Want more Ryder Cup parity? Might be time for neutral course setup

Want more Ryder Cup parity? Might be time for neutral course setup
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NASSAU, Bahamas – The predictable handwringing began in earnest following another U.S. loss at last month’s Ryder Cup and will continue well into 2025 when the matches return to America.

Following another lopsided result – with Europe boat racing the U.S side, 16 1/2 -11 ½ – media and fans want to know what’s wrong with the Ryder Cup and how can these blowout performances be avoided? But the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with the biennial bout that a little visiting-team parity wouldn’t fix.

The last five Ryder Cups, a full decade of matches, have been won by the home team by an average margin of more than 6 ½ points, with the last outlier coming in 2012 — and that result has been dubbed in various circles either a miracle or a meltdown.

The home-crowd advantage is very real and will be even more in play in ’25 when the matches will be contested at Bethpage Black in the shadow of New York City. But the “friendly confines” concept only goes so far.

As the U.S. side dissects its loss in Rome, there have been no shortage of theories and scapegoats. The obvious issue was timing, with the matches played more than a month after the Tour Championship, leaving much of the American team admittedly rusty.

In a typical moment of reflection earlier this month, captain Zach Johnson said he needed to be more mindful of his team’s need for time management, while some on the U.S. team attribute the team’s early struggles to a lack of urgency.

“I didn’t want to believe into the history books that it was so tough to win over there, but it really is,” Collin Morikawa said Tuesday in the Bahamas. “Saturday afternoon when Sam [Burns] and I walked out there, like it was like an F-you to everyone. Like, we had to. We were down a million points. At that point Viktor [Hovland] and Ludvig [Åberg] had played 10 holes that morning (actually 11, as they won their foursomes match, 9 and 7). We had to go out there and just absolutely not give anything to them, right? To give no energy to the fans. We had to be, excuse me, but we had to be a**holes.”

But aside from the obvious away-game difficulties and scheduling snafus, which can easily be fixed, there’s a growing sentiment that the need for more parity demands a more neutral golf course setup.

The extreme example of the home side setting up a course to favor their team was in 2018 in Paris when the narrow fairways and ridiculously difficult rough left the American team questioning their life choices. It was a similar setup last month in Rome and the American team, most notably at Hazeltine National in 2016, has also groomed their courses to fit their roster.

“I would love to see a scenario down the road potentially where maybe an unbiased or neutral organization sets up courses for the Ryder Cup,” Justin Thomas said this week at the Hero World Challenge. “At the last handful of Ryder Cups, how lopsided they’ve been. I think that’s part of it is the home-course advantage, right? But I think there could be some times where it could be fun just to have someone set it up and kind of play the course as is.”

This isn’t a new concept, but following a decade of extreme home-course advantage there’s a growing desire for some sort of middle ground in course setup. What’s not as clear is who the “unbiased or neutral organization” could be.

The USGA for American matches and the R&A for European Ryder Cups are the obvious choices, but given the USGA’s history with U.S. Open setups, that would not be a popular move among players.

There’s also the question of which organization, the PGA of America or Ryder Cup Europe, blinks first? While parity sounds good in theory, it probably wouldn’t sit well with the home fans after a loss, and officials on both sides of the transatlantic divide are more inclined to look beyond golf course setup as an easy fix.

“Actually, in many ways these players, in large part, play week-in, week-out together, and I’m not sure that there’s an obvious way to gain a huge advantage in the sense that there are other factors that will come into play in terms of what motivates a team to play as well as it possibly can,” said Guy Kinnings, Ryder Cup Europe’s executive director. “Certainly everyone wants to create something that’s as fair as possible to create the most compelling sporting contest. I’m pretty sure that will be the goal with whoever’s hosting.”

It’s impossible to argue with the success of the Ryder Cup, both in the U.S. and Europe, but after a decade of home-team blowouts it might be time to consider a little more parity.

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