Despite the disappointing Ryder Cup loss (I’d only experienced it the other way around), the Team Europe press conference was amusing, funny and enjoyable, per usual. Even when addressing unpleasant topics, like the heckling and behavior of Saturday afternoon’s overserved fans, the players were witty and rather positive about the entire situation — they answered the questions even if it wasn’t the greatest discussion in the world.
There was only one point, where a player had a more serious critique of how things played out at the away game at Hazeltine near Minneapolis, MN. Justin Rose, who went 2-3-0, shifted the atmosphere slightly when he brought up the PGA of America’s setup of Hazeltine National Golf Club.
“I’ve been fortunate to play here in 2002 and 2009, and I think they have shifted the nines around, which always creates a little bit of havoc in your memory of the golf course,” said Rose. “Having played two tournaments here, I was kind of still, even this week, trying to get my head around the layout and remember all the holes. It was definitely a big part of the early part of the week.
“Setup-wise, this course can be as tough as you want it to be, there’s no doubt about it. I think today, I think if we were all to be honest about it, I thought the setup was incredibly weak. I thought it was very much a Pro-Am feel in terms of the pin placements. They were all middle of the green.”
Ooooof, yeah, Rose went there — he likened the course setup to a Pro-Am. Ouch.
“I don’t quite understand that to be honest with you, world-class players, 12 world-class players here and 12 world-class players here in 30 minutes time, and we want to showcase our skills,” said Rose. “We want to be tested. For example, the water holes out there, all the pins were as far away from the water as possible.
“The pin on 17 is an absolute, you know, a joke. It’s a 9-iron into the middle of the green and you stiff it. So with a match on the line, you kind of feel like you want to have something — you want a player to step up a little bit more than they have to.
“Even 18, if you hit a good drive down there, you’ve got a wedge into the green, and if you hit a wedge to the middle of the green, you’re within 12-foot of the pin. So I just felt coming down the stretch, it was a little soft.”
Leave it to Lee Westwood to lighten up the atmosphere.
“And I’m hoping it’s a seniors major in ten years’ time,” he quipped.
Rory McIlroy, Team Europe’s top player, only had one slightly insignificant suggestion.
“I hope it has more rough, just to say, but that’s about it,” he said.
Rose backed up his comments in a small scrum outside the media center following the presser. He made it clear he wasn’t trying to criticize or blame U.S. Captain Davis Love III, who has every right to tell the PGA of America how he’d prefer the course to be set-up — as the home team captain — but then when the week starts the prior Sunday, he has no say and it’s up to the PGA of America’s Kerry Haigh and his staff to decide the tees, hole locations, etc.
As of Sunday it’s completely down to the PGA of America and they set it up as they see fit for the tournament. So, in no ways am I inciting that Davis intends to set the course up … I’m just saying that to the PGA of America that surely this is 24 of the best players in the world who have the skills to take on a few water lines…
“It’s an intense competition, you want to see guys resolve, you want to see their nerve, you want to see what they’ve got down the stretch, you want to see them taking on the back right pin on 17, you want to see them flub a nine iron to the middle of the green. I mean, what is that?”
Henrik Stenson agreed with Rose, whom he’s partnered with in the last two Ryder Cups and the pair were virtually unbeatable in Gleneagles.
“Some of the greens are not super interesting,” said Stenson. “No. 1 for instance it feels like all of the pins were just up on that right hand side all week long. I like to see a good four or five pin positions on a well-designed green and some of the greens might not have that but, I mean, it’s up to the home side to kind of set up the course the way they want to or ask for that beforehand.
“And we know the rough has been cut very low as it was at Medinah and you know, we might see a little high rough in Paris, you never know. Other than that it’s not really down to the US team to do anything here, it’s the PGA of America that has to give pin positions and the set up. I was expecting a little bit more tee movements on the par-5s than we had over the week. We had some shifts on 13, the par 3, we played that one up when the pin was back left and so on. and we played the fifth hole so it could be a bit more driveable.
“But par-5s were pretty much on the back for most of the week and at times you want to have some maybe tougher pins, and even in singles — I certainly agree on 17 that I would have expected it to be all the way in the back right corner on a day like today and it was kind of sitting in the middle of the green with a nine iron but that’s not why we win or lose it’s just an assessment of the the setup.”
Stenson defeated Jordan Spieth 3&2 in the second match, but as many on Twitter have pointed out, Rose would have shot one-under 71 in stroke play, which was the least relative to under par on both teams.
Still, that doesn’t take away his right to have his opinions on the set-up. He doesn’t need to shoot 63 like Phil Mickelson or Sergio Garcia in singles to have the right to critique the course. It doesn’t matter if Rose would’ve won his match Sunday or had gone undefeated — he probably would’ve had the same remarks. I mean, Stenson won his match and he wholeheartedly agreed and backed up Rose’s comments.
In two years when the Ryder Cup takes place in Europe again — France, to be more precise — the European captain will have the privilege to request to the European Tour their preferences on course set-up. It might be more difficult in 2018. But it might not.