Thoughtful Thursday: Artistry versus analytics

Anyone who is even remotely interested in golf will no doubt be well aware of what is happening at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin this weekend. THE RYDER CUP.

The Ryder Cup, three words that mean so much to so many.

Over the last 30 years, this event has become not only the greatest show in golf, it is now arguably one of the greatest sporting events on the planet and rightly so. With every playing, it’s appeal grows and grows, perhaps more so than any other golf tournament, including the 4 Majors.

Why should that be the case? There are a number of reasons but for me, the two main ones are that first and foremost, it is very much “us against them”. The European Tour versus the PGA Tour. There is an awful lot at stake here, pride being very high on the priority list.

Secondly, The Ryder Cup is matchplay, perhaps golf’s truest and most engaging, enjoyable and watchable form. Only three weeks ago, Catriona Matthew led Team Europe to victory in the Solheim Cup, the ladies version of The Ryder Cup, on American soil, a feat Padraig Harrington will undoubtedly be keen to emulate.

The FedEx finals, the PGA Tour’s “biggest” event was being played at the same time and broadcast at roughly the same time and I have to say, I watched a LOT of the Solheim and not one shot of the FedEx. Why? Again, numerous reasons including knowing and having coached Captain Catriona but largely because it was matchplay.

For thrills and spills, strokeplay is a very poor and distant cousin to matchplay. You just can’t beat it for excitement.

Until the first ball is struck on Friday, there will be lots of speculation about who will win and why. On paper, the USA are the stronger side. However, as former European Ryder Cup star and captain Sam Torrance once said, “We don’t play them on paper, we play them on grass!”

Analytics have become a big part of golf in recent years. They will tell you which team hits the ball further off the tee. They will tell you who hits the most greens in regulation and who gains the most strokes on and around the greens……in strokeplay events.

While analytics have their place and I have no doubt both captains will have endless amounts of data to help them with their four ball and foursomes pairing selections but ultimately, it will come down to who performs best over the course of the three days of competition.

With the weather forecasters predicting relatively strong winds which may well change direction over the course of the weekend, I have a very strong feeling that artistry and the ability to adapt and adjust to the fluctuating conditions will prevail.

I have been very fortunate in my career to have spent time with, coached and learned from numerous Ryder Cup players and one of the things they have all had in common apart from supreme talent, is their ability to adapt, adjust and play the right shot at the right time. Not make the right swing but play the right shot.

With the course being set up the way it is, combined with potentially testing weather conditions, it is my firm belief that the European team have superior artists in their ranks who are capable of creating a wider array of shots than their American counterparts.

Personally, I cannot wait to see how this weekend unfolds and I am sure we will be treated to some excellent, entertaining, engaging and enjoyable golf. A veritable l feast for golf fans around the world.

Will the European artists be victorious or the analytics obsessed Americans?

If I were a betting man, which I’m not, my money would be on Harrington’s heroes to bring The Ryder Cup back home to this side of the Atlantic.

Until next time, put your feet up, switch the TV on, pour yourself a nice refreshing beverage and enjoy!

Gary Nichol

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