US Ryder Cup recriminations begin as regretful Zach Johnson takes the blame in defeat

US Ryder Cup incriminations begin as regretful Zach Johnson takes the blame in defeat
Zach Johnson was unable to inspire his side in Rome - Shutterstock/Fabio Frustaci

It was, as Zach Johnson said, a spirited fightback given where his team had been at Saturday lunchtime.

But after a Ryder Cup which saw the United States lose by five points - a 15-point swing from their record 19-9 victory at Whistling Straits last time out - to ensure their drought in European Ryder Cups will extend to at least 34 years, it did not take long for the recriminations to begin.

To his credit, Johnson did not try to absolve himself of any responsibility, admitting to some “poor decisions” in the Team USA press conference and saying he would “love to start the week over”. He was less specific on what he would have done differently, but it is not hard to identify a few key areas which are sure to come up in the inquest; from benching his big hitters on the first morning, to the lack of competitive outings for his players in the buildup, to not forcing all of his stars to come on the reconnaissance trip to Marco Simone a few weeks ago.

The biggest talking point from a US perspective, though, was actually sitting right behind Johnson in the press conference, not wearing a hat.

Patrick Cantlay, the man who was accused of refusing to wear his team issue cap because he was unhappy at not being paid to be here in Rome, whose caddie Joe LaCava wound Rory McIlroy up so much he had to be bundled into a car to prevent a car park punch up, enjoyed another lively day out at Marco Simone.

US Ryder Cup incriminations begin as regretful Zach Johnson takes the blame in defeat
Patrick Cantlay is one of the few US players to leave Rome with credit - Getty Images/Ross Kinnaird

As on Saturday, when his magnificent play down the stretch had ensured USA went into Sunday with at least a glimmer of hope, he was a revelation. Ignoring the taunts of the crowd, who waved their hats at him on every hole and sang an impressive number of songs referencing his alleged greediness (“It’s all about the money, money, money. You just want your money, money, money. Patrick Cantlay! Patrick Cantlay!” to the tune of Jessie J’s Price Tag was a particular favourite) the man from Long Beach, California managed to defeat Justin Rose 2&1 and even smiled a few times while he did it.

Cantlay in truth, played the last 27 holes of this Ryder Cup like a man possessed. The question of whether or not he undermined team spirit to begin with is still moot however. Cantlay’s claim that he could not find a hat to fit his head all week was flimsy. And he has never actually said outright that he does not feel players should be paid.

Certainly by the end they all appeared to be singing off the same hymn sheet, though. When Cantlay was asked whether it was true that he had not worn his hat because he did not want a tan line ahead of his wedding in Rome on Monday, and he replied to say that it was true he was getting married on Monday, it prompted a spontaneous round of applause.

Johnson’s handling of Cantlay, and whether anything could have been done to prevent Hatgate, will doubtless come out in the wash.

How Ryder Cup captains picks performed
How Ryder Cup captains picks performed

What was certainly on him was his decision to bench Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the opening foursomes on Friday morning, although whether they would have done any better than the players that did play is open to debate.

Koepka went out with Scottie Scheffler, theoretically the strongest pairing Johnson could muster, in the Saturday foursomes, and they were thrashed 9&7 by Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg, a man who only left college four months ago and is yet to play in any major.

Scheffler, feeling more chipper after an excellent match against Jon Rahm which was tied, was actually quite funny about that record hammering, which ended with him in tears on a buggy being consoled by his wife. “Brooks and I went out, and we both just decided we were going to play terrible,” the world No1 joked when asked about it. “I kind of started the party. I got off to a bad start, and things spiralled out of control from there.”

US Ryder Cup incriminations begin as regretful Zach Johnson takes the blame in defeat
Scottie Scheffler was disconsolate after him heavily beaten in the foursomes against Europe's Ludvig Aberg and Viktor Hovland - PA

There were further laughs when Justin Thomas - in an effort to show how well the Americans had all rubbed along together - recalled a team trip to the Colosseum early in the week and Max Homa making the squad stay up until 5am one night to watch an American football match.

“We truly all got along,” Thomas insisted, adding that even LIV rebel Koepka had thrown himself into the fun. “We clicked. We had fun hanging out together”.

Maybe. Johnson, though, was not giving himself a free pass. “Regret is a strong word, but I wish I would have done a better job,” he reflected. “Four years from now, hopefully we’ll implement a better process certainly than I did.”

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