The European Ryder Cup Team has been blessed with tremendous success in the Ryder Cup over the last few decades. Even with the odds stacked against them, they managed to pull off shocking wins on American soil at Oak Hill in 1995, Oakland Hills in 2004, and of course, Medinah in 2012.
With so many fresh faces on the team this year, it could be argued that Europe again faces an uphill battle to retain the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and here are five things they need to do to make that happen.
1: Their big names need to perform
Rory McIlroy with the Fed Ex Cup and Tour Championship Trophy (Credit: AP)
Team Europe has a very lopsided look to it this year. Six of the twelve players are rookies, and the other six have 28 appearances between them – Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood accounting for 16 of those.
With that in mind, if Team Europe is to retain or win the cup this year, it’s very important that most – if not all of the six experienced players come away with positive records.
On paper, there is no reason why this can’t happen. In the last two Ryder Cups, none of these six lost more points than they won – it is equally important they repeat this to bring back the trophy in 2016.
Also, in Rory McIlroy, Clarke’s team probably have the best tee-to-green and most in-form player in the world. Europeans will be hoping he can carry over the form that saw him claim the Tour Championship and Fed Ex Cup last Sunday.
2: The rookies need to help out
Masters Champion Danny Willett is making his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine (Credit: Getty)
Although the six experienced members will have a big part to play, with such a large rookie contingent this year, they will be under extra pressure to perform.
The standout debutant is without doubt Masters champion and world number ten Danny Willett, who also has match play experience from his time with the England amateur team.
However, even if Willett performs as well as expected, Europe can’t afford for more than a couple of rookies to have bad weeks.
In 2014 it was Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson who came up big for captain Paul McGinley – contributing five and a half points between them. Individually, all six rookies have the potential to deliver similar results this year, but whether they do so in front of a partisan American crowd is another thing.
3. Someone needs to step into Ian Poulter’s shoes
Poulter celebrates his winning putt in the Saturday four-balls in 2012 (Credit: Mark Pain)
Not only does Ian Poulter have a very successful Ryder Cup record, but he also has built up a reputation for being one of the most clutch players in the history of the event.
At Medinah, with Europe in danger of going into the Sunday singles matches 11-5 down, Poulter reeled off four consecutive closing birdies in his four-ball match with Rory McIlroy against Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson – which the Europeans won one-up.
Going into Sunday just four behind was crucial for Olazabal’s men, and left the Americans with a sour taste in their mouth on Saturday night that only grew sourer as Sunday progressed.
Poulter may not be present at Hazeltine in a playing capacity, but one man who does have experience of performing under the highest pressure is Olympic champion Justin Rose.
The Englishman created his own magic at Medinah in the Sunday singles when holing a huge putt across the 17th green on his way to defeating Phil Mickelson.
Rose was also Europe’s highest points scorer at Gleneagles two years ago, and could well be the man to recreate some ‘Poulter magic’ in 2016.
4. Improve on their recent four-ball record
Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed were a formidable four-ball pairing in 2014 (Credit: Getty)
One of the few areas that America has come out on top in the last two Ryder Cups is their record in the four-balls. They lead 10-6 to be precise.
Whereas Europe lead by the same scoreline in the foursomes, it can be a tricky format to master. With so many rookies and new pairings on the team this year, success is far from guaranteed and closing the gap in the four-balls could be crucial.
With that being said, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed proved in 2014 that it can be the perfect situation for two rookies to thrive. As a four-ball pairing, they recorded 5&4 and 5&3 victories respectively.
Don’t be surprised to see one or two all-rookie European pairings in the four-balls at Hazeltine – their performances in these matchups could be the difference between winning and losing come Sunday.
5. Learn from past successes
Darren Clarke may draw on previous experiences as a winning vice-captain (Credit: Getty)
Captain Clarke has plenty of successful Ryder Cup performances to analyse, including his own victories as a player and vice-captain.
Naturally, adapting to events as they unfold over the course of the three days will be crucial. However, given the level of detail that seems to have gone it to the Americans’ planning over recent months, you can be sure that Clarke has his own plan.
Although a lot has been made of the inexperience of the European team, they still have a lot of weapons at their disposal – and Clarke knows this.
Whether it be the undefeated pairing of Rose and Stenson, the form of McIlroy, the experience of Westwood or the reliability of Kaymer, there’s still a lot for the home side to fear.
Let’s also not forget also that the last time the U.S. won the Ryder Cup in 2008, they had six rookies of their own.