QUAIL HOLLOW, NC — You should have seen Davis Love III standing there the day after last fall’s Ryder Cup, smiling like a player knowing the solution is in place. As heir to a deep fortune of talent, his only job was to make sure everyone knew what was coming next.
“I’ve been talking to some guys in Charlotte for half an hour, reminding them that we’re going to Charlotte first and then the Ryder Cup,” Love said that afternoon, standing outside the tent. media as Team USA showed up for a post-round press conference, some walking around with one arm thrown over a teammate’s shoulder.
It’s hard, looking back, to describe the feeling of that Sunday afternoon in Whistling Straits. An American team that started the week being compared to the underperforming Ryder Cup teams that came before them responded with the ultimate counter. He booed the Euro team. Run it off course. Makes a joke of the whole deal.
Then this American team came together in a celebration full of laughter and soaked in champagne. They bathed in self-satisfaction. A group baptism along the east coast of Wisconsin. We told you.
It was a moment with all the hallmarks of a new beginning. And that’s how it was discussed, how it was written. Behold the limitless future of American professional golf! No team in modern Ryder Cup history has ever scored 19 points. None had ever won by a margin of 10 points. Team USA did both. Not only that, but, more importantly, everyone seemed fiercely united in doing so. Even Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau put aside their mutual contempt for a half hug.
Love, assistant captain of this American team, was to inherit a freight train.
Perhaps some promising young American talent would land a few spots on the Presidents Cup lineup, but overall this Ryder Cup roster presented a portrait of the post-Tiger Woods world for international play. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa and DeChambeau were all under 30, had all won at least one game and wielded the kind of talent that can only be disrupted by injury or swing change ill advised.
As Koepka said: “It’s a lot more fun than years past. It’s a very tight-knit group of guys. Everyone’s a bit younger and everyone’s known each other for over 15 years, we would say.
A year later, golf as a whole is unrecognizable. At the professional level, the sport has transformed into a charred landscape of avocado pro leagues battling for a stronghold. It’s the PGA Tour against LIV. It’s tradition and power versus money and ambition. It’s the DP World Tour desperately trying to figure out what to do next. It’s fans stuck in the middle – those who hate LIV, those who love LIV, those who fully check out. Money is at the center of every conversation.
The game is in complete disarray, and this week will provide a great view of the sequels.
This American team will have to act as if Dustin Johnson, the 5-0-0 hero of last fall’s Ryder Cup, does not exist. He will have to go about his business as if it were normal that Phil Mickelson is not with him as assistant captain. DeChambeau, who we believe has repaired his image at Whistling Straits, said last week he “couldn’t be happier” playing for LIV. Koepka, who last year bragged about the importance of the international game to him and said the media misunderstood his intentions, has also left. Would DeChambeau or Koepka have made that Presidents Cup squad despite their recent struggles and injuries? We do not know. But we know the point is moot. They are not invited.
And there are others. Talor Gooch could make his Presidents Cup debut this week. It’s pretty clear that he is among the top 20 players in the world. Pay no attention to him, though.
And don’t even get me started on the poor international team. Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman and Anirban Lahiri. All em – persona non grata. Let’s pretend they don’t exist.
It’s like Marty McFly’s family Polaroid. Fading faces.
The question is, will the event be any different? Will this week in Quail Hollow feel fake or fake or forced?
Because if so, it will serve as a preview for what could be to come: a world where the majors and the Ryder Cup are played out in an abyss of reality.
In a conversation with Athleticism earlier this summer, Love was asked: If international competition isn’t just about our best 12 against their best 12, is that really worth it?
“No, it’s not,” he said. “Look, the Presidents Cup is going to be huge and exciting and fun. But is it really going to be top 12 vs. top 12? Clearly not. But this No. 14 guy who’s moved up to 11 or what whatever is still a very, very good player. And they’re going to give away a trophy. And the guys are going to be part of the winning team.
He stopped and thought.
“Hey, in the Super Bowl, is it always the top two teams that get there? Probably not. There are other good teams.
The difference is, as Love knows, every NFL team has the chance early in the season to make it happen.
This is no longer the case in golf. Not now, at least.
“Listen, a year from now when we prepare for the Ryder Cup, the landscape will be different, one way or another,” Love said. “If LIV wins and our business goes downhill and the best players aren’t allowed to play, then yes, the Ryder Cup goes downhill as well. If it gets to that point, then they’re going to have to come up with something.”
That doesn’t seem plausible any time soon.
The factions of this American team now stand in direct opposition. The future eligibility of players participating in the Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup could possibly be a matter for the courts to decide. But is that how anyone wants these teams to be built? A judge can decide that players are allowed to compete, but they cannot impose camaraderie.
Justin Thomas started last year’s Ryder Cup saying, “I would go to war with those 11 other guys.
That’s probably not what he meant.
The good news for Team USA is that this year’s Team USA remains extremely young (average age: 28.8) and absurdly talented (average world ranking: 11.6). Anchors such as Scottie Scheffler, Tony Finau, Spieth, Thomas, Cantlay, Schauffele and Morikawa remain. Cam Young, Max Homa, and Sam Burns join the party, making this group seemingly stronger, which seems absurd. These actors can and will always present a united front. They can still clap their hands and pump their fists and spray some. Must come on Sunday. Billy Horschel and Kevin Kisner will treat this like the Super Bowl.
But we all know the dominant thought that will persist. DJ should be there with his guys. Mickelson should be greenside in a golf cart with a helmet. The two have combined to compete in 34 iterations of the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup.
The other stigma that blots out the sun in Charlotte? This international team plays with a half game. It’s a bit silly to treat this as a mano a mano.
Hopefully it’s another good week in Quail Hollow. Massive crowds are expected. The weather looks wonderful. Many stars still play. All those good things.
But there’s going to be that nagging voice in the back of the head. One will wonder if we should all quietly resign ourselves to the fact that the brilliance of international team play is set to deteriorate rapidly, and this week is just the front page. If the story of these events continues to be who doesn’t play, the fight will be lost. This week, for the Americans, it’s really only Johnson as the lack of impact in the lineup. But the international team has been decimated, and there is a real possibility of a colossal rout looming on the horizon.
If it comes, we’ll wonder, what’s the point?
And even if it isn’t, given the state of the game, we might wonder that regardless.
(Illustration: John Bradford / Athleticism; Patrick Smith/Getty Images)