It’s one thing to lose when you’re expected to get beat. It’s another thing altogether to go with a whimper instead of a bang. So it was that the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team closed the 40th Ryder Cup with a flaccid performance in the singles, absorbing a 16.5-11.5 loss to Europe. It was the U.S.’s their third consecutive defeat and eighth in the last ten Ryder Cups. The teams will meet again in two years at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.
History will be the cruelest to American Captain Tom Watson, even though he didn’t hit a single golf shot. His Captain’s picks went a dismal 2-5-2, turning too many journalists into that most limp-wristed of superheroes – Captain Hindsight! Hero of the Maudlin Age!
“He should have picked Horschel! He should have picked Kirk! The way we do our Captain’s Picks is broken,” they wailed plaintively.
Shoulda, coulda, wouda: those guys wouldn’t have even been in the conversation if Tiger Woods and Jason Dufner weren’t injured, and Dustin Johnson wasn’t fighting drug issues. You had two clear-cut stallions in Duf and DJ – experienced, fearless, and deeply talented – down with injuries. You also had Woods so hobbled he can’t hit a golf ball straight. That was the pre-tournament hole dug for us, not the picking up the pieces of what was left.
Now is there some criticism that can fairly be leveled at Watson? Yes – when it comes to his pairings. It’s shocking to believe that the same man who captained the last U.S. victory on European soil, (1993 at the Belfry), could make such a combination of amateurish gaffes:
***He sat the bedrock foundational team of Keegan and Phil for all of Saturday, an appalling idea that backfired completely – Phil was good enough to beat Stephen Gallacher in singles, but wasn’t sharp, and Keegan got a root canal from Welshman Jamie Donaldson, surrendering the Cup-clinching point in the process;
***He sat poor Webb Simpson for three consecutive matches, leaving him cold as ice with the putter. Webb missed two tap-ins…tap-ins!…against Ian Poulter, yet still ground out a half-point;
***He sat Speith and Reed Friday afternoon when they had just steamrolled to victory. I understand the thinking – go with experience in a tough format like alternate shot, but again it backfired as the U.S. lost that session 3.5 – 0.5, which leads us directly to…
***His pairings got trounced 7-1 in the foursomes format for the weekend. If we, instead, had split those sessions evenly, we would have won the Cup, and
***There was never a single session where you looked down the slate of pairings as a whole and said to yourself that the Americans had a clear advantage. At times, in fact, it look quite the opposite. More than once you wondered if Paul McGinley was peeking over Watson’s shoulder or whether Watson was just too predictable.
Phil comments last night about bringing back Paul Azinger may not be as wrong as the media are making out. Maybe it is time for a painstaking re-appraisal. We’ve lost the last three Cups in a row, this last by the worst margin in a decade.
Moreover, Phil is right – The pod system worked. I never imagined Tom Watson was a liability but there it is, on the score sheet. He insisted on ignoring a formula that works – instead of having to cater to 12 individual players, you only have to cater to three groups of four. What’s one of the great secrets of success? Delegate, delegate, delegate. Faldo didn’t want to do it in ’08, and now Watson has become the American side of that coin in rejoinder.
Even mild-mannered and politically careful Bob Harig of ESPN saw fit to point out the terrible truth before the singles matches started. “Watson has long been known for his strong opinions and ironclad resolve, but his decision-making at Gleneagles has been shaky and unconvincing at a competition where the underdog Americans have no room for error.”
We even lost the singles 6.5 – 5.5…a format we had to win 8.5 – 3.5 to win the Cup.
“I knew Paul would send his best players out first, so I did the same,” was Watson’s tepid answer.
Still, we weren’t just outmanned or out maneuvered, we were out-played.
“Europe made 110 birdies this weekend, the U.S. only made 78,” noted golf writer and radio producer Ryan Ballengee of the Golf News Network. “They made over 30% more than us. That’s how you win the Ryder Cup. You have to go out and take it.”
Europe did just that. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy did the heavy lifting, scoring six points between them. Sergio Garcia also had a strong outing, going 2-1-1 to surge his Ryder Cup record to a brilliant 18-9-5! He may not have a major, but he, like Ian Poulter, and Paul McGinley is still writing some impressive golf history in this event, which has taken on an almost “Super-major” status.
“We just got outplayed,” agreed Bubba Watson, who got thumped three times this week and failed to score a single point for the U.S. “They went out there and put up birdies. It’s nothing we did, it’s what they did.”
He is right – that was a great Team, with a capital T. It takes 12 guys to win the Cup. They had them, we didn’t. The worst loss Europe had all weekend was Thomas Bjorn’s beard lost 7&5 to good fashion sense. Everyone else played well. By contrast, how bad was it for the U.S.? The rookies led the team. The rest was flotsam and jetsam.
Jim Furyk sank to 10-20-4, the most losses in Ryder Cup history. Since he won that weird U.S. Open at Olympia Fields in 2003, Furyk has fizzled at Oakmont, Oak Hill, Olympic Club, Winged Foot, Medinah, East Lake, and now Gleneagles.
You know what you say when you see Jim Furyk’s name chasing you on a leaderboard? “Thank you.” (For those of you scoring at home, by the way, yes Phil Mickelson has 19 losses, but they are balanced against 17 wins.)
Meanwhile Hunter Mahan beat our chances to death with his own wedge yet again. He stubbed another chip in another big moment and flushed a 4-up lead to Justin Rose. Only five players in Ryder Cup history have blown a four up lead, and all of those matched ended in ties.
What’s the answer?
1. Maybe there shouldn’t be Captain’s picks. Maybe the top eight players automatically qualify, but then take the next eight guys have them play a tournament against themselves to play their way onto the team;
2. Bring back the Pod System. That way players have a bigger comfort zone with one another and with their role on the team. They know what to expect and they can trust in a system that works;
3. More practice round with one another. At Valhalla, guys had been playing together for months. You did n;t hear about that as much this time around;
4. Play some more alternate shot! 7-1 is unacceptable.
Still the future looks bright away form the scoreboard. The three rookies were prize additions. What’s that hit song by Red Wanting Blue? “We are the New Cool!” They had enough fire for 12 guys between the three of them, that’s for sure. As long as Dustin Johnson doesn’t become the next Anthony Kim and as long as Jason Dufner can stay healthy, we’re as deep as Europe. And if Woods ever get healthy…he might actually be of some use in this event.
We’ll be back. If there was one thing Watson said that I do agree with, it’s that American resilience and determination are our greatest asset. He told his players the same thing I’d tell the guys next time: “Everything they invented, we perfected.”
And remember, Europe. “Next time” starts tomorrow.
THIS ARTICLE ALSO APPEARED AT CYBERGOLF.COM