It may seem a bit late in the day but I am continually being asked on a daily basis to comment on the Ryder Cup fallout.
Who would have thought that a legend like Tom Watson could tumble so far from grace overnight and be over taken in popularity by a man whose winning record pales in comparison? And, who would have thought that Paul McGinley had read this column and used it as a motivational tool to stir up his troops? Apparently, it happened.
The first inkling of what I write might have made it all the way into the European team room came courtesy of my brother, Brien, who attended the Portuguese Masters, the week after the Ryder Cup. Brien followed Paul during the pro-am and the opportunity arose that he could speak to him briefly when walking from green to tee.
Brien said, “Well done at Gleneagles, Paul. You were great!” Still walking, Paul, said over his shoulder: “Are you from Ireland, what club do you play at?” When Brien replied, “Limerick,” Paul stopped in his tracks and approached my brother and asked, “Do you know Ivan Morris?” “I do, of course. He’s my brother!” “Well, tell him I heard that he thought we were going to lose!” So, you do have to very careful what you write, it can come back to haunt you.
I wonder who told him that? Actually, I can figure it out. It was my good friend and pen pal, Nick Bradley, the guy who did all the motivational artwork in the team room and also delivered ‘giddy-up’ speeches to the European team. Nick worked at Mount Juliet GC before going to the USA where he has coached some of the top players, including Justin Rose.
The Americans don’t get team golf. They have such big egos and make far too much money without winning very often. Since the PGA Tour became all exempt for players ranked in the top-125, the US has won only four out of 15-Ryder Cup matches. The wealthiest tour in world golf is breeding players who, for the most part, feel no necessity to win tournaments. Finishing in the top ten every week (without ever winning) provides a millionaire lifestyle that blunts ambition.
The 2014 edition might not have been the greatest of Ryder Cups but the aftermath recriminations have been extraordinary. In team dressing rooms, reputations have a short shelf life; sacrifice wears thin if a team loses too often. Mickelson’s ‘attack’ on his Captain was amazing and shredded the 8-times major winner’s reputational legacy. Meanwhile, McGinley is seen as an impossible act to follow and he will enjoy the trust and warmth of a whole continent for the rest of his days.
But let’s not get too carried away, in my view, if the Americans can find a more committed captain at Hazeltine in 2016, there will be all-out war! Fred Couples has been successful in three stints as US captain in the Presidents Cup, but he is still awaiting the call from the PGA of America. The Americans don’t need another Paul Azinger captaincy! They need the more modest approach of Couples or the quiet and popular, Steve Stricker. A Captain who is humble and who shows he cares deeply for his players and who isn’t blinded by the size of his own ego is the proven winning formula. If you study the 15 American and European skippers since 1985, it’s clear that the humble, passionate men generally won (McGinley, Olazabal, Woosnam, Langer, Torrance, Crenshaw, Stockton), while detached captains with big egos lose (Watson, Faldo, Nicklaus, Trevino).
I’m more interested in Europe’s next appointment. The current favourite to succeed McGinley is Darren Clarke, who, not to beat about the bush, has his flaws and weaknesses. Miguel Angel Jimenez has been mentioned in dispatches. He, and Couples, would make for the most laid back of duos. Tongue in cheek, perhaps McGinley should make some history by captaining Team USA - especially if Clarke is Europe’s leader? I see Thomas Bjorn as the clear favourite. It’s a political appointment and Thomas has served his time in that regard but he may ‘pass’ because he still fancies his chances as a player?
A serious chat about the future of the Ryder Cup is urgent. Interest is waning across the pond. Americans will not support a losing team. Something has to change to bring the Yanks back into contention. One change would be to get rid of the Foursomes (Watson was overheard saying as much.) Americans don’t ‘get’ alternate shots and everyone playing in every series was also suggested.
I disagree violently. Foursomes is the supreme test of team golf and everyone playing in every series would blunt the captain’s role, which to my mind is the most intriguing part of the event. A compromise that every player would play at least once every day is better.
Anyone who thinks the captain’s role is peripheral has no experience of representative team golf. Captains add and subtract greatly to, and from, a golf team’s performance. At no time was it more evident than at Gleneagles.