For all of the uncertainties surrounding the 43rd Ryder Cup — Will Brooks and Bryson bond amid a bruising battle, à la Rocky and Apollo Creed? Will an aggrieved Mrs. Reed use her J-Anon Twitter account to strafe those who forsook her man? — there is one guarantee: regardless of the outcome, Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington are both out of a job when the closing ceremony concludes.
For one of them, it will be the price of failure. For the other, a bum’s rush despite a job well done.
Two men who will be out of a job after the Ryder Cup.
Bruce Arians stayed on as head coach of the Bucs after their Super Bowl LV victory last winter, just as Andy Reid remained in charge of the Chiefs after winning LIV. Success in the biggest game tends to provide job security, unless you’re a Ryder Cup captain. In which case even winners must step aside because, well, it’s just someone else’s turn.
If we applied the win-and-you-stay convention of other team sports to the Ryder Cup, Stricker’s counterpart at Whistling Straits next week would be Thomas Bjorn. That’s not a rap on Harrington, who deserves his turn at the tiller of the Good Ship Europe. Still, his predecessor led the Old World to a 17½-10½ victory three years ago in Paris. It was Europe’s most lopsided win since ’06, but not enough to keep the Great Dane in the job. Things have changed since the days when Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher combined to captain Europe for seven consecutive matches.
“It’s an honorary position,” Bjorn told me. “From our side, I think it’s a one-time job as a lot of people deserve to have a go.”
He named a plethora of deserving candidates for the role, including Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Luke Donald.
“It is a bit strange,” he added, “but it’s great to see what two new captains bring.”
Would Bjorn have wanted to captain the team again?
“Of course I would, but it’s not realistic so I’m happy and honored that I got a chance to do it,” he said.
The problem with treating the Ryder Cup captaincy as an entitlement is that it sometimes means swapping a proven leader for the promise of a glittering résumé. Some of golf’s most accomplished individuals, notably Nick Faldo and Tom Watson, had much less impressive turns as Ryder Cup skippers than men with more slender curricula vitae.
Paul McGinley was an outstanding leader who trumped Watson’s résumé at Gleneagles in 2014, but he had to turn over the reins to Darren Clarke, whose team was thrashed two years later. “I would have loved to have another go, particularly away from home, but never considered it,” McGinley said. “It would be selfish to stay in the modern era knowing others would love a go.”
He echoed Bjorn’s sentiment that the Ryder Cup ultimately benefits from the variables of changing captains and players.
Not every successful captain wants to stay on. They’re usually on the cusp of the most lucrative years on the senior circuit (Harrington turned 50 last month; Stricker, at 54, is infringing upon his prime annuity period) and have other priorities. But if a captain does want to remain in the post, and his appointing committee is happy, why should he step aside?
Davis Love III was no less capable and admired a captain in ’12 — when the U.S. team lost — than he was in ’16, when they won. Victory does not in itself define a strong captain. Love was worthy of another term and it shouldn’t have required the task force upheaval for that to happen.
If Stricker and Harrington prove excellent leaders, there’s no reason they should exit stage right on Sunday simply because a cast of fine understudies is waiting in the wings. Performance ought to count for something. Because right now the captain who leaves with Samuel Ryder’s little gold cup has exactly the same future in the job as his empty-handed counterpart: none.
Published at Golfweek.com, September 18, 2021.