Ryder Cup 2014: Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed give US hope for 2016 as calls grow for Azinger

 

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The Independent Online

Jordan Spieth was only 60 days old when America last won the Ryder Cup on European soil. Since 1993 Europe have won eight of 10 matches and not even the return of Tom Watson, the architect of that US victory at The Belfry 21 years ago, to helm the visitors’ campaign at Gleneagles could halt the home team’s dominance.

Just where do the Americans go from here? The short answer is to Hazeltine in Minnesota in two years’ time. That they will travel there with any hope at all after yet another defeat will be due to the emergence of rookies Spieth and Patrick Reed.

“The one very bright spot for our team was the play of Reed and Spieth,”  Watson said on Saturday night. “I love to see their fire. They have a great attitude. They are tough.”

The pair won two and a half points out of three over the first two days. “I don’t think people expected too much of us coming in,” Spieth said. “I think we showed we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with for many years in this tournament.” Watson was so impressed he handed Spieth, 21, and Reed, 24, the honour of leading off the singles order for America. The calm Spieth put red on the board early but could not hang on against Graeme McDowell, while the demonstrative Reed took Henrik Stenson to the last to gain America’s first point.

If there was a mismatch between the captains it was not the eight major championships won by Watson but how intimately Europe’s Paul McGinley knew his players – not just as golfers but what makes them tick as individuals within the team context.

Inevitably as soon as the match ended there were calls for Fred Couples, a successful Presidents Cup captain, to take over for Hazeltine or Paul Azinger, the only winning US captain in the last seven matches, to return. Watson might not have expected quite such an emphatic endorsement of Azinger’s “pod” system to come from one of his leading men, Phil Mickelson, within minutes of the closing ceremony.

Where McGinley had the advantage was simply in possessing better performers – four of the top six in the world and holders of three of the year’s four majors. Watson was hamstrung by the absence of three big guns due to injury and lifestyle issues in Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson. Woods will be 40 in 2016 but if he can regain fitness and form then he should return, not as the all-conquering hero trying to beat everybody on his own, but in the father-figure role shepherding a rookie that Lee Westwood performs so well.

 

A later cut-off for their qualifying system would help the Americans. It always ends at the PGA Championship in early August, while the European qualifying winds up three weeks later. An in-form player such as Chris Kirk would have qualified on that basis.

Jack Nicklaus believes a return to playing some matchplay golf in college has helped the younger players. “When I was in college we played matchplay but then they got away from that so I’m glad to see it return,” said Nicklaus.

“Matchplay teaches you composure. It teaches you to be aggressive. You can’t just play cautious golf. That’s the problem with medal play.”

This year’s US team has won a collective $420m (£260m) and while the Europeans also have some of the richest sportsmen on the planet, what may be an issue are the riches that can be won on the PGA Tour with only the occasional win or visit to the sharp end of a leaderboard. It is those experiences rather than the dollars that Spieth craves.

“Rarely do you get to experience the pressure like you do here every round,” he said. “Only when you are in contention. Here it has been like the back nine Sunday of a major every time out.”

For all the talk of Europe bonding better or having a template of success, Reed, the leading American point-scorer with three-and-a-half from four, is not a man to over-complicate things. “Just play your game, it’s still golf,” he said of his Ryder Cup debut. “We’re out here doing everything we have always done.”

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