It’s time for a neutral party to set up the Ryder Cup course

MEDINAH, IL - SEPTEMBER 30: Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter of Europe celebrate after helping their team defeat the United States for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 30, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
MEDINAH, IL - SEPTEMBER 30: Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter of Europe celebrate after helping their team defeat the United States for The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 30, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The United States Ryder Cup team cannot win on the road. It’s been 28 years since they went to Europe and returned with the Ryder Cup. My Cousin Vinny was in theaters, Picket Fences won the Emmy for best TV drama, and “Dreamlover” by Mariah Carey, and “Whoop! (There it is)” by Tag Team sat atop the Billboard Top 100.

Jordan Spieth was two months old.

It was a long time ago.

1991 and 1993 are also the last back-to-back Ryder Cups the United States team has won.

It was a long time ago.

The Europeans have proven more adept at winning the Ryder Cup on road soil in the last 28 years. Since 1995 they have won three of the last six Ryder Cups in America: 1995 (Oak Hills), 2004 (Oakland Hills), and 2012 (Medinah).

The trend, however, over the last three Ryder Cups seems to be heavily weighted in favor of the home team. This trend could be because the home team controls the course set up. The 2018 Ryder Cup at Le Golf National (17.5-10.5) and the 2016 (17-11) Ryder Cup at Hazeltine were both blowouts, and the 2014 debacle at Gleneagles was a European triumph 16.5 – 11.5.

Only the 2010 and 2012 Ryder Cups were decided by one point this century. Both were European victories. In contrast, six events have been decided by five points or more, including two 9 point victories by Europe in 2004 and 2006.

If home team domination continues, the 2021 Ryder Cup could be a historical pivot point for the event. Golf is one of the few sports with variables within its playing field that are man-made: length of rough, width of fairways, and tee markers can all be changed to make the course fit certain players.

Imagine baseball teams moving their fences or NBA teams altering the three-point line or size of the key for each game? It would be ridiculous.

However, we’ll spend time leading up to the Ryder Cup discussing how Steve Stricker and Team USA will set up the golf course. This isn’t a novel idea, but it’s gotten perfected over the decades.

From a piece on titled “The Secret behind the 1957 Ryder Cup Victory,” the 1955 European captain, Dai Rees, gave the following rules to the greenskeeper at Lindrick Golf Club in the lead up to the event.

He wanted the fairways narrow with two types of rough – one deep and the other even deeper (and not mowed).

Rees also wanted to make greenside shots hard for the Americans, so he asked for “jag grass” at the backs of the greens. “Jag grass” was well known to the British and Irish players, as it was about 2 inches long and made it challenging to get chips close. The American’s couldn’t adjust quickly enough to the “jag grass.”

Finally, Rees wanted no water on the greens for the three days leading up to the event. The Americans didn’t stand a chance between the narrow fairways, deep rough, firm greens, and “jag grass” behind each green.

The 1957 Ryder Cup was the only victory for Great Britain and Ireland between 1933 and 1985. It would be an understatement to call The Ryder Cup lopsided, but the strategy in 1957 has found its way into the DNA of the event. Rees had to do something drastic for his less talented team to win, and it paid off.

The Meltdown at Medinah informed the 2016 set-up at Hazeltine. With the USA leading 10-6 heading into singles at Medinah, it seemed like it would be a coronation of sorts for the Americans.

Instead, the board turned blue, and the Euros dominated Sunday and retained the Ryder Cup. As matches at Medinah came down the stretch, the pins got more tucked into corners.

The thinking was that the Americans’ lead was so big that putting the pins in corners would make it impossible for the Euros to make any headway, but when the matches turned, suddenly it was the Euros that could play away from sucker pins down the stretch.

At Hazeltine, the Americans learned their lesson and put pins in the middle of greens on Sunday, making it impossible for the Euros to put a dent in the Americans’ lead.

"“I thought it was very much a pro-am feel in terms of the pin placements. They were all middle of the green. I don’t quite understand that, to be honest with you,” Justin Rose famously said after his Sunday match. “We want to showcase our skills. We want to be tested.”"

To get the Ryder Cup back on its regular schedule of even-numbered years, three Ryder Cups are coming up in the next four years (2021, 2023, 2024); Given the sites in Rome (Marco Simone Golf and Country Club) and New York (Bethpage Black), it seems like we could be heading for a streak of home team victories and fewer tightly contested match-ups.

Obviously, the game plays on the course, but it seems like each governing body has found a way to tilt the course in their favor. The Euros figured out how to do it first, as they’ve clearly defended home soil for the last 28 years.

If this showdown at Whistling Straits proves that the Americans have their own home course protection, then there needs to be an honest discussion around who is in charge of course set-up.

The Ryder Cup has been open to changes over the years for the sake of making it more entertaining. They shortened matches from 36 to 18 holes, expanded the team’s roster, and, of course, added continental Europe in 1979.

Next. 2021 Ryder Cup: Power ranking the top 10 players at Whistling Straits. dark

It’s good that the powers-that-be are willing to rethink the Ryder Cup. They just might have to look in the mirror very soon and decide to allow for a neutral party to set up the course if we have a couple more home team blowouts.