American ping-pong champions, not so much the Ryder Cup


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Team USA’s Justin Thomas walks the third hole during a Ryder Cup practice day at Whistling Straits Golf Course on Tuesday, September 21, 2021 in Sheboygan, Wis. (AP Photo / Charlie Neibergall)

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Bryson DeChambeau was so excited to be a part of the final Ryder Cup team that he went out and bought a new ping pong racket to take with him to France. Patrick Reed celebrated the 2016 US Ryder Cup victory in Minnesota by playing table tennis with actor Bill Murray.

And when Phil Mickelson runs away to dominate and hit bombs, he could be talking about his ping-pong game, not his golf.

Yes, the American team have fought a lot on the golf course against the Europeans in recent years, losing nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups and four of the last five.

Give them paddles and a proper ping pong table, and they will turn into the beaters of the world.

“There’s something about hand-eye coordination and competitive motivation,” said Stewart Cink a few years ago. “I don’t know, golfers and table tennis, they just go together.”

That’s true at least in the Team USA hall, where over the years Mickelson has faced players from Tiger Woods, and the action has become hot and intense. The Americans like to describe it as a team building exercise, although it doesn’t seem to have built the kind of teams needed to beat the Europeans.

However, at every Ryder Cup, we talk about the American players and their ping-pong matches. The team that plays together is bonded, according to theory, and if there’s one thing the Americans desperately need, it’s good team cohesion.

So there was DeChambeau on Tuesday not talking about his feud with Brooks Koepka but about his match the night before with Daniel Berger.

” He beat me. There are obviously excuses I could make, but I won’t, ”said DeChambeau. “I’m pretty sour about this.”

In an analysis-driven team, there are no official statistics for table tennis matches. No device measuring paddle speed or the smash factor of a paddle ball either.

And no way to quantify the effect of the game on the Ryder Cup because, frankly, there probably isn’t.

But the pleasure is the pleasure. Having something to do while spending hours at a time in the team room is important.

And bragging rights are bragging rights, no matter what the sport.

Mickelson isn’t playing in the Ryder Cup for the first time since making his rookie debut in 1995, but he’s here as a vice-captain. Instead of packing clubs, he’s packed his paddle and will presumably be in the middle of the table tennis action.

Lefty, by all accounts, is a member of the Ryder Cup Table Tennis Hall of Fame. But the best American player over the years would be Matt Kuchar, who was not on this year’s squad.

Kuchar is also considered a trash master, which he showed after sending a young Jordan Spieth to the 2014 Ryder Cup in Scotland.

“I think Jordan Spieth was the only guy who challenged me in singles, and he got what he knew he was going to get,” Kuchar said.

As Americans try to bond as a team at the ping-pong table, their opponents seem to have little need of the sport, which, oddly enough, was invented by an Englishman. They’re bonding the old fashioned way, which this week consisted of watching an inspiring video about how rare it is to form a Ryder Cup squad compared to other sports.

No need to build team spirit among the Euros. Not when it comes engraved on the invitation to join the team.

“To be honest my team right now the atmosphere is exactly where you want it to be,” said European captain Padraig Harrington. “Literally, I don’t want to ruin everything from here.”

The goal of both sides remains the same, pingpong or not. Europeans just seem to figure out how to better execute it.

“We play for each other. I think it’s the best thing you can do, ”said Rory McIlroy. “You play for the guys who are next to you. You play for everyone who helps our team try to win this week.

Not to mention that you are playing to beat those ping-pong loving Americans.


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