Some notes from the second day of the 2023 Ryder Cup.
ZJ takes an L – Perhaps nothing encapsulated this weekend of American woe better than Captain Zach Johnson stepping in on the 16th tee late on Saturday evening. In a rare instance of a captain imposing his strategic will on a pairing – a major championship “veteran” pairing at that – ZJ made an apparent plea to talk Jordan Spieth out of driver and into 3-wood at the drivable par-4. Spieth, who had not been playing well but is still a three-time major winner and a strategic thinker, seemed to listen to whatever input Johnson offered, swapping clubs. Johnson has had a poor week – at the mic, setting his lineups, letting players take too much power, and now inserting himself into a critical moment of a critical match. It’s been a mess, and this was the symbolic cherry on top. With Thomas and Spieth dormie, and opponent Robert MacIntyre on the short par 4 green in one, the pair needed something spectacular. No player had hit it long with a driver to date, so that wasn’t a factor. The broadcast openly questioned if 3-wood was enough club. The Americans had to know they likely needed a two, so if Johnson talked him into laying up, what was the goal? Relying on a hole out from the fairway to keep the match alive? If he thought 3-wood was enough, Spieth seemingly hit his best shot of the back nine: a high cut heading straight at the hole location. It landed on the bank of the hazard, 40-50 yards short of the hole and bouncing back in the water. The Europeans went on to make a birdie and win the match. After, Johnson vaguely and unsuccessfully downplayed his influence, suggesting he would never talk Jordan Spieth out of a shot, but was merely offering strategic advice and input to let him make the best decision. Whatever that advice was, it certainly didn’t help. -Andy Johnson & Brendan Porath
Team USA’s lone bright spot – It’s hard to really have an MVP when you’ve been beaten down so badly, but through the first two days the American side’s top candidate is probably Max Homa, responsible for that incredibly swaggy walk-off chip-in. He and Brian Harman were whitewashed in their opening match on Thursday, but Homa has been extremely impressive since that first morning. He was largely responsible for the USA’s first full point, and backed that effort up in the Saturday afternoon session. He’ll be the only American player to go all five matches. –BP
All bark, no Brooks – Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka played some of the worst golf we’ve ever seen in the Ryder Cup on Saturday morning. The duo was 8 over par through 11 holes, losing to Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg 9&7 in the most lopsided foursomes defeat in Ryder Cup history. It was truly pathetic, especially considering how salty and aggressive Brooks was after tying with Rahm and Højgaard on Friday. “I mean, I want to hit a board and pout just like Jon Rahm did,” Koepka said. “But, you know, it is what it is. Act like a child. But we’re adults. We move on.” Instead of moving on, Koepka came out flat and almost immediately tossed in the towel. Were this a major championship, do we think he would have folded like that? – Will Knights
Scandinavian sensations – They finally got beat on Saturday afternoon, their fourth match in two days, but Ludvig Aberg and Viktor Hovland will be a twosome that haunts the United States for some time. That’s an obvious statement based on their record this year, but Ludvig hasn’t reached his full potential this week and they still easily won three matches. They are two of the best drivers in the world and they’re almost certainly going to scoop up a lot of points in this event going forward. – WK
Other ZJ miscues – Across all sports, the second half of a big blowout loss often reinforces that there was very little the losing side could have done to change the course of the competition. One side was outclassed and overwhelmed, and no subs or gameplan adjustments were going to make a difference. The U.S. played poorly on Friday, yes, but I thought the second day really illustrated some of Zach Johnson’s missteps that significantly contributed to the Day 1 disaster. Sitting Justin Thomas out of the gate was incongruous after Johnson justified his selection by calling him the “heart and soul of the team.” JT has showed fight and a will to compete that was notably absent from the Americans in the opening session. Rickie Fowler was apparently not feeling well, but he was still trotted out at the start, showing no form and being benched until Sunday. Brooks was on the bench. They simply were not prepared for that opening foursomes session, with Luke Donald’s call to change the order of formats putting ZJ in scramble mode from the very start. The play on Saturday from some different players and new two-man pairings, even if they didn’t bag points in the end, highlighted the mismanagement of that first 4-0 blowout. Results may have stayed the same, but it could have been much more competitive. –BP
