How USA dominated Europe to win Ryder Cup

For all the flag-waving, all the jingoism, all the “U-S-A!” chants, a sense of dread always hangs over the head of the American team at the Ryder Cup. That’s what happens when you’ve lost seven of the past nine and nine of the past 12 — you’re just waiting for the inevitable blue-and-gold tide.

So when Xander Schauffele, who won a gold medal just over a month ago, missed a short putt to lose the first hole of Sunday’s singles matches to Ryder Cup icon Rory McIlroy, there was the tiniest bit of clenching going on. Yes, the U.S. came into Sunday’s singles matches with what seemed like a victory-in-hand six-point advantage … but would Europe pull off yet another miracle and stomp America’s hearts once again?

Nope. The USA defeated Europe in a thorough, across-the-board decimation that wasn’t ever close. Every single American player won at least one point during team play. The Sunday singles matches weren’t quite a formality, but close. In the end, the USA retook the cup by a record-setting margin — 19 to 9, the most points scored by any Ryder Cup team on either side since 1979. For the first time, the U.S. didn’t lose any of its five sessions. This was total domination. 

The USA won the Ryder Cup from every possible angle; here are 18 of them: 

1. DJ comes through huge

Eleven years ago. Dustin Johnson gave away at least a shot at a PGA Championship at Whistling Straits when he carelessly grounded his club in one of the hundreds of bunkers that run alongside the fairways. That offending bunker was covered this week by a hospitality tent, and Johnson did all he could to bury any lingering bad memories of that day by devastating every European who stepped in his path. He blazed through the team matches with a flawless 4-0 record, then beat Paul Casey — for the fourth time in the week — to win all five matches, the first U.S. player to go 5-0 since Larry Nelson in 1979, and only the fifth overall for either team.

2. The beer shotgun

After they finished their morning round and learned they wouldn’t be playing in the afternoon, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger delighted the crowd at the first tee by shotgunning and Gronk-spiking beers. This was the kind of moment that could have been some serious karmic material, but ended up being a precursor to the celebration. It was the perfect encapsulation of how America’s greatest perennial weakness — its total lack of team cohesion — vanished this year in the strength of unity. And beer.

3. America steps on the gas

The USA stepped out to an early lead, going 3-1 in the first four sessions on Friday morning, but that wasn’t unusual; America has a habit of starting fast and then fading. This year, though, the U.S. didn’t fade. The Americans posted two more 3-1 sessions and split the final Saturday fourball, posting an all-but-insurmountable six-point lead. No team had ever come from more than four points behind on Sunday, and Europe didn’t this year.

4. Rory McIlroy looks mortal at last

McIlroy has played on six Ryder Cup teams, and had played every single one of the five sessions … until this year. Coming into the week, McIlroy stood as the second-best player on the European team after Rahm. But he’s a long way from the curly-haired moppet that spurred victory in years past; he’s graying around the temples now, and his game hasn’t looked nearly as sharp as in his major-winning prime. McIlroy finally broke through on Sunday, beating Xander Schauffele 3&2, but by then it was far too late. 

“I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this team,” McIlroy said after his round, tears in his eyes. “It looks like it’s not going to pan out on the golf course the way we wanted. I’m extremely disappointed I didn’t contribute more. But the more I play in this event, the more I realize it’s the best event in golf, bar none.” 

5. Brooks Koepka stays in the background

Nobody on either team holds more major victories than Koepka, but he’s always been more of a lone wolf than a team player. The last guy that met that description — fella by the name of Woods — struggled in almost every Ryder Cup. After Koepka seemed to criticize the idea of team play — and after two years of needling teammate Bryson DeChambeau — it was worth wondering if he’d be more of a problem than a solution. But Koepka stayed off of anyone’s radar, played quiet golf, and did his part by not doing too much.

6. Bryson swings big, wins big

DeChambeau, on the other hand, embraced the Ryder Cup experience with both of his meaty arms. DeChambeau craves the love of the crowd, and at Ryder Cups in America, stateside fans will applaud anyone in red, white and blue. DeChambeau unleashed an astounding 417-yard drive on Friday afternoon, got petty over conceded putts on Saturday, and came through strong against Sergio Garcia on Sunday … all in all, the Bryson Dechambeau Experience meshed perfectly with the Ryder Cup in 2021. DeChambeau would go on to defeat Garcia, the winningest player in Ryder Cup history, in singles to take the USA’s 14th point before an ecstatic crowd. 

“The atmosphere is absolutely electric,” DeChambeau said, “and I wouldn’t want it any other way.” 

Plus, he and Koepka maybe, just maybe, ended their feud: 

7. Rahm … and only Rahm

The world’s best player was Europe’s strongest battler through the first two days. The problem for Europe was, he was basically their only battler. He finally stumbled on Sunday, but after carrying an entire continent for two days, it’s tough to blame him.

8. Collin Morikawa’s lethal precision

Since the last Ryder Cup, Collin Morikawa has turned pro, won two majors and qualified first in the points for Team USA. No big deal. Morikawa doesn’t have the length off the tee of many of his teammates, but he proved that’s not always necessary by settling in approach after approach within inches of the cup. His tee shot on 17 that nearly ended up a walkoff hole-in-one unofficially set up the United States’ victory by giving them the crucial half-point necessary to guarantee a win. The best iron player on either team, Morikawa’s steadiness will be a fixture on Ryder Cups for another two decades. 

“To clinch this and bring the cup back to home soil, it feels so good,” Morikawa said. “Even though we knew we had a strong team … it means nothing until you hit that first tee shot.” 

