Chug a 64-ounce Coke and devour a Big Mac. Grow a mullet, throttle up a Jet Ski and crank up some Lynyrd Skynyrd. Chant “U-S-A” from the top of Mount Rushmore. Sing the national anthem while getting a tattoo of an eagle in flight. Pray to John Wayne, Dale Earnhardt and Taylor Swift. Whatever you’ve got to do to get a little more red, white and blue mojo out into the universe, do it, because the American Ryder Cup team needs all the help it can get.
After the first two rounds of the 2023 Ryder Cup, America trails Europe 6 ½ to 1 ½, and it might not even be that close. This marked the first time the United States ever — ever — failed to record a single victory in a Ryder Cup day. Put another way, then: This is the worst Ryder Cup performance by the United States in all of human history. Woof.
It’s not likely, but it’s possible that Europe could win the Cup before the tournament even reaches the singles round. If that happens, well … we’re not saying it would be a worse defeat than Georgia Tech’s football team beating Cumberland College 222-0, but we’re not not saying that, either.
Crack open a Budweiser and start singing “Proud to be an American,” friends, because wow, does the U.S. have work to do. And the team’s two initial public responses to the beatdown were the exact wrong ones, on both ends of the spectrum.
On one hand, there was Brooks Koepka, who spent the early part of the week bowing up and flexing his tough-guy muscles, getting sour about the results of his and Scottie Scheffler’s match against Jon Rahm and Nicolai Hojgaard, a match that flipped on the very last hole from a U.S. victory to a crushing halve.
"I mean, I want to hit a board and pout just like Jon Rahm did,” Koepka said, apparently referencing a Rahm outburst at the U.S. Open. “But, you know, it is what it is. Act like a child. But we're adults. We move on."
Expert sore-loser move there, saying you could be a sore loser like the guy that just beat you, but you’re not going to do that because you’re not a sore loser, so stop saying you’re a sore loser. Koepka’s one of the mentally toughest players in the game, but when he slips, wreckage ensues.
And then there was American captain Zach Johnson, who had an oh-wait-that-test-is-today? demeanor all day long. His post-round TV spot was even worse. “Despite the scoreboard,” he said, “I’m still extremely proud of what they’ve done.”
What, exactly, has the U.S. team done, other than face-plant hard enough to crack the Earth’s mantle? It’s obvious Johnson is trying to play the go-get-’em-slugger supportive-dad role here, but this isn’t a team of Little Leaguers. These are the best players on planet Earth, winners of 15 majors between them, not tender little souls who need consoling. They ought to be OK with getting their butts chewed off, particularly when they deserve it.
As for Johnson himself, there will be time to question his strategy and picks later — why Koepka and Justin Thomas, in particular, sat early is a mystery — but for now, he needs to come up with a whole lot better motivational approach than tepid Can’t spell USA without U!-style rhetoric.
To be fair, though, Johnson could have run out a team of 2000 Tiger Woods, 1972 Jack Nicklaus, 1960 Arnold Palmer and Tecmo Bo Jackson and the U.S. would still have struggled. Rahm was as dominant Friday as any single player in the history of the event. Viktor Hovland leveled up to world-beater status. Hojgaard, in his first-ever Ryder Cup appearance, drained about three linear miles’ worth of putts. When the other team is nailing distance shots with the relentless perfection of Steph Curry in pregame warmups, there’s not much you can do but hope the storm passes quickly.
Rationalizations of what-ifs, especially from the three final Friday rounds, sound an awful lot like a teenager trying to justify why their report card ended up so bad. If Spieth shows up, and if Rahm misses one of those miracle eagles and if Clark doesn’t fly his approach on 18 into the Vatican, why, we’d only be down two points, and then …
Whatever. The numbers are what they are, and right now, the United States is facing the largest Day 1 deficit in Ryder Cup history. The Miracle at Medinah, where Europe came back from a 10-6 deficit to win on American soil in 2012, looms large in everyone's mind. But the U.S. is going to need to win at least 4 ½ points Saturday if it hopes for any kind of Resurrection in Rome.
So until then, light off a few fireworks and give a good ol’ Johnny Cash one-finger salute to Europe, America. We're struggling with the golf, but we still do defiance just fine.