Body language – In general, leadership is difficult, but acting like a leader at a team-sports event is simple, especially if you’re not playing. If your team does something good, you pump your fist and shout something like, “Yeah, come on!” If your team falters, you clap and say something like, “All right, lock back in!” Just keep it positive and portray confidence. There will be plenty of time afterwards for real talk. Whatever you do, avoid slouching and looking weak and depressed when your team still has a chance to win. It’s not hard! -Garrett Morrison
Spieth’s stinky Saturday – The main factor in a successful Ryder Cup captaincy is typically how your players fare on the golf course, much more than any strategic decisions made before they tee off. Captains feel a lot like baseball managers; strategy can swing a game here and there, but for the most part it’s about how your pitchers perform and if you can score runs when you have the opportunity. That said, Zach Johnson’s decision to play Jordan Spieth twice on Saturday after the way Spieth faltered down the stretch on Friday was questionable at best. Right out of the gate on Saturday morning, Spieth and Justin Thomas—a duo that has been successful in past team matches—picked up where they left off late on Friday, losing the first three holes to Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood. They’d go on to lose 2&1. Then, in the afternoon session, ZJ pushed Spieth and Thomas out together again. It wasn’t like Spieth was a total lost cause—he birdied three of his first five holes—but when you’re swinging poorly and not making anything, you’re going to regress to the mean. Spieth didn’t make another birdie after No. 5, was in his pocket on six of the final 10 holes, hit a tee shot out of bounds on 14, shanked one on 15, and then… well, you already know about the Coaching Advice Heard ‘Round the World. All in all, Captain Johnson’s decisions around the Spieth-Thomas pair may be the most confounding part of a confounding week for the American team. -Shane Bacon
Bob bails out Captain Luke – Speaking of questionable captain decisions, did Luke Donald really have to send Bobby MacIntyre and Shane Lowry out on Saturday? They hadn’t played well heading into the Ryder Cup, and they didn’t play well on Day 1. They were, far and away, two of the weakest players on Friday, but Europe got away with it, avoiding major damage. They got popped on Saturday in their matches, hampering partners Sepp Straka and Justin Rose. It was an outcome that felt both predictable and avoidable, but maybe that’s the luxury of a big lead. Fortunately for Bobby Mac, Rose has been an absolute lion in this Ryder Cup, easily one of the most impressive performers, and they prevailed 3&2. Rose taking on Spieth and JT in a 2-on-1 handicap match for much of the afternoon, following the theatrics of his close on Day 1, was macho stuff. –BP
Hatgate – Patrick Cantlay isn’t wearing a USA hat this week, which has blown up into potential controversy. Early on Saturday, Jamie Weir tweeted that the hat situation was Cantlay’s form of protesting the lack of financial compensation for players this week. Weir also reported Cantlay refused to attend the Ryder Cup gala, and that Cantlay and Xander Schauffele are sitting separately from the rest of the team. Cantlay’s camp offered a quick rebuttal, fully denying the reports and adding, “if he was unhappy he wouldn’t be here.” Cantlay took chants from the European crowd all day, before draining a decisive birdie putt on 18, which his teammates celebrated by waving hats around, nodding to Hatgate and helping dispel rumors of dissension. When asked by Steve Sands, Cantlay said the hat just doesn’t fit. There might still be plenty of postmortem discussion on possible internal discord, as is becoming tradition with American losses in Europe, but Hatgate may have just been a one-day affair. Given how leaky the American team tends to be, if the team was fractured beyond belief, we’ll almost certainly hear about it at some point in the near future. -AJ
Coverage catastrophe, cont. – At one point in the morning session, U.S. West Coast markets were unable to watch the Ryder Cup on linear television. Viewers would have had to subscribe to Peacock, if they did not already, to cover a 90 minute gap in programming as the coverage shifted from USA to NBC. This is an inexcusable mess for such a prominent event, to say nothing of the many, many other coverage shortcomings we’ve had to deal with so far. -BP
A hot finish – As players were getting in their cars at the end of the day, Rory McIlroy got heated and started yelling towards someone. Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay and Shane Lowry settled McIlroy down and got him in his car. It remains unclear as to what had Rory so upset, but that is certainly another storyline to be unpacked tomorrow. – WK
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.