I have been thinking about the 2016 Ryder Cup since Jamie Donaldson put the finishing touches on his match with Keegan Bradley at Gleneagles in 2014. You remember the moment, don’t you? It was a sweet one for Donaldson and Europe but left the most bitter taste in the mouths of the Americans.
It was a dagger for a United States team that knew it would have to wait at least two more years before attempting to bring home its first Ryder Cup since 2008. It would have to endure two more years of questions and doubts about whether the U.S. has what it takes to beat Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia’s European squad. Two more years of task forces and meandering.
But now we are here on the precipice of the 2016 Ryder Cup, which has to be one of the most anticipated golf events … maybe ever. United States captain’s pick Rickie Fowler said recently he was even more thrilled to be on the team this time around than he was in 2010 or 2014.
“I would say that I’m probably more excited about this Ryder Cup than the past ones,” said Fowler on Monday. “Being a part of that task force and being with the guys in meetings and getting to see the excitement level and how much The Ryder Cup means to some other players like Tiger [Woods] and Phil [Mickelson] and Davis [Love III], when he ultimately got the pick to be the captain, it was special.
“It made me appreciate The Ryder Cup even more. Not that that was very possible; I mean, The Ryder Cup has always been the biggest thing and one of the main goals to always be a part of the team. It was a team that I didn’t want to miss out on by any means … this is a team we want to be a part of, having Davis lead us, and like I said, this is the one I’ve been most excited for.”
Fowler is not the only one. I’ve been following each morsel of Ryder Cup news like it was the piece to a hidden treasure map taking me towards untold riches. Along the way, I started dreaming up potential scenarios that could play out at Hazeltine. This is the Ryder Cup, so really anything goes. Who knew we would get an historic comeback in 2012? Who knows what the Sunday matches could end up looking like? Who knows if Tiger Woods will be on the team?!
A reminder on the format: Friday and Saturday are eight matches of alternate-shot and eight matches of fourball. Davis Love III will select which order they are played in on Friday and Saturday, but each day will include four matches of each formate.
Let’s get on with the dream scenarios.
1. Danny Willett & Henrik Stenson vs. Jimmy Walker & Dustin Johnson (Friday morning)
This would be fun for a number of reasons, but the primary one is that these are the four major winners for 2016. It’s also going to be interesting to see how Willett handles his first Ryder Cup.
“It’s different having a rookie at home than it is having a rookie away,” McIlroy told Golf Digest recently. “Danny Willett is the Masters champ but he’s still in for a rude awakening when he stands on the first tee on Friday morning at Hazeltine. It does feel different.”
Barring Patrick Reed and Darren Clarke getting into a fistfight on the first tee, this would be the perfect way to start the 2016 Ryder Cup.
2. Sergio Garcia & Rory McIlroy vs. Phil Mickelson & Zach Johnson (Saturday afternoon)
Remember when Ian Poulter lost his mind and made five straight birdies to give the Europeans a chance late on Saturday afternoon in 2012? So often these events turn on what happens at the very end of the final day of team play.
Garcia and McIlroy doing anything together is always fun and Mickelson and Zach Johnson were a perfect fit at the 2015 Presidents Cup. Mickelson would love nothing more than to get in the heads of McIlroy and Garcia to give them something to think about going into that team room on Saturday night. Johnson would do the same.
These are four incredibly difficult outs in team play, too. Lefty and Johnson are as mentally engaged as it gets for Ryder Cups, and somehow McIlroy and Garcia (normally prone to be disengaged in normal PGA Tour events) lock in harder than John Daly with only one cigarette left in his carton and five holes left in his round. Plus, who could forget the shot Mickelson took at McIlroy and Graeme McDowell leading into the 2014 Ryder Cup?
A monstrous team game like this one going into Sunday would go a long way in deciding this year’s champion.
