The Ryder Cup ‘Riddle’, can the American task force solve it?

The USA inevitably starts the bi-annual Ryder Cup with the strongest team but often fails to make it count. You can see their superiority by studying the World Rankings. These rankings are the best measure that we have and with many Europeans playing some of their golf on US tour; the rankings should be a satisfactory measure.

American dominance in the world rankings is not surprising as the American Professionals are developed from a pool of about 25 million golfers, with golf a well-established sport in the USA. The UK and Ireland, also well-established in golf, has around 4 million golfers and the remainder of Europe where golf is still developing has almost 3 million. It is clear that something other than numbers and statistics affects this tournament. Recent results have left American officials and players determined to solve this mystery.

Why then have the European Team won 8 of the last 10 tournaments? Why was the last defeat at Gleneagles in Scotland so decisive, 16.5 points to 12.5?

If it is not a problem of skill then, is it more intangible aspects they need to look at, such as leadership, motivation and culture. A lot of criticism has been levelled at Tom Watson’s recent captaincy. Perhaps an outstanding player like Tom, winner of six majors, is not the best choice. He had recently almost won the Open Championship when he was just short of 60 years old. Tom probably expected his team to ‘give their all’ while he did his best in arranging the schedule of play.

There is an argument that star players with outstanding careers may not place as much importance on the captaincy. Whereas, good players who did not achieve such fame, would see a winning captaincy as the pinnacle of their career. Some evidence for this has been put forward. However, it is not sufficiently compelling to be more than a minor part of the problem.

What is being done to tackle the problem?

Action was promised with a task force to carry out a thorough review. This happened after the previous Ryder Cup; an eleven member team including the captain Davis Love reviewed the spectacular defeat at Medina. This was after the team blew a 10-6 lead. After about six months of fact-finding and deliberation, the current task force announced as captain – Davis Love. It has been reported that the player’s choice was Freddie Couples. It must be all part of a cunning plan that we do not understand. The new task force includes Phil Michelson and Tiger Woods, who are said to have a permanent role. Phil Mickelson has said that they need a ten-year plan.

The task force has also announced a new process of finalizing the USA Ryder Cup team. This makes sense because if done too early a player can sometimes lose their best form. The first eight will be announced after the FedEx event on August 28th, the
next three will be wild card picks by Love after the BMW Championship on September 11th. The final wild card pick will be after the Tour Championship on September 25th really close to the Ryder Cup date. This is a sensible change but will it make a significant improvement in the overall performance? Has the real problem been identified and addressed?

It’s an underdog thing!
What will not be announced is the realization that Europe has developed some off-field skills and team spirit. It is a culture of developing captains, detailed planning, careful pairings, supporting players with any weakness particularly nervous ‘rookies’. Because selection is not quite as competitive as in the USA they have leaders in the team who are very experienced at team play, Montgomery, Westwood and Garcia do not have a major between them. Any ‘rookie’ would be relieved to partner them while they settle their nerves.

Paul McGinley has not won a major but before being winning captain for the Ryder Cup he was assistant captain twice and captain of the UK and Ireland team twice in the Seve Trophy against  Europe. As a player, assistant captain and captain his score is 12 wins and one loss in international team play. It was recognition of these skills that I believe led Phil Mickelson to call for a ten-year plan.

This ‘underdog phenomenon’ occurs in other sports. In European Rugby England and France should be dominant with their pool of players. However, Ireland and Wales, in particular, perform spectacularly well from a much smaller pool of players. England is currently trying to get to grips with losing at the group stage to Wales in the Rugby World Cup. Their solution so far is to sack the English coach and employ an Australian. They will need to do more than that. Can the American task force do better? Many golfers will be looking forward to watching the next contest.

The debate will go on but nobody can be certain what will happen. The next competition is at Hazeltine National G.C. Chaska Minnesota starting late September 2016.

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