Today begins the long-awaited, and highly anticipated 2021 Ryder Cup. With all the pent-up energy of waiting an extra year (postponed from 2020 due to COVID), and then being trapped inside for much of the time, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict the crowds will be even more motivated and raucous than usual. Tournament organizers briefly considered holding the competition without fans last year, but that idea was quickly dismissed after negative comments made by a number of players, most notably Brooks Koepka (“The fans make the event”). And the fans have been particularly important for the American side. Europe has taken the Cup in seven of the last ten competitions, including four of the last five, and the three won by the American side have all come on home soil. Prior to each, the general consensus would always be that the American team should dominate because they had so much depth of talent, yet somehow the Europeans, with a couple of stars and a host of no-names, would walk away with a shocking victory. Well, this year’s battle will be no different with a powerhouse American team going up against Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, what’s his name, and who’s that guy. Just don’t take it to the bank—the European players have been ingrained with a hate-to-lose attitude that goes all the way back to Seve Ballesteros. And two of their biggest victories have come right here (Oakland Hills in ’04 and Medinah in ’12). Something tells me this is going to be a special weekend.
The first Ryder Cup was played in 1927 at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts, and named in honor of English businessman and golf enthusiast, Samuel Ryder. The American team, captained by Walter Hagen, pounded the Europeans led by Ted Ray with a thumping 9 1/2 to 2 1/2 victory. Until 1977, the European team consisted of only players from Great Britain and Ireland, and the American team dominated the competition, winning 21 of the 25 Ryder Cups played. Beginning in 1979 the rules were modified, allowing players from all of continental Europe to participate in the competition, and the tide began to turn. The American team, led by Jack Nicklaus, won handily in ‘79 and ‘81, but the 1983 Ryder Cup was extremely close as the Americans pulled out a tough 14 ½-13 ½ victory. In ’85 and ’87 the American teams went down to defeat, ushering in a period of intense competition and European ascension, led by the charismatic leadership of Seve Ballesteros. Since 1985, the European team has won 11 times, the American team 5 times, and there was one draw (1989). The last quarter century of Ryder Cup competition has produced some of the most memorable moments in sports history, including the “War on the Shore” (1991) and the “Miracle at Medinah” (2012) as the European team staged an incredible comeback victory following the tragic passing of Seve Ballesteros.
The 2021 American team is captained by Steve Stricker, and includes a powerful group of big names, including Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth. Long hitting Tony Finau, a resurgent Harris English, up-and-coming Scottie Scheffler and the gritty Daniel Berger round out an incredibly deep cast of talented players. The European team, captained by 3-time major champion Padraig Harrington, will be anchored by Rory McIlroy and Jon Rham, two of the greatest players in the world. Backing them up will be seasoned veterans of Ryder Cup competition Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey. They will be joined by Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowery, a pair of solid professionals who don’t back down to anybody, as well as talented youngsters Victor Hoveland and Matthew Fitzpatrick. Tyrell Hatton and Bernd Wiesberger, two of the top players on the European tour, round out a tough European team.
Whistling Straits, located in Haven WI, and host to three PGA Championships (2004, 2010 and 2015) will host the 2021 Ryder Cup. Home to two Pete Dye masterpieces (Irish/Straits) and opened in 1998, Whistling Straits is among the finest golf resorts in the World. The matches will be fought on the Straits course, which boasts a course rating of 77.2 and a slope of 152. Don’t miss a minute of what is sure to be some of the greatest golf you will ever see.
Last week concluded the BMW Championship, the final event leading up to the Tour Championship this weekend—and what a way to head into the final week of the PGA season. The back nine battle on Sunday between Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau was every bit as thrilling as “The Duel in Sun” between Jack and Tom Watson at Turnberry back in ’77, or the epic struggle between Phil and Henrik Stenson in the final round of the 2016 Open Championship. Cantlay and DeChambeau began the day tied for the lead, and it ended the same way as they each fired sizzling rounds of 66 and went to a playoff. Bryson ramped up the pressure throughout with titanic bombs off the tee, while Cantlay countered with steely discipline and tremendous nerve, making clutch putt after clutch putt. On the par 5 sixteenth, DeChambeau took a one-shot lead after making birdie, and on the par 3 seventeenth it looked like Cantlay was finished when his tee shot found the water. But he refused to quit, getting up and down from a hundred yards by canning yet another huge putt to stay within a shot after Bryson hit a poor chip and failed to convert his putt for par. On the eighteenth, Cantlay dug deep yet again, knocking in a twenty-foot birdie putt to force a playoff. It took six holes of pressure packed thrills, but Patrick finally prevailed. With the win, Cantlay sits atop the FedEx Cup standings, just ahead of Tony Finau. It would seem too much to ask for another finish like this one, but with the cast of heavyweights who will be teeing it up at East Lake, anything can happen.
