HAVEN, Wis. — The first tee on a Ryder Cup Sunday is usually a place of high tension. But not on this Ryder Cup Sunday.
When Justin Thomas stepped onto the tee for his match with Tyrrell Hatton of England, the home fans in the surrounding grandstand implored Thomas to chug a beer, as he had at the same spot Saturday afternoon when the American team built a nearly insurmountable lead ahead of the competition’s final stage.
Thomas, preparing to play one of 12 climactic Sunday singles matches, smiled, but waved off the cans of beer being offered.
“Yeah, later,” a fan yelled from the rollicking grandstand. “He’ll catch up on the beers later.”
Yes, he would. And the Champagne, too.
The U.S. golfers, beleaguered for most of the last 25 years of Ryder Cup competition, on Sunday completed a three-day rout of the normally dominant European team to win the event for just the third time this century. Though they needed to win only three and a half points on Sunday to secure the Ryder Cup trophy — each match victory is worth one point and a tie is worth half a point — the Americans attacked brazenly, capturing eight of a possible 12 available points to trounce the Europeans, 19-9.
The 19 points are a record in a modern format for the event, established in 1979. The previous record was 18½ points, which was accomplished by the United States in 1981 and the Europeans in 2004 and 2006.
The American Patrick Cantlay, who remained undefeated in this year’s event with a decisive 4 and 2 victory over Shane Lowry of Ireland on Sunday, summarized his team’s uncompromising attitude during the three days of competition at Whistling Straits, a daunting golf course along two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in central Wisconsin.
“I woke up this morning and told the guys, ‘Let’s get 20 points,’” Cantlay said. “This is the next era of Ryder Cup teams for the U.S.A., and I wanted to send a message. Everyone on our team has a killer’s instinct and we’re going to bring that to future Cups.”
Collin Morikawa added, “It was imperative that we win this Ryder Cup for American golf, but it’s not just a win, it’s a dominant win, and that matters.”
The American team deliberately rode a youth movement to victory, with a roster that included eight players under 30 and six who were making their Ryder Cup debut. It was the youngest American team in the 94 years of the event and notably devoid of golf luminaries, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who had defined the squad since the 1990s. But from 1993 until this week, those American teams had lost nine of the 12 Ryder Cups contested.
With American golf — competitively and recreationally — undergoing a changing of the guard, it was fitting that the U.S. Ryder Cup team was built around nine players ranked in the top 10 of the men’s world golf rankings, who collectively have an average age of 26.2. The youngest in the group, Morikawa, 24, was undefeated in this year’s event and secured the half-point that clinched victory on Sunday afternoon. At roughly the same time, the team’s elder, Dustin Johnson, 37, won his match to become just the fifth player to have a 5-0 record in one Ryder Cup.
For the Europeans, the lopsided score was a shock, even if the Americans had the stronger lineup of golfers, if measured by world rankings and tournaments won this season. Jon Rahm, the top-ranked men’s golfer, was the only European player in the world top 10. Moreover, the European team relied on a bevy of Ryder Cup veterans, including four who were over 40.
Ian Poulter, a fiery leader and Ryder Cup stalwart, failed to provide the emotional boost he usually brought to the team in the first two days of team matches. Although Poulter, with his 3 and 2 victory over the American Tony Finau on Sunday, remained undefeated in Ryder Cup singles matches.
“Congrats to Team U.S.A., they owned each of those team sessions on Friday and Saturday,” Poulter, 45, said late Sunday afternoon. “They made it very tough on us and this week is deflating. But we’ve got good young players too, and they will take this forward. They are more than capable of coming back the next time.”
The European captain, Padraig Harrington, praised his American counterpart, Steve Stricker, who adjusted the U.S. selection process so that half his team was named at his discretion. In the past, most of the players qualified by a points rubric based on many months of results. Stricker made it a point to name a team of players whose personalities meshed — and whose games were on the rise in recent weeks.
“They got their plan right,” Harrington said. “Of course, we’re disappointed, but the U.S. outplayed us. You have to see the facts.”
Rory McIlroy, who played prominent roles in past European victories, was in tears Sunday, even after winning his singles match against Xander Schauffele. McIlroy struggled in the two opening days of the event.
“I love my teammates so much and I should have done more for them this week,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been extremely disappointed that I haven’t contributed more for the team.”
Wiping his eyes, McIlroy congratulated the Americans and looked forward to a rematch in two years when the Ryder Cup resumes in Italy.
“The more I play in this event, the more I realize it’s the best event in golf,” he said. “Just the best.”
Morikawa’s clinching point was earned in a tie with Viktor Hovland. In addition to Cantlay’s victory for the Americans, Thomas defeated Hatton, 4 and 3; Scottie Scheffler beat Rahm, 4 and 3; Bryson DeChambeau overcame Sergio Garcia, 3 and 2; Brooks Koepka defeated Bernd Wiesberger, 2 and 1; Daniel Berger rallied past Matthew Fitzpatrick, 1-up; and Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood tied.
Asked about his winning management style, Stricker said: “We took away a lot of the fluff and kept things as simple as we could. We put the players together in pairings that they helped shape with their input. And they wanted to come together — they all did.”
As an example, Stricker insisted that Koepka and DeChambeau, whose sniping social media feud has been an overarching story line on the PGA Tour this year, asked to play together.
“That shows you how together our team had become,” Stricker said with a grin.
Although Stricker never paired the two.
But in a show of the spirit and camaraderie that can envelop even heated rivals during a record-setting Ryder Cup performance, as the American team was celebrating its victory Sunday — with copious amounts of alcohol — Koepka and DeChambeau slapped hands and briefly hugged.
Only on a Ryder Cup Sunday.