Pete Cowen: Looking back on 2017 and ahead at Europe’s Ryder Cup mission in Paris

A year is a long time in golf and although the Americans were dominant in the Majors in 2017 there is lots to golf to play before Europe and the USA go head to head in September.

It has been a funny old season for the guys I coach. Over the last 23 years we have had an average of 12 wins a year on the Race to Dubai but this year we only managed to get eight, although we had 22 runners-up places. So, it’s been a good season, but not a great one. Fourteen of my players qualified for the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, although Henrik Stenson had to withdraw. This is testament to the players getting into the top 60 and having a reasonably good season, even if I didn’t get as many victories as I’d have liked.

Pieters conundrum

The qualities and talent of Thomas Pieters is remarkable but he is too much of a perfectionist for his own good, which can be his downfall. This has happened to him frequently during this season. You’ve got to remember that last year when Henrik (Stenson) won the Race to Dubai, he ironically finished last in the DP World Tour Championship, so I’m hoping Thomas will follow the same pattern next year!

 

Crazy about Kiradech

One of my guys I’m really proud of this season is Kiradech Aphibarnrat who has been great. He’s managed to lose a couple of stone and he’s got himself a bit fitter, which is brilliant to see. He’s a tremendous golfer, great putter and has the drive and ambition to be the best player there is, which makes him a pleasure to teach.

Stars of the bunch

Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton have both had an excellent year and both look certain to get into The Ryder Cup team. Ross Fisher has also stood out. He’s been very unlucky not to win anything. Overall, I’m disappointed that the Europeans have only won one Major (Sergio Garcia’s Masters Tournament). We can’t let the Americans walk away with the big tournaments prior to them facing up to the Europeans at Le Golf National in France next September.

Changing of the guard

We have seen a changing of the guard in the European Tour with Jon Rahm sealing victory in the DP World Tour Championship and Fleetwood winning the Race to Dubai, which is great for the game. Thomas Pieters should have had a better year and Matt Fitzpatrick is disappointed that he hasn’t won on a regular basis but he has to remember he’s only 23 and has already won four times. He is far too hard on himself! When Danny Willett gets fitter and stronger again he will return to form in 2018 after a poor 2017 season.

2018 – Ryder Cup

We’ll probably see six rookies in The European Ryder Cup team in Paris in September, so Thomas Bjørn is going to have to face the problem of lack of experience and intimidation on the big stage. However, should we regard someone like Jon Rahm really a ‘rookie’! He’s fourth in the world now and is certainly a force to be reckoned with, so I’d have no fear of him doing well against the Americans. Tyrrell and Tommy are also in the top 20 in the world now so they should hold their own on any stage and put up a good fight to wrest back the trophy, especially with ‘home’ support.

There’s no doubt that the Americans are looking strong with several thrilling youngsters coming through under the age of 27. Brooks Koepka is going to have a great season again and has a good chance of winning more Majors. Dustin Johnson is unstoppable when he’s on form. Spieth and Justin Thomas are obviously quality players, too, but if we get our team right, Europe can certainly compete with them. The layout is totally different to courses in the States, apart from the last three or four holes but, hopefully, the contest will have been decided by then! Plus the fact that several European players are very familiar with The Ryder Cup course at Le Golf National. Tommy Fleetwood won this year’s HNA Open de France on the course and Alex Noren, Jon Rahm, Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters were all in the top twenty.