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Considering the way the Americans are playing, every European Ryder Cup fan should be thinking: “Thank heavens there is no Ryder Cup next week.”
However, even with the Covid-19 postponement of the match at Whistling Straits, the blue-and-gold brigade still face an almighty challenge to lower the Stars and Stripes on US soil this week. Recent history will tell you that has become an increasingly forlorn task.
Indeed, the Americans are on their best run in their “home” majors (every one of the big four barring The Open) in more than 40 years. If one of Uncle Sam’s nephews prevails again in the 120th US Open on Sunday, it will take the streak to 10, the most since Hubert Green made it 11 in a row at the 1977 US Open. In golf at least, a wall is plainly not required at the moment to make it Fortress America.
Who will stop them at Winged Foot? The bookmaker boards show that six US players are in the top eight in the betting – and that is without Brooks Koepka, the burly Floridian who has won four of the past eight US majors and recorded second places in two others. The 30-year-old has been a one-man continent, particularly in America’s national championship.
Only Gary Woodland came between Koepka and an historic treble at Pebble Beach last year but now he is laid up, trying to recover from a long-standing hip and knee problem in time for the Masters in November.
In his absence, world No 1 Dustin Johnson is a formidable favourite, having put together an astonishing four-tournament passage in which he finished second in last month’s US PGA, first in the Northern Trust, second in the BMW Championship and then first again in the Tour Championship. Johnson duly picked up the $15 million FedEx Cup bonus two weeks ago.
A few experts are understandably claiming that this will have taken too much out of the 36-year-old’s tank, but with Johnson it must also be remembered that he never uses up many mental reserves. This ability to shut off is why he has emerged as such a fine US Open operative, posting four top-fours in his past six appearances, including his victory at Oakmont at 2016.
It is absurd that that remains Johnson’s only major success and it would be no surprise to see him addressing this anomaly at the blue riband layout 25 miles north of Manhattan. Harding Park witnessed his fifth runner-up display in a major and the style of the champion’s win that week will leave many convinced that he can double up.
Collin Morikawa is only 23, but that week in San Francisco showed he possesses the wherewithal for his sport’s most searching examinations. Behind closed doors or not, Winged Foot will analyse every aspect of the pros’ technique and character.
Xander Schauffele is another home hope with all the attributes and has a results sheet containing three top-threes in the past nine majors. Naturally, Justin Thomas, the world No 3, is another much-fancied American, while Webb Simpson, the 2012 champion, has the short game and the psyche for this trial. All in all, it is an imposing US line-up that must make Padraig Harrington, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, thank his lucky stars and stripes that there is a 12-month delay to the next event.
Much of his hope would have been pinned on Jon Rahm, the world No 2, and the 25-year-old must have the best chance of ending the dominance of the powerhouse. The two toughest tournaments of the year have been the Memorial at Muirfield Village and the BMW at Olympia Fields and Rahm won them both. He senses this is his time.
“In the past maybe this type of golf wasn’t my bread and butter, but based on the two events I’ve won this year, I’m pretty much ready,” Rahm said. “My game can win on any course, but it is a mental challenge, so I welcome those. Just besides having a strategy, it’s playing good golf. It’s like in boxing where Mike Tyson said everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. It’s the same thing here. We all have a plan, until you hit it sideways.”
Rahm’s candidature is backed by none other than Geoff Ogilvy, the Australian who so famously capitalised on the last-hole meltdowns of Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot. “It’s going to be hard for Dustin to back up what he’s just done,” he said. “Rahm will be hungrier and he ticks every box. He and Dustin are very similar; they hit it miles and are good at everything. But Rahm has that Spanish flair with his short game that could make all the difference on that course.”
And what of Rory McIlroy, still looking for his first major in six years? He could enjoy the competitive bump of greeting his first child a few weeks ago and he was relieved when he turned up and saw the USGA had not butchered this wonderful layout. In the past, McIlroy said he feared the course would be “goofy”. But now his biggest worry is to arrest his worrying trait of starting a major slowly. From Goofy to Dopey is no plan at all.