Scottie Scheffler bowed down, sitting on the back of a golf cart, in a complete state of shock and disarray. The world No 1 wiped away a few tears, digesting what had just unfolded on another exhilarating Ryder Cup session at Marco Simone Golf Club – at least one when observed through a blue filter.
Because Viktor Hovland, the best player in the world over the last few months, combined once more to devastating effect with the nerveless rookie wonder, “the stud,” Ludvig Aberg. It was a thumping victory for Europe, 9&7, in one of the most shocking results in matchplay history. The largest Ryder Cup victory in an 18-hole match ever. The wreckage, which epitomises Team USA’s shock demise this week, will require weeks, maybe months, to examine.
Memories of Tiger Woods relishing the humiliating beatdown of Stephen Ames came flooding back in one of the most iconic moments in matchplay history. But that was perhaps the greatest player of all time, exposing a solid, yet unspectacular pro, who foolishly lit a fire inside the 15-time major champion. This was Scheffler, fresh from one of the single-best ball-striking seasons in PGA Tour history, alongside a rejuvenated Brooks Koepka, reinvigorated after banishing his crippling injuries to seize a fifth career major to enter the discussion over who will be the defining player of the post-Woods era.
A lingering fear over illness ravaging the American team remains, yet a belligerent Hovland and Aberg trampled all over Scheffler and Koepka. While there was Scandinavian brilliance on display once more, the Americans played the first three holes of their foursomes match in five over par. A miraculous comeback withstanding, this will be an uncomfortable blemish on two stellar careers.
The beating was relentless, so much so that Zach Johnson handed this year’s PGA Championship winner a sympathetic pat on the 10th green as the 33-year-old came to terms with his nightmarish reality.
And while Hovland and Aberg bounded down the 10th, admiring their ruthless work. A gaping distance between Scheffler and Koepka emerged. Beaten into submission, the pair rarely felt like a unit at Marco Simone Golf Club. While they possess plenty of brawn, seldom did they display cunning strategy or the sort of encouragement required to triumph in team golf. Instead, we witnessed an array of reckless swipes.
When revisiting what went wrong next week, Johnson may grimace at the evident lack of chemistry. It was also curious to see Brian Harman, who has not been one of the USA’s worst players, belatedly showing up to the first tee on Friday morning, forcing Max Homa to stand alone. The Americans’ problems are technical, too. Jordan Spieth has stumbled around all week, evidently tormented by imperfections in his swing. Vice-captain Steve Stricker snuck behind the seventh tee box, filming the four-time major champion’s swing, perhaps searching for an immediate remedy with some swift analysis on his smart phone.
Match two on Saturday morning was entirely miserable for Team USA, the 11th hole not only highlighted the extent of the players’ problem, but the entire team’s return this week.
Scheffler’s wayward drive was scooped out of the sand, but it picked up some unwanted fizz before landing in the gallery at the back of the green with a thud. The 2022 Masters champion added plenty of loft, but the ball skipped past the pin and dribbled down the bank, falling off the green. Your turn again, Brooks.
Koepka trudged over, forced to hole out to stand any chance of extending the contest. But his chip had no chance, a defeated glance back to his partner and the painful concession was soon confirmed.
Koepka’s play has been a problem, particularly with his talk. His jab aimed at Jon Rahm after frittering away Friday’s fourball victory, labelling the Spaniard a “clown”, revealed his frustration. Rahm swiftly dismissed Koepka’s grumblings, justifying his behaviour with the remarkable reaction on the next hole, making eagle down the 18th to heap more misery on the Americans.
Koepka’s passion, when harnessed in a cocky, arrogant way on the course, as so often seen in majors, should prove to be a potent weapon for Team USA. But unlike Justin Thomas, whose selection was queried with far more scrutiny, Koepka rarely rallied following a setback this week.
Whispers swirl around Marco Simone about the American side’s camaraderie, too, with Patrick Cantlay making a mystery statement by playing without a cap. Debate will rage about the financial motivation for some players in this most prestigious of events.
The startling truth behind most of the USA’s problems was found in the way Scheffler and Koepka capitulated. The magnitude of the defeat will take a long time to get over.