BOB WEST ON GOLF — Golf spotlight shines on USA’s Ryder Cup challenge

Published 12:07 am Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Every red-blooded American golfer who loves to chant or hear “USA, USA” figures to be planted in front of the television or roaming the grounds of Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits this weekend for the most compelling viewing a usually genteel sport offers.

It’s the much-anticipated 43rd playing of the Ryder Cup — the every-other-year battle between America and Europe. That, of course, means gnashing one’s teeth over the site of Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia celebrating, dreading chants of “Ole, Ole”, fretting over why the PGA Tour’s best don’t make more clutch putts and hoping the good guys can turn around a disturbing trend.

An event that used to have less drama than Alabama football games has taken a puzzling twist toward European domination. The Euros have celebrated six of the last nine times the Ryder Cup was played. Dating back to 1979, when players from continental Europe were added to Great Britain to help level the playing field, the U.S. is 8-11-1.

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For whatever reason, American pros just can’t seem to figure out match play, can’t adapt to team golf. Stars, including Tiger Woods, who win majors have been unable to rise to the occasion when confronted with a different set of circumstances. The Euros thrive, the Americans wilt.

Whistling Straits, which saw its chance to be on golf’s big stage postponed a year by COVID, is a gorgeous track and is said to favor American pros because it puts a premium on distance off the tee. As always, though, it will come down to who can get the ball in the hole.

For those wanting to make viewing plans, it’s all Golf Channel and NBC. Golf Channel airs matches from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Saturday. NBC jumps in from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Format for the first two days is four alternate shot and four best ball matches in the morning and afternoon. It’s head-to-head singles play on Sunday when the Americans are usually trying to come from behind.

Noteworthy for Team USA is that six of 12 players – Harris English, Daniel Berger, Colin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay are Ryder Cup rookies. Rounding out the team are Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau and Bryson DeChambeau.

Job one for U.S. captain Steve Stricker is how to mix and match his players. The lone given seems to be a pairing of Thomas and Spieth who were dynamic together in the most recent Ryder Cup. The biggest question is who Stricker puts with controversial Bryson DeChambeau.

DeChambeau has never won a point in team play, going 0-3 in his only Ryder Cup appearance and 0-1-1 in the President’s Cup. Some players tolerate the wonky and weird DeChambeau while others, especially Brooks Koepka, make no bones of their dislike. Stricker would create a firestorm if he put that duo together.

There is no way in hell it will happen.

Europe, meanwhile, in a Golf Digest rating of players on both teams, has No. 1 and No. 2 in Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. They also have the infuriating Poulter, a fiery and inspirational leader whose Ryder Cup record is a daunting 14-6-2. He’s 5-0-1 in singles. Nobody really wants a piece of him in this event.

Bottom line, if you love golf, this is must-see TV.

CHIP SHOTS: Biggest success story in a busy week for professional golfers with area ties was Lamar ex Dawie van der Walt. After getting his PGA Tour card a week earlier in the Korn Ferry Tour finals, the one-time Southland Conference Player of the Year tied for 22nd in the opening tournament of the 2021-22 season.

Van der Walt shot rounds of 68-70-68-72 in the Fortinet Championship and earned a check for $65,333. He hovered around the top 10 most of the week, stumbled out of the gate with three bogeys the first five holes on Sunday, then rallied for an even par closing round.

It was a mixed bag for Chris Stroud in his return to the tour after a year on the sidelines with back issues. Stroud missed the cut in the Fortinent with rounds of 72-75, but played well for the most part. A triple bogey on his 34th hole skewered a round that saw him make four birdies and an eagle.

Stroud’s most impressive stats were his driving. He had the 11th longest drive, was T35 in driving accuracy and finished 37th in driving distance. He is off this week for the Ryder Cup and expects to return for next week’s Sanderson Farms in Jackson, Mississippi.

The news was not as encouraging at the Fortinet for Andrew Landry. After a rocky 2020-21 season, Landry stumbled out of the gate with rounds of 77-77. He made only two birdies in 36 holes.

It was also a discouraging week for another Port Neches-Groves ex, Braden Bailey. Playing in the stage one qualifier for the Korn Ferry Tour at the Golf Club of Houston’s Member’s Course, Bailey missed advancing to the second stage by one shot by placing 22nd.

Bailey was 5 under on rounds of 70-71-69-73. His former Baylor teammate, Cooper Dossey, was medalist in the event at 22 under. Former LU star MJ Daffue was second at minus 21. Bailey’s schoolboy rival from Huntsville, Chandler Phillips, took third with minus 20.

A well-known figure on the Southeast Texas golf scene passed away last week at 78. Pat Baker, who at one time was head pro at Port Arthur Country Club and later opened the now defunct Airport Driving Range, was reportedly suffering from COVID 19.

Baker, a Marine who served in Vietnam, had been living in Anahuac for several years but was a regular in senior games at Babe Zaharias. The family has requested that memorial contributions be directed to the Lamar University golf team.

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