An 11th-hour Webb Simpson for Bill Haas captain’s pick swap? Tom Watson outwardly degrading his players? High confusion and misdirection in the team room? Players with no say on pairings? A “MickMutiny” in the post-tourney presser?
Why, who needs to set the DVR each afternoon to “Days of Our Lives” when we have a real-life reality show that is the U.S. Ryder Cup team? We had everything but Kim Kardashian anchoring the Sunday singles.
Though we still have yet to exchange our leftover British pounds for U.S. currency (and we’ll get whacked good there, too), here are a few lingering thoughts that need to come off the chest in addressing The Mourning After:
• To this writer, the saddest part about the spotlight being turned up bright on a divided U.S. camp is that a great European team really isn’t getting its due. Team Europe boasted four of the top six players in the world, had an absolute step-up star in Justin Rose (3-0-2), and was commanded by a captain who had such attention to detail that he was able to stay one step ahead of everything going on. It gets busy at the Ryder Cup and the day moves quickly. With afternoon pairings needing to be decided upon before morning sessions are completed on Days 1 and 2, it was key that Paul McGinley left the on-course action to his four vice-captains and he was focused on the “next wave” of attack.
• That said, it brings us to Thought No. 2: Certainly captains play a bigger role in the Ryder Cup than one might think (despite what Johnny Miller says), but at some point, a ball gets placed on a tee and the players decide these things. The public bashing of 65-year-old legend Tom Watson, the U.S. captain, overshadows a significant aspect of the competition. Where is the player accountability?
Once again, our top players were totally outshined by their counterparts from across the pond. The top four U.S. players from the Official World Golf Ranking (Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler) finished a combined 2-11-3 at Gleneagles; the top four Euros (Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Rose) were a combined 10-3-5.
To go a step further, throw out this year’s rookies, and the U.S. has one player on its roster with a winning Ryder Cup record (Keegan Bradley, with a 4-3 mark); the Euros have but one player (Thomas Bjorn, whose likely next cup appearance will be as captain, maybe in 2018) with a losing career record. So why is it that Europe continues to add to its long roster of great Ryder Cup performers (McIlroy, Rose, Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood all could end their playing careers with such distinction) while the U.S. hasn’t had a great Ryder Cup performer since the days of Lanny Wadkins? (For those wondering, Corey Pavin was better than most, with a record of 8-5.)
• The PGA of America will deconstruct every piece of this latest trouncing and try to come up with a new magic potion now that Uncle Sam’s boys have dropped eight of 10 in this little exhibition for a 17-inch gold cup. (Anyone for Foursomes Fridays across the nation?) Get a few brown paper bags ready: If Paul Azinger isn’t named the next captain at Hazeltine in 2016, the country might go into collective hyperventilation.
Azinger would be good from a standpoint that if the system needs shaking up, he’ll demand it be shaken (and stirred) to his liking. His first suggestion is a great one: America shouldn’t name a single captain, but its next three, so all three men would have an involvement, bringing the U.S. a level of continuity that Europe currently employs (McGinley’s captaincy was his third go-round in the team room after he assisted Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal).
For a job that doesn’t actually pay (beyond the cocktail-circuit speaking gigs, that is), it sure seems as if a captain these days puts a lot on the line. A losing captain gets put on a skewer. Watson, for one, is an eight-time major winner and absolute legend in Scotland who now will be questioned for being out of touch in how he led a heavy-underdog squad over three days at Gleneagles. Azinger would put a lot on the line, too. Right now, he’s the only man to have figured it out at the helm of the U.S. in two decades. A Ryder Cup Midas. If he suddenly goes 1-1, and the U.S. loses at home, that mystique vanishes. It’ll be pods schmods.
For his part, though, Azinger knows these matches are closer than most acknowledge. For one bad Sunday at Medinah, the U.S. is paying a heftier price than it probably should be.
“It’s razor thin,” Azinger told Golfweek. “Vegas has a 1 percent edge in blackjack, and they build casinos on it.”
• Speaking of razor thin and Medinah, McGinley, a man of incredible class, paid a nice compliment to 2012 U.S. captain Davis Love III once Europe raced out to its 10-6 lead heading into singles. You’ll remember, that four-point margin was the same cushion the U.S. went to sleep on in Chicago two years ago, only to see the matches flipped.
“We were the beaten team the first two days,” McGinley said at Gleneagles. “They were sensational the first two days, the Americans. Davis Love did a fabulous job. We were pulled from pillar to post.”
McGinley used the Medinah experience to motivate his own team, to remind his players not to get complacent Sunday. Don’t protect the lead, but go out and win the session.
“We know how quickly it can turn,” he said, “and that’s what momentum is.”
We know. And Europe has all of it.
• One parting Ryder Cup thought: Once the lights went out at Gleneagles, Minnesota’s Hazeltine National Golf Club, which will host in two years, went on the clock. Hey, it’s a venue where Rich Beem took down Tiger Woods for an unlikely PGA title in 2003, and where Y.E. Yang did the same in 2009, running down Woods from behind, something unthinkable at the time. So as venues go, if the U.S. again is the underdog in two years (and why wouldn’t it be?), then it might be a good place for an underdog to run.
Incidentally, the folks at Hazeltine will use a different course routing when the matches arrive in 2016. Seriously, from the club, this is the plan:
Players will start on what have traditionally been holes 1-4, then jump to 14-18, then back to 10-13, before finishing on 5-9.
Hey, if we can’t beat Europe these days, at the very least, we can confuse ’em.