lowry after two but responded to the point where he was three up after six. Cantlay was to close out victory pretty comfortably, by 4&2. The US now needed just three more points.
Jon Rahm, perhaps weary from carrying a golfing continent on his shoulders for two days, lost the first four holes to Scottie Scheffler. Stricker’s use of wildcards, six of them, has been a key Ryder Cup theme. Many questioned Scheffler’s receipt of a captain’s pick; the Texan had the last laugh, beating the world No1 4&3.
Bryson DeChambeau, not without his public relations incidents to seek, had been a darling of the galleries since arriving at Whistling Straits. Strong performances help. DeChambeau walked off the 1st tee with putter in hand, having driven the 373-yard par four. The cheers had barely abated with DeChambeau rolled in his 40ft putt for an eagle two. Sergio García found DeChambeau too hot to handle, with the US recording a 3&2 win. “It’s unbelievable,” said DeChambeau. “The atmosphere is electric and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s quite a scene, one to remember for a lifetime. We can all come together as one team. We came together and had unity here this week. Even though we are competitors, we can all be friends and have unity.” It wasn’t ever thus.
Collin Morikawa, the Open champion, was now in pole position to seal victory for the US. He needed just a halve from his tight match with Viktor Hovland for the other seven pairings elsewhere on the course to be rendered irrelevant. Morikawa was two down to the colourful Norwegian after two but led by the same margin by the 8th tee. Hovland rolled in a 20ft putt on the 15th, as squared the game.
With Justin Thomas cantering towards victory against Tyrrell Hatton, it became possible the former US PGA champion would steal Morikawa’s thunder.
Dustin Johnson, who was comfortable against Paul Casey, was part of the same discussion. Morikawa watched a putt for an eagle three, and to win the hole, stay agonisingly above ground at the 16th.
Morikawa chose the perfect time to produce the shot of the day. At the par three 17th, he drew a wonderful long iron to within 3ft of the cup. That Morikawa took a one up lead to the final tee was confirmation that the Ryder Cup was switching location. Hovland actually won the last, providing an anti-climactic moment, but the US had no cause to care. Johnson soon became the first American since 1979 to win five matches out of five. This was the most resounding of successes.