Ahead of the 1989 Ryder Cup at The Belfry, a brash Mark Calcavecchia boasted the U.S. team had come to England to “kick some butt,” to which Seve Ballesteros responded, “No, they cannot kick anything.”
This proved prophetic as the underdog Euros withstood a furious Sunday comeback attempt from the Americans and retained the cup thanks to a 14-14 draw.
How much Calc’s words played a role in motivating the Europeans is impossible to know, but one thing is certain, they heard them and responded.
Which brings us to 2023 and Wyndham Clark. The reigning U.S. Open champion is making his first Ryder Cup appearance and has taken it upon himself to be the brash voice this time around.
Earlier this week, Clark boasted he believes he’s better than Rory McIlroy and today he said Team Europe could be “mentally fatigued” as the week goes on because they’ve been playing so much golf recently.
These are bold words in the leadup to an emotional rollercoaster Clark’s never been on before and they put a big target on his back and his teammates. Now he needs to back them up in enemy territory.
It’s been 30 years since the U.S. has won a Ryder Cup in Europe and it’s been over a decade since the U.S. was even competitive. Pontification abounds as to why this is the case, especially because the U.S. team, on paper, has been stronger than Europe heading into several of these matches. But, to me, the two biggest factors in Europe’s home-field advantage are overconfidence on the U.S. side and stronger team camaraderie on the Europe side.
The U.S. seemed to recognize the ladder after their 17 1/2-10 1/2 thrashing at Le Golf National in 2018 and has worked hard to build a team-first culture since. That culminated in an equally humbling beatdown of Europe in 2021 when the U.S. team won 19-9.
Longtime friends Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth got most of the attention for their great play and passion for the event that week. But it was Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele’s humble domination of their opponents that really stood out to me. The quiet duo combined for 6.5 points that week, setting the tone with an utterly embarrassing 5 & 3 beatdown of McIlroy and Poulter in the first match that set the tone for the week.
That’s the kind of performance that will allow Team U.S. to claim the cup on enemy territory. That’s the kind of mentality needed to succeed in this event.
There’s nothing wrong with being confident. There’s nothing wrong with questioning your opponent’s strategy behind closed doors. But when you say it aloud for the whole world, including your opponent, to hear, as Clark has done several times this week, the pressure gets taken off them and put on you.
Clark proved he was up to that task down the stretch of the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club in July, hitting every pressure shot he needed (outside his drive on 18) over the final nine holes to win his first major. But that was in America with a group of (mostly) friendly fans. It won’t be so easy in Rome.
Clark will likely only play 2-3 matches this week as U.S. captain Zach Johnson relies on his veterans in foursomes and four ball. But when Clark gets on that tee and as he walks down the fairways and around the greens at Marco Simone Golf Course, he can expect to hear constant jeers from the Euro fans who heard what he said.
The U.S. team has come to kick butt in Europe once again, and Clark isn’t afraid to say it. But whether he and they can kick anything in 2023 remains to be seen.