Why Europe lost?

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2021 Ryder Cup Matches
Posted on
September 27, 2021
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


Haven, WI. Going into the 43rd edition of this year's Ryder Cup matches, European team captain Padraig Harrington knew things were not going to be easy in retaining possession of the Cup after a resounding triumph in Paris in 2018. 

The home-based America squad consisted of the highest ranked cast of players ever fielded by the red, white and blue and the USA based team was more determined than ever to resurrect itself on the windblown Straits course along Lake Michigan in Wisconsin.

Matters were not helped by the ongoing pandemic limiting the number of European fans who normally would have been onsite pulling for their beloved golfers to do what 9 of the last 12 teams and 7 the last 9 have done -- defeat the USA.



But it was not the lack of rooting partisans that caused team Europe to flounder. It was being outplayed -- pure and simple.

The 19-9 score was the most lopsided since the expansion to the Euro team in 1979 and the questions needing answers will need a clear eye and relentless pursuit to reexamine past practices before the two squads hook up again in Rome in '23.

Make no mistake -- the shellacking was utterly thorough -- from the opening session right through the 12 singles matches on Sunday. 

Yes, the team put on a brave face afterwards in talking with the assembled global media about their bonding and dedicated effort but the results on the golf course were nothing short of abysmal.

To be fair, one must credit American captain Steve Stricker for jettisoning the past USA process in opting for aging veterans and going with a younger talent base that has clearly blossomed since the Paris matches. 

Those on team Europe had best get used to seeing the names of Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler. All were rookies on the USA team but hardly showed rookie talent when called upon.

The era of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as active players in Ryder Cup competition is now forever over. And frankly, given the inexplicably appalling records both had in the matches that loss may not be a loss at all. 

The new generation has shown world class form heading into this year's matches and will only be stronger as other younger promising players take the stage in two years' time. 


Given that reality what caused the Euro defeat?

1). The Euro selection process was simply chaotic right up till the final qualifying event with the BMW PGA at Wentworth. The players who were in the midst were in a constant state of unknown about what might happen and the resulting scrum only added to the pressure Harrington was placed under deciding his three captain's picks.

2). The Euro squad needs to go the route of what the Americans did. Give the Euro captain six picks and have the rest of the squad come off the world rankings. The key is getting the best players who are on form to be at the matches. Nothing else matters.

3). Rory McIlroy was missing in action in Wisconsin. For the first time in his Ryder Cup career, he was benched for a session snapping 26 consecutive ones played. The Northern Irishman did claim a singles point against Xander Schauffele -- giving him his first in that portion since 2014. Otherwise, his play was hardly noteworthy.

McIlroy was very emotional in his post-match interview but the reality is that the 32-year-old former world number one player has not been playing anywhere near his top form for a good period of time. Rory is still in the middle of his career but one has to go back to 2014 to find his last major championship won. McIlroy needs to demonstrate he can once again command the platform and be a stalwart for the European team in Rome. His presence is needed.

4). One can only wonder why Harrington opted to leave off such players as veteran Justin Rose who was in good form and rising star Scotsman Robert McIntyre as just two examples. Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter have been major past contributors but it's likely both have played their final matches at Whistling Straits. The USA roadmap of going younger was long overdue -- the Euro team can rightly celebrate past successes but the past needs to be kept in the past.

5). How prepared was the Euro squad for Whistling Straits? An earlier preparation may have been the better way to go. The American squad went to the site earlier and was thoroughly zoned in for what was ahead. It's likely that won't be the case when the matches go to Rome.


The Ryder Cup matches are a clear signal on where the golf climate exists now. The USA squad showed where the future is heading. The train has left the station and failure for the Euros to get on board will mean repeat defeats -- the painful kind that leave lasting baggage. Just ask the Americans who played during the zenith time of Euro golf during these get togethers.

The '23 matches provides a bit of time for meaningful corrections to be implemented. Staring reality in the face is not an easy situation. But denial is even more painful and will only mean a failure to learn and respond accordingly.

In any athletic endeavor no matter the desire to shake matters up the inevitable falls upon the shoulders of players to perform when called upon. The juggernaut that was the American side may have won no matter what previous steps were carried out. However, rest assured the USA side will be just as determined to finally snap a streak of futility in not winning on foreign soil since 1993.


For team Europe to keep that streak intact the lessons from Wisconsin need to be absorbed and stripped away from excuses or platitudes about the effort each golfer provided.

The bottom line is the bottom line. 

Just look at the score - 19 to 9.

Defeat need not seed permanent doubt. But only clear introspection will provide the kind of blueprint that's needed. 

The time is now.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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