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2014 Ryder Cup Preview

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:
sal@golfstats.com

Here we go, another Ryder Cup.

I have been to every one since 1979 at Greenbrier, and I can say this, it’s now the biggest golf event of the year.  Sorry to Augusta National or the USGA or the R&A, but there are more media attending this event than any other, since possibly the Ryder Cup in Wales four years ago.

Of course this has now become a very important event for the PGA of America and the European Tour.  The financial return from this years event will help support the European Tour until the next matches come on European soil in Paris four years from now.

It’s hard to describe the scene here at Gleneagles, which is a quaint resort out in the country.  The best way to describe it is like when Walt Disney first built Disneyland in the 50s.  He went to a place that was nothing but orange groves and 30 miles outside of Los Angeles.  Today everything around Disneyland has been built up, and the Anaheim area is a city of its own.  The same with Gleneagles, it opened in 1924 out in the countryside about 50 miles from Glasgow and Edinburgh but was attached by a railroad line.  The Caledonian Railway company built what they thought would be one of the greatest hotels in the world, which they did.  I would rank it in the top-ten of great hotels in the world.  This area of the world is very quiet and in the valley you probably never see more than a few thousand people around Gleneagles.  But for this week, there are 50,000 plus attending this event, amazing seeing so many folks so far out in the country.

To wrap this up so we can discuss the matches and players, in the 80s the hotel, and it’s two courses that were top-notch, were having a tough time.  The whole resort needed a makeover, which it got in the 80s and the 90s along with adding another course, done by Jack Nicklaus.

The course at Gleneagles was not a big hit when it opened.  You have to remember that between the Queens and Kings courses they had some of the best golf in the world.  Then all of sudden this new course that made the Scottish countryside look like America was not very well received.  This presented a problem for Gleneagles because the Nicklaus course was also part of a real estate scheme which wasn’t going very well.  So that’s when they got together with the European Tour to help legitimize the course by holding a professional tournament on it.

The dirty little secret of the European Tour’s choices of courses for the Ryder Cup is not about getting the best course in Europe.  That’s the reason the Ryder Cup is played on courses like this, it’s whoever pays the most amount of money to the European Tour for the privilege of holding the Ryder Cup.  Just look at the list, Belfry, The K Club, Celtic Manor Resort, gosh even Valderrama was bought for, it’s not that great of a course.  So that is what happened here, the folks at Gleneagles reached an agreement with the European Tour to host several yearly events and then hold the Ryder Cup.

So what about the Jack Nicklaus course, renamed the “PGA Centenary Course.” Who does the course favor?

This will be a course that allows a slug-fest.  In a way it’s just like Celtic Manor in which long drivers had a big advantage, you will see that in the coming days.

For the average player like you and I, this course is not bad. If you got off an airplane in Scotland for the first time and went off to play this course you would probably like it.  There are hundreds of courses in America just like it.  But if you then play the Kings and Queens course right after, you will see what special really is.

I Played the course in 1997 when it was first opened and again in 2000.  I was amazed to hear that it was the site of a future Ryder Cup because I didn’t think much of it then.  I am not the only one that didn’t like the course, it’s held the Johnnie Walker Championship since 1999 and the players where very critical of it.  The most critical had to be Darren Clarke, the criticism probably cost him a chance of being the captain this year.  I believe the criticism was correct.  When I talked with other writers, they reminded me that when Nicklaus did this course in the 90s it was one of about 70 courses he and is company was doing.  Many feel that even though Nicklaus said it was the “finest parcel of land in the world I have ever been given to work with,” Nicklaus didn’t do the best of jobs.

Cutting to the chase on this, does the course really matter?  You can play these matches on the worst muni in the world and it’s not about the course, it’s about the matches itself and who can play the best.  I will say this, I walked about six holes today, the first time I have seen it since 2000 and was impressed with it.  I think that in the years since it’s open, it’s gotten a 100 times better and should be ok for the matches.  Is it Muirfield or Pebble, no.  But it will be ok for these matches.

So who does the course favor?  If you look at driving distance, I calculated the stats of both teams and guess what, both are about even.  I also looked at greens hit and putting, team USA has a slight advantage.  That’s probably because more courses on the PGA Tour are comparable to Gleneagles than courses use on the European Tour.

Let’s look at the team and who has had a better year.  If you look at big tournaments like the majors, USA won the Masters with Bubba Watson while team Europe won three with Martin Kaymer winning the U.S. Open and Rory McIlroy winning the British and PGA Championship.  Of the 40 European Tour events in 2014, 12 of them have been won by European Ryder Cup players.  In the 45 events on the PGA Tour, only 11 have been won by those players on the American team.  The sad thing about this stat, ten of those winners came between the Frys.Com in October and Heritage in April.  Since mid-April, only one American member has won, Hunter Mahan last month at the Barclays.

Let’s see there record in past Ryder Cups.  Frankly team Europe has been on more winning teams that team America.  It doesn’t matter how talented American players are, they don’t seem to get the job done.  Guys like Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson have not been the best.  They have a combine 23-35-10 record.  Sorry for two guys that have made over $130 million dollars in golf, yes that fact is correct, this is a terrible record.

The point of the Ryder Cup is that it’s more about the underdog than any event in golf.  How do you account for guys like Christy O’Connor, Jr. or Sam Torrance being able to be heros while guys like Furyk and Mickelson have struggled.

The Ryder Cup is players doing well playing together as a team.  The European players are much better at this and the reason they have done so well the last 29 years.  So on paper the European team has a big advantage.

The way the points are done, it’s impossible for one team to dominate things and winning it by Saturday.  Last year came close, but a final go in the last two matches on Saturday got things close and the Europeans played great on Sunday to take it.

Now who is going to win?  On paper, based on past Ryder Cup performances and playing the best over the last three months, the European Tour has a big advantage.  You go to the betting parlors in Scotland and team Euro is a big favorite.  The matches are played on European soil, another advantage.

But all of this goes out the window because there isn’t favorites, it’s who gets that special feeling to do well, a perfect example is Ian Poulter.  His career in golf is ok, he has won several times in Europe and seems to play well in match play events.  But in the Ryder Cup his match play experience seems to make him impossible to loss.  What team USA has to do is hit hard at him, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose.  These guys tend to build on the success so if you can hit them hard they will stay down, and this will turn into a very interesting Ryder Cup.

How important is the captains, many say they aren’t that important.  I think they are important in making the right choices and motivating their guys.  At Medinah two years ago having Jose Maria Olazabal as captain help the guys who were still remembering Seve Ballesteros.  Tom Watson will be important this year, he was the last American captain to win in Europe back in 1993 and maybe he will have that Scottish touch that help him win four British Opens in Scotland.

To be honest, have to think that team Europe will win 15 to 13 but don’t be surprised to see the Americans do well.  They are big underdogs, they don’t have players that are doing well at the moment.  Still we know what can happen in golf, there were a dozen players that won on the PGA Tour in 2014 that missed the cut the week before winning a tour event.  That could happen this week, team USA could fine there sweet spot and win.

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