3. Henrik Stenson & Justin Rose vs. Dustin Johnson & Jordan Spieth (Saturday afternoon)
Stenson and Rose shot a best-ball 52 (approximately) in two different matches in 2014 at Gleneagles, so it would be pretty awesome to see the two best U.S. golfers (who played together at the 2015 Presidents Cup) tee it up against what might be Europe’s best duo.
Like I said above, the eventual winning team has not lost the Saturday afternoon matches since 2002 when Europe fell 2.5 to 1.5 but rolled on Sunday in the singles. Momentum at a team event like this is major, and you could argue these are the best pairings each team can put forth. If Spieth and D.J. came back to the team room having given the U.S. a 9-7 lead going into the Sunday singles, that’s huge deal. Even more so if it’s Rose and Stenson they just beat.
4. Jordan Spieth vs. Rory McIlroy on Sunday for the trophy
Either one of these final two matches to decide the Ryder Cup would be incredible (though I prefer the final one below). Spieth and McIlroy might not be the souls of their respective teams, but they aren’t far away. Europe goes as McIlroy takes it (though Sergio is the real epicenter), and the same goes for the U.S. with Spieth (and Dustin Johnson).
There is no animosity between these two, but I followed them around Augusta in the third round of the 2016 Masters, and they aren’t exactly best friends. A Spieth-McIlroy duel at the very end of the Ryder Cup for the trophy would be about as dramatic as this sport gets.
McIlroy would undoubtedly be inside Spieth’s ball on every approach shot, but Spieth would surely make the kinds of putts Europe has made so many times at so many of these events. The kinds of putts that would get McIlroy fined by the FCC. Legacies are so often wrongly written upon single rounds or events, but it would be tough to ever forget this one no matter which way it went. I can think of no greater ending to the best team event in golf. Well, except …
5. Patrick Reed vs. Sergio Garcia on Sunday for the trophy
Can you even begin to imagine? Picture this. The Ryder Cup is tied 13.5 to 13.5 (remember the Europeans only need to win 14 points to retain the trophy). All the matches are done except for Reed and Garcia playing singles. Sergio is Europe’s soul. These are his major championships, and he has won a host of them. But as was pointed out recently by an anonymous American, he’s never had to make a putt to win the Cup.
Reed, on the other hand, is America’s unlikely hero. The thick, lonesome soul who owned college golf and has largely lived up to his own self hype on the PGA Tour. He tried to take on an entire country in 2014. Imagine what he’ll do with a throng of lubricated red, white and blue patrons at his back. The only issue with Reed in 2016 will be figuring out out his distances because the adrenaline will be pumping at a two-club (or more) difference.
So imagine gathering the captains and the vice captains and the golfers and their wives and all of us in the media and the fans and everyone associated with this event around the final two holes at Hazeltine with this match all square. Sergio needs a tie to snag Europe its fourth straight Ryder Cup. Reed needs birdies like Mickelson needs to gamble on a Tuesday.
Sergio is trying to not look at anything but the flag and his caddie. Reed is fist pumping at Big Cat, who is screaming expletives into his own fist. Fowler, Spieth and Koepka are falling all over themselves. Mickelson is negotiating odds with a cameraman. Clarke and Lee Westwood are holding one another. McIlroy is on the putting green working on his stroke (just kidding, Rory!).
It might not be as immense as Spieth-McIlroy for the whole thing, but it would certainly be more dramatic. Both Reed and Garcia have provided us with a disproportionately high ratio of dramatic moments in their careers. This one would undoubtedly never be topped.
They tie No. 17 and come home with Reed badly needing birdie at the last. They stand on the 18th tee as the Minnesota crowd serenades Reed and Co. one final time on what is sure to an epic week with chants of U-S-A! U-S-A! Garcia silently sings the European chant of “Ole, Ole, Ole” to himself. Vice captain Poulter is in his ear whispering tales of Ryder Cups gone by until everyone finally settles down. Reed tees it up and whips at it.
Garcia puts his tee in the ground and does the same. The march to glory begins. Oh, what a moment that would be.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Ryder Cup 2016 teams: Five dream scenarios for United States vs. Europe