The Americans, sick and tired of losing the Ryder Cup the last few years, made several changes to the way they approached the tournament and reaped the rewards by winning this year.
Now, it looks like it is the Europeans’ turn to ring in the changes.
The absence of Paul Casey at Hazeltine for the Europeans stood out like a sore thumb.
Going into the Ryder Cup week, the Englishman was ranked 13th in the world – only Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia – were ranked above him – and was in terrific form having finished second, second and fourth in the three FedEx Cup Playoff events before that.
Oh… and there is also the fact that Casey has proven Ryder Cup and match play pedigree.
And yet, he did not have any chance of making it to the team.
The reason – he chose not to become a member of the European Tour. Having had a baby the year before, the US-based Casey wanted to focus on the PGA Tour and play only in the States.
There was another European player who should have been in the team, but made a similar mistake as Casey. Scotland’s Russell Knox did take up his European Tour membership and made a massive run for the automatic spots, but because his WGC-HSBC Champions win last year came when he wasn’t the member of the European Tour, his Shanghai effort did not count and he fell short by one place.
Knox had won six weeks before the Ryder Cup – at the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour.
During the Ryder Cup week, he was the seventh best European player in the world, ranked 19th.
There is now a distinct possibility that the European Tour qualification process will undergo some modification. This week, both McIlroy and Lee Westwood have opined that they’d rather have the 12 best ‘Europeans’ playing the Ryder Cup rather than the 12 best ‘European Tour’ players.
I personally think it is ‘punishment’ enough for players like Casey that they are unable to take part in the cash-rich Final Series events. That privilege should go to members who have served the Tour throughout the year.
But the Ryder Cup is a different matter. It should allow for the 12 best players in either continent to compete.
There is no doubt that Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama is the hottest player in the world right now.
The 23-year-old won the Japan Open, came second in PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic and won the WGCHSBC Champions in Shanghai, all in the last three weeks.
That stunning streak has seen Matsuyama jump to No6 in the world rankings – the second best ranking ever achieved by a Japanese golfer (Masashi Ozaki in 1997, reached world No5). Between 1994 and 1997, Masashi, popularly known as ‘Jumbo’ Ozaki and widely regarded as the greatest-ever Japanese golfer, played 92 tournaments, out of which he won 25 and finished runner-up 12 times.
It is considered one of the dominating runs in golf.
And yet, Jumbo played only 20 of those events outside Japan – 15 majors and three Players Championships.
He missed cuts in most of them and his best finish was tied 25th in the 1994 US Open.
Japan has produced several outstanding golfers in the past – Isao Aoki and Shingo Katayama are just two examples – but they have often been shackled by the fact that they tend to stay and play at home. Food and language are two big barriers that have prevented them from venturing out and showcasing their immense skills to the world.
Katayama was really the first Japanese player to embrace the PGA Tour, and Matsuyama, and his good friend Ryo Ishikawa, are now the young brigade who have realised they need to get out of their comfort zones.
A lot is expected from Matsuyama, and I won’t be surprised if he goes on to become the first Japanese player to win a major championship.
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