HAVEN, Wisc. – It will not go down as the most nerve-wracking of Ryder Cups, but it may well be the most beautiful.
Tired of losing the majority of recent matches both home and away and loaded with the young talent to do something about it, Team USA realized its full potential as “the greatest team of all time,” in the post-win press conference words of captain Steve Stricker, blowing away a spirited but overmatched European team by a historic margin of 19-9 in the 2020 Ryder Cup.
Meanwhile, the venue cemented its place among the great championship golf courses of the world throughout the weekend, putting to shame a passel of recent parkland venues in America and Europe that, while capable of hosting the event logistically, now look pedestrian by comparison.
In Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits, an event that turns a few hundred acres into a makeshift city found its perfect match. Having held three PGA Championships in the past, the Ryder Cup’s match-play format allowed the course to shine as it never has before.
On the ground, Pete Dye’s dark-magic cocktail of angled terraced greens, rolling fairway hillocks, sharp faux-dunes and lunar bunkering gave every full shot, pitch and long putt a sense of mystery and possibility. In the air, typically gusty autumn winds inspired two dozen of the best golfers in the world to show spectators on-site and watching at home just how mind-bendingly good they are. And the lakeside setting made every single easterly vista stunningly beautiful.
In an era where elite golf is becoming less and less relatable to us mere mortals, Whistling Straits further elevated the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm to demigod status in the sport while also causing occasional one-hole disasters the likes of which we never get to see at mainstream courses.
Variety being the spice of golf, Whistling Straits wrung more intriguing single shots in three days out of 24 golfers than its prim inland counterparts could coax from 10,000 in a year. The PGA of America would do well to award it the next open spot on its Ryder Cup calendar (2041, currently).
Here are five shots – one from each session of play – that only a golf course of Whistling Straits’ quality and character could produce.
Friday Morning Foursomes
As breathless as big drives can leave us, there is no more thrilling shot than an incredible recovery, and the best golf courses provide those opportunities more than most. Even in a losing effort, Jordan Spieth showed us why he’s one of this generation’s most exciting players with a mind-bending recovery shot from the base of the railroad ties that hold up Whistling Straits’ par-3 17th green. At what other golf course on Earth is a shot like this even remotely possible?
Friday Afternoon Four-Balls
In the space of nine holes, Bryson DeChambeau showed savvy golf fans both the possibilities and limits a great golf course can put on driving prowess. On the par-5 5th, he wowed the crowd with a 417-yard swat that covered a seemingly impossible stretch of the state and left him just a 72-yard second shot, which he got up-and-down for an eagle. But on the par-4 13th, a similarly massive tee shot wandered only a few yards offline, but into a greenside bunker from which he could not help partner Scottie Scheffler.
Saturday Morning Foursomes
One of the tensest moments of the weekend was not between American and European players, but between the United States’ Brooks Koepka and on-site rules officials. When he tried to take relief from an unusual but purpose-built drainage channel between two of Whistling Straits’ thousand bunkers, the officials didn’t budge. Koepka lashed out at them and then the golf ball, smashing a mid-iron from a bushy lie onto the par-4 15th green. The awkwardness of the stance, lie and moment were vintage Pete Dye.
Saturday Afternoon Four-Balls
Whistling Straits has some of the strangest trouble spots of any American golf course, and Koepka found himself in yet another about 60 yards shy of the 16th green Saturday afternoon:
With Team USA having built a shocking 6-point lead, the big question heading into the final session was not which team would win, but which American would deliver the winning point. The answer: Collin Morikawa, whose surgical iron play was raised to great heights by the moment and the course. On the 17th, his perfectly-struck mid-iron shot landed tenderly on the front-right corner of the green and took one of many of Whistling Straits’ feeding contours just so, rolling out within two feet of the hole and ultimately securing his team’s winning 14th-and-a-half point.