The Tour Championship
Today marks the first round of the season ending Tour Championship at famed East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. The tournament was founded in 1987, and was originally played in November. However, in 2007 with the establishment of the FedEx Cup, the tournament was moved up to September. The field includes the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup points standings, and because of a format change adopted in 2019, Patrick Cantlay will start the tournament at -10, based on finishing first in the FedEx Cup point standings. Tony Finau, at second, will be starting at -8, while Bryson DeChambeau, sitting at number 3, will start at -7 and so on down to the last five players in the standings who will start at even par. Historically, the Tour Championship was structured such that a player could win the Tour Championship, but not win the FedEx Cup. The change in format now means that the winner of the Tour Championship will also take home the FedEx Cup (along with the $15 million that comes with it). With such a fantastic lead-up to the main event, it appears the PGA Tour season is headed for a final weekend of pure excitement—so don’t miss a minute.
East Lake Golf Club was founded in 1908, originally designed by Tom Bendelow, and remodeled by Donald Ross in 1913. The course was later updated by George Cobb and most recently by Reese Jones in 1994. In addition to the Tour Championship, the home course of the legendary Bobby Jones has hosted many prestigious championships over the years, including the 1950 U.S. Women’s Amateur, the 1963 Ryder Cup and the 2001 U.S. Amateur. With a USGA course rating of 76.2 and slope rating of 144, East Lake is a fitting test to crown the FedEx Cup champion each year.
We are well into July, and although the long lay-off makes it feel like the PGA season only just began, the FedEx Cup playoffs are right around the corner. A number of youngsters have burst onto the scene in a big way, and this year looks to be the most exciting run to the tour championship and $15 million dollar FedEx Cup purse ever.
Currently Webb Simpson is the leader, with 1,660 points on the strength of 6 top ten’s, including two wins in 2019-2020 wrap-around season. After reaching the pinnacle of professional golf with a win at the 2012 US Open, the putter he used to get him there was removed from his bag when the Tour announced in 2013 that “Anchored Putters” would no longer be allowed beginning with the 2016 season. Simpson had to re-build his putting stroke, and even more importantly, his confidence, but it appears that all of his hard work has him ready to add another major to his resume—and perhaps the FedEx Cup as well. Justin Thomas is hot on his heels with 1,543 points. Thomas has recorded 5 top-10’s with two wins thus far, and charged to the third-round lead at the Workday Open at Muirfield Village with consecutive 66’s (he shot 68 in the opening round). With Simpson taking this week off, Thomas can move into the FedEx Cup point lead by finishing 4th or better. At number 3 is Sungjae Im, a 22 year old from the Republic of Korea, who won the Honda and followed that up with a top-5 at Bay Hill just before the suspension of play. Im recorded a top-10 at the Charles Schwab Challenge when play resumed at Colonial in June. In 4th place is Bryson DeChambou (“The Mad Scientist”), who bombed the field with 350 plus yard drives at Detroit Golf Club to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic last week. Rory McIlroy is lurking at number 5, with a win and 6 top-10 finishes. While Rory has gotten off to a bit of a slow start since play resumed, expect him to make a charge beginning at the Memorial next week with Tiger in the field. Patrick Reed, dubbed “Captain America” for his gritty play at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, sits just behind McIlroy at number 6. Reed has a win (WGC-Mexico) and 4 top-10’s thus far in the 2019-2020 campaign.
Coming into this week, twenty-one-year-old Californian Colin Morikawa stood at 21st in the FedEx standings, and precision iron play reminiscent of Johnny Miller have him only 3 shots behind Thomas after the 3rd round at the Workday Open–a big Sunday would vault him into the top 10. Another youngster, 22-year-old Victor Hovland from Norway who played college golf at OSU, stands at 35th on the FedEx Cup standings. Hovland started the final round at the Workday only 2 shots behind Thomas, and he also would shoot up to the top ten with a win.
Tiger will be making his first start in 3 months at next week’s Memorial Tournament, and he has won Jack’s event 5 times. All eyes will be glued to the screen to see what he has in store after such a long lay-off (Tiger will also be looking to record his 83rd Tour win and break Sam Snead’s record). There have been some rumors that his back troubles may have returned, but he looked solid at the end of May in the match with Phil, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Brooks Koepka is another force to be reckoned with down the stretch run. Looking to win an unprecedented three consecutive PGA Championships, Koepka has displayed Tiger-like ability and resolve at the biggest events under maximum pressure. Jordan Spieth has started to show signs of returning to major championship form, but has been unable to put four solid rounds together so far—still, don’t be surprised if he suddenly bursts onto the scene when the FedEx playoffs get going. And coming off his win at the Travelers, Dustin Johnson appears ready to make a move and remind us of why he is number 3 in the world rankings. Keep an eye on Patrick Cantley as well, who has quietly edged closer to the top 30 with his game peaking at exactly the right time. When you add John Rahm (number 2 in the world), Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, and Jason Day to the mix, the next month and half of pure excitement will more than make up for those dreary days when there was no golf to watch.