Sometime between now and Christmas, a group of 11 men who deeply care about the future of the U.S. Ryder Cup fortunes will gather in an undisclosed location and start the process of trying to “fix” the biannual tradition of losing Samuel Ryder’s trophy to the Europeans.
This will be the inaugural meeting of the heralded Ryder Cup
Many would say that the infatuation existing around this international golf competition has grown out of proportion. Americans hate to lose in anything. Sports fans in this country are attracted to iconic franchises like the Yankees, Celtics and Packers because they win. Golf fans are no different; but when it comes to the Ryder Cup, Americans have no other fan options than Team USA.
So, it’s no surprise that the
most recent loss at Gleneagles —
the eighth in the past 10 Ryder Cup competitions — drew the ire of so many Americans.
No one expressed more dissatisfaction with the American fortunes than Phil Mickelson in his post-mortem on a Sunday night
at Gleneagles. Phil is certainly entitled to his opinion. His timing
and the public criticism of U.S. captain Tom Watson was greeted with mixed reactions. But don’t give Mickelson the credit or blame for the Ryder Cup Task Force.
The purpose of the Task Force has been well-publicized. First, examine the process of selecting a captain. Second, evaluate the timing of the announcement of the players who earn a spot on the U.S. team. Finally, take a look at the week of the Ryder Cup competition and put the players in a better position to be prepared to win.
The primary components of this Task Force will be former captains — Davis Love III, Raymond Floyd and Tom Lehman.
Love was a likable, well-organized captain who had his team in great position to win on Saturday night at Medinah when the U.S. held a 10-6 lead. Lehman, although his team was beaten badly in Ireland in 2006, also was highly respected by his players. Floyd played on nine winning Ryder Cup teams, was later a captain and has been a vice captain twice under Paul Azinger and Watson.
All three were highly endorsed by the players. The missing ingredient might have been Azinger, the last winning U.S. captain in 2008. He is an intriguing guy. No one is more passionate than ’Zinger, and he will be the first to tell you that he revolutionized the American fortunes with his “pod system,” which paired players with like personalities.
Many former captains will argue they used the same formula as did Azinger, but the ’08 win at Valhalla separates him. Azinger declined to join the Task Force.
The five players on the Task Force are Rickie Fowler, a two-time Ryder Cup member who will represent a generation in their 20s. Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker are veterans who are liked by fellow players and viewed to be pensive, methodical thinkers.
No Task Force would have credibility without Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Both have expressed enthusiasm and great interest at being involved. All five could be Ryder Cup captains in the future.
While this is a PGA of America Task Force, the former captains and players may set the course. In the end it will be the decision of the PGA to accept or reject the direction of the players and former captains. The formation of the Task Force was a bold statement from the PGA in that it was willing to hear what other people think, most notably the players.
In my opinion (and not Ryder Cup Task Force) the solutions to a winning Ryder Cup formula are obvious:
Develop a system in which an individual should be a vice captain before being named as a Ryder Cup captain. Since 1990, only Love was a vice captain before being captain in 2012. Paul McGinley was a vice captain four times before being picked to lead the Euros in 2014.
Fred Couples has never lost a Presidents Cup and consequently has winning captain’s experience. He is a former Ryder Cup standout player. Couples in ’16? Why not? He will need administrative help from his vice captains, and that could come in the form of David Toms, Furyk and Stricker — all potential future captains, if not still players at Hazeltine in two years.
In 2016 the PGA should not announce the “guaranteed” spots on the Ryder Cup team at the PGA Championship because the event will be played in late July due to the Olympics. It would be a catastrophe to announce a good portion of the team two months ahead of the Ryder Cup.
The number of guaranteed spots in 2016 might be 10, and those should be determined on Labor Day after the Deutsche Bank, which is in the second round of the FedEx Playoffs. The remaining two picks should go to the captain after the Tour Championship. It’s a domestic Ryder Cup, and the PGA can figure out the logistics of clothing, travel and ticket issues that will need to happen in the next few days. This approach gives the captain the strongest U.S. team possible.
Put the players in a better position to win. They need more practice time, and the schedule during the Ryder Cup week limits that. Do some of the media work in the week before at the Tour Championship. Don’t make the players spend hours on a bus going to and from the Gala Dinner. These are obvious.
Long term, we need to prepare U.S. players to compete in formats like alternate shot. The PGA should implement alternate shot into the state, national and regional competitions of PGA Junior League.
The PGA Junior League is a nine-hole match format played in three-hole segments. Play three holes alternate shot, three holes best ball and three holes scramble. My vision is that someday a U.S. Ryder Cup player will recall his first experience playing alternate shot and it was in the PGA Junior League.
Finally, some will say that this Task Force needs input from an “outside” entity like USA Basketball, which transformed losers into winners at the Olympic level.
I could argue that we never lose the President’s Cup, so our players do know how “to be a team.”
At Gleneagles the U.S. lost by 30-some shots. A mad scientist could have concocted Azinger, Vince Lombardi, Joe Torre and Red Auerbach into a Ryder captain and the results would not have changed. I would use a little Bubba logic to close this out.
“I was 0-3 in the Ryder Cup because I didn’t make enough putts. That’s not the captain’s fault,” Watson said at the PGA Grand Slam.
Those are the truest words spoken since Sept. 28.