American victories in the Ryder Cup, rare as they are, seldom get the recognition they deserve. There’s always some celebratory chest thumping, of course, but one can only cheer so much when you’ve been told that defeating Europe should be a foregone conclusion anyway.
When the champagne is drained, the trophy is largely forgotten for two years. But on the more regular occasions of an American loss, those two years are filled with autopsies and blame games. The aftermath of 2018 will be no different.
Paris will not have witnessed so many disheartened elite leaving town since the Bastille was stormed.
Much of the criticism will target Jim Furyk. His captain’s picks will be second-guessed, his pairings questioned, his benchings quizzed, his leadership style debated — and none of it mitigated by how poorly his guys performed.
It’s the burden of captaincy. He will expect nothing else.
Yet this Ryder Cup didn’t so much expose the weaknesses of Furyk than those of the acclaimed task force strategy that put him there.
Two years ago, the task force was declared a rousing success when the U.S. ended its losing streak at Hazeltine. But the pitfalls in its approach are being laid bare.
The oft-ridiculed committee was a response to the U.S.’ resounding defeat and palpable disunity at Gleneagles in 2014, a fiasco blamed on a veteran captain being disconnected from his team.
Tom Watson is autocratic by disposition, the type who thinks seeing the Stars and Stripes raised should be motivation enough for any American. Comforting hugs were not his thing. Watson may have been the problem, but his age wasn’t.
It was convenient to nail an embarrassing loss to the back of an old man who couldn’t relate to a young team rather than on his underperforming stars.
The PGA of America ultimately ceded power over the Ryder Cup process to the players. In effect, America started crowdsourcing the captaincy.
And it is being sourced from within a very small crowd. The players on that task force included Davis Love III (reappointed captain for the very next Cup), 2018 captain Furyk, Steve Stricker (widely considered in line for 2020), Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
The dangers of having the captaincy bound to a small buddies circle would seem obvious. The captain’s authority is eroded if he owes his position to those under his command, and legitimate decisions can be interpreted in an unflattering light.
For example, Furyk spent a captain’s pick on Mickelson, the most influential figure in getting players more say in selecting skippers. It was debatable but defensible.
Furyk shared all nine of his Ryder Cup team rooms with Mickelson. Was he ever going to leave Phil at home for the first time in a quarter-century, no matter how poor his form? Furyk also knew that the test posed at Le Golf National would be finding fairways, yet picked a man whose driving accuracy stats suggest he couldn’t hit French territory if he teed off from atop the Eiffel Tower.
Furyk can doubtless defend his decisions, but the appearance exists of a buddy system too willing to place faith in its own.
That is the lingering ill effect of the task force changes.
Perhaps it’s time for a broader debate on whether the captaincy — of either team — should be a spoil shared among favored sons. The idea that a successful captain must step aside because it is someone else’s ‘turn’ is counterproductive to a goal of winning.
The job of Ryder Cup captain should not automatically become vacant on Monday morning.
Paul McGinley was the finest European captain in recent memory. Had he wished to remain in the job after 2014, he should have been permitted to do so. The same goes for Love after his victory in 2016.
The new PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh had a stellar business career and knows that leadership is conferred by delivering results, not because it’s your ‘turn.’ Waugh should take a proactive role in selecting the next American captain, and start that process by discarding the pre-ordained roster we have now.
The Ryder Cup captaincy is an exercise in accountability, not in democracy, but it still shouldn’t function in the manner of a North Korean succession plan.
Here’s one solution: anoint Mickelson to the position now. He has been shadow captain for years, has mentored the team’s next generation, and has evidenced a late in life but genuine passion for the event. Give him the job and let him keep it until either his results or his enthusiasm ebb.
Phil 2020. Finally, a ticket most Americans can get behind.
Golfweek, Sept. 30, 2018.