9. The wizardry of Steve Stricker

Captains always take too much of the blame and never get enough of the credit, but American captain Steve Stricker made all the right moves, from his captain’s choices to his setup of Whistling Straits. Stricker made a conscious decision to focus on big hitters rather than touch specialists like Kevin Na and Kevin Kisner, and shaped Whistling Straits to play to their strengths. The result: a team that bonded together even as it mastered the beautiful course on the shores of Lake Michigan.

“These guys all came together,” Stricker said through tears as crowds behind him cheered “U-S-A!” “This group of guys, they had a mission this week … Brooks and Bryson wanted to play together. That’s how much they came together.”

10. Europe shows its age

The European core of Lee Westwood/Ian Poulter/Sergio Garcia/Paul Casey has hung together for decades, but this was the year they started to slip. The quartet went 3-7-0 in team play, with all three of those wins belonging to Garcia — who was partnered with Rahm. Sticking with age finally came back to bite the Europeans. Westwood and Poulter would eventually win their singles matches, but by then the U.S. had already officially claimed the cup. 

11. Jordan’s unbelievable shot

No one benefited more from the Ryder Cup’s one-year delay than Spieth, who surely would have been left off the team had it gone off as scheduled in 2020. His career resurgence has cooled a touch, and he didn’t add a whole lot to the scoreboard, but he did pull off one of the greatest technical shots in golf history on Friday afternoon when he chipped up from a vertical face to within a few feet of the hole. He and Thomas ultimately lost the hole and the match, but it’s a moment that will be shown whenever Ryder Cups come back around.

12. Inside the leather

The Ryder Cup always starts out with good cheer but turns serious around Saturday afternoon. This year, the topic du Cup was conceding putts — as in, players refusing to concede short putts to their opponents, a tradition but not an expectation. Several players, like Justin Thomas and Shane Lowry, pointed at their putters after making putts their opponents didn’t give them, and DeChambeau took matters one step further by laying his putter down on the ground. It was a vintage slice of Ryder Cup pettiness, and fortunately, it evaporated pretty quickly.

KOHLER, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 26: Patrick Cantlay of team United States reacts on the 15th green during Sunday Singles Matches of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 26, 2021 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
KOHLER, WISCONSIN – SEPTEMBER 26: Patrick Cantlay of team United States reacts on the 15th green during Sunday Singles Matches of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 26, 2021 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

13. Patrick Cantlay steps up

After years as a good-but-not-great player, picking up the occasional win, Patrick Cantlay took flight in the 2020-21 season, winning a marquee tournament (the Memorial), running the table in the FedEx Cup playoffs, and finally, charging to inspirational victories in the Ryder Cup. Never the most emotional of guys, Cantlay rode the wave of home-field emotion on Sunday, even giving the crowd a “let me hear you!” hand to the ear as he was in the process of beating Shane Lowry 4&2. It’s been a good year for everyone on the U.S. team; it’s been a great year for Cantlay.

“I woke up this morning trying to tell the guys, ‘Let’s try to get to 20 points,'” Cantlay said. “This is the next era of Ryder Cup. I wanted to send a message.” 

14. Tony Finau’s putter

Finau, one of the few bright spots on the U.S. team in 2018, came roaring out of the gate in his first match, Friday afternoon fourballs with Harris English. Finau simply could not miss, carding six birdies as the Americans routed McIlroy and Lowry, 4&3, helping stave off the usual American afternoon swoon.

15. Scottie Scheffler hunts the most dangerous game

Generally regarded as the last man added to the roster, Scheffler was a bit of a question mark — he hasn’t even won a PGA Tour event. But in Sunday singles matches, he punched Rahm right in the face — not literally, of course — by winning the first four holes and never letting Rahm get close again. He set the stage for the U.S.’s victory with an unexpected triumph of his own, defeating Rahm 4&3 to claim the Americans’ first points for Sunday. 

“This week was a lot of fun,” Scheffler said. “I’m just super happy that there’s a lot of red on that board. It just feels really good.”  

16. Patrick Reed’s absence

Reed is one of the finest players in the world, and in 2016 he was the spark plug that kicked the United States to its most recent win. But he’s also turned the flamethrower on his own team. Reed didn’t automatically qualify for Team USA, and the fact that he’d been playing poorly, as well as his recent hospitalization, gave Steve Stricker the rationale he needed for tapping another player. Reed wasn’t happy, liking numerous tweets that criticized Stricker’s decision, but this may well have been a case of addition by subtraction.

17. Texts from Tiger

The majority of America’s players grew up worshipping Tiger Woods, and they’re still a bit starstruck in his presence even now. Woods, still recovering from injuries suffered in a car wreck earlier this year, wasn’t at the Ryder Cup this year, but he texted motivational messages to the players. When “Tiger Woods” shows up on your phone, you pay attention.

18 Almost nobody ever reached 18

Getting a lead is one thing; holding it is another. The U.S. jumped out to early leads across the board, but in a departure from past Ryder Cups, managed to hold onto them this year. Only four of the team sessions even reached the 18th hole. (Those ended split down the middle: one win for each team, two ties.) The U.S. took care of business early and cleaned up on the back nine.

The next Ryder Cup tees off at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome. For the first time in a generation, the United States at last seems to possess both the talent and the engagement to pose a challenge on European soil. The balance in these tournaments may well have just shifted.

KOHLER, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 26: Collin Morikawa of team United States celebrates on the 18th green with Bryson DeChambeau of team United States and Scottie Scheffler of team United States after winning the half point needed to win during Sunday Singles Matches of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 26, 2021 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
KOHLER, WISCONSIN – SEPTEMBER 26: Collin Morikawa of team United States celebrates on the 18th green with Bryson DeChambeau of team United States and Scottie Scheffler of team United States after winning the half point needed to win during Sunday Singles Matches of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 26, 2021 in Kohler, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

_____

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.[email protected]