Much discussion in the wake of Europe’s 181⁄2 to 91⁄2 victory in the 35th Ryder Cup Matches has centered on the selection system for the United States team. Even with points weighted during the eight months leading up to the Matches, critics argue, the current system and its two years of points accumulation hinders America from fielding its strongest team.
Also being questioned is the PGA of America’s criteria for Ryder Cup captaincy. Recent captains have been chosen partly because they are active on the PGA Tour, with the theory being that their familiarity with players helps them communicate with the team more effectively.
Revisiting the selection process certainly has merit. A 35-week window in which to earn points (for top 10 finishes) would more likely reward players whose current form is best. And perhaps the captain should be allowed to present a ballot of four or five wild-card candidates, and let the 10 qualifiers vote to determine their other two teammates.
The United States’ woes are indeed systemic, but America’s Ryder Cup rehab needs to run deeper than changing the biennial selection process or identifying captains who have superior leadership qualities. The institutions of golf in this country must coordinate efforts to better prepare elite American golfers for team play.
Competitive golf at the developmental level in Britain, Ireland and Europe places great emphasis on interregional and international team formats. Youngsters strive to make elite squads that represent their nations at competitions such as the Home Internationals, the St. Andrews Trophy, the Bonallack Cup, the English Country Championship and the Scottish Area Team Championship. Players who perform well at those events gain consideration for the Walker Cup elite squad, from which the final eight-man squad is selected.
The aforementioned team competitions typically feature foursomes, four-balls and⁄or singles match play. Players are trained from an early age in the nuances and strategies of team formats. The “chemistry” that serves the European Ryder Cup team so well isn’t happenstance, but a product of years of preparation.
In the United States, team golf is little more than a novelty amid a competitive landscape dominated by stroke-play tournaments. College golf is the primary proving ground for elite players in the States, but to call college golf a team game is a misnomer in the Ryder Cup context. Nearly all college tournaments are stroke play.
If the United States hopes to be competitive on the ever-expanding world stage, its major golf organizations need to rethink their tournament schedules. The American Junior Golf Association should conduct more team events like the East vs. West Canon Cup. The U.S. Golf Association should stage North vs. South and East vs. West team competitions. The PGA of America should sponsor a series of intersectional team events for amateurs.
These opportunities would effectively prepare aspiring Tour players, the Ryder Cup teammates of the future, for the special demands of international team competition. Only when the administrators of American golf start thinking like a team will our best players do the same.