Post Mortem: Fixing the U.S. Ryder Cup Team

by   |   October 8, 2012
Davis Love

By Seth Kerr

GolfWRX Staff Writer

Every golfer, writer, and Monday morning quarterback has given his or her opinions on what went wrong with the 2012 Unitied States Team. Many believe the U.S. Team didn’t want to win as bad as the Europeans, pointing to Bubba Watson’s congratulatory tweets and Phil Mickelson’s thumbs-up while losing to Justin Rose as two examples.

The problem is, no one has said how to fix it. The U.S. has only won once this century and a meager one time on foreign soil since 1993.  For a majority of those years, Tiger and Phil were playing and still couldn’t win on European soil.

But instead of crying about the past, its time to provide the PGA of America with a plan to win moving forward.

Paul Azinger

In 2005, USA Basketball hired Jerry Colangelo to take responsibility for picking the team after disappointing finishes in 2002 and 2004. His teams went on to win the Olympics in 2008 and 2012 with a little help from Mike Krzyzewski.

Well the PGA of America needs their Jerry Colangelo.

I don’t know who is in charge of picking the captain, other than it’s the PGA of America, but shouldn’t I? I watch much more golf than basketball and have no idea who runs the show. Wouldn’t the Ryder Cup benefit from having a well-known player in charge of the team?

It’s an easy choice really: Paul Azinger

He is the last captain to win, one of the most intense players in U.S. Ryder Cup history and shows more passion announcing the Ryder Cup than most of the players playing. He put together a system that worked when nothing before it, or since it, has. The team needs the fire and intensity he shows, and he would put everything into the job.

The job is too difficult for a once every two year (more on this later) captain who is normally still trying to play on Tour. The captain needs to be Coach K. Don’t worry about all the administerial tasks leading up to the Cup. Come in and lead the team to victory when the Cup starts.

Azinger is the perfect person to have in charge of the U.S. Team. He can work to implement and assist the captain in formulating a plan and picking a team for victory. In the two years between Ryder Cups, he can scout players on a weekly basis, since he rarely plays and is normally announcing each week. He can arrange team outfits, dinners, practice schedules and everything leading up to the Ryder Cup that is a drain on the captain. Then during the week of the Cup he can be there to assist the captain and provide another pair of eyes on the course. 

Choosing a Captain and Assistant Captains

Azinger’s most important job will be to pick a captain. And to pick a captain who plans to captain for four years. Yes, four years. No more two-year captains. There are not enough decent players to have a new captain every two years.

Look at the names the U.S. Team has to pick from moving ahead. There aren’t many players. The early name being banded about for 2014 is David Toms. No disrespect to Mr. Toms but he is still actively playing, and playing worse than all 12 members of the team.

The Captain should be someone who has done something special in golf, not just the next American in line. Staying for four years will give the team consistency and make sure the field of potential captains to choose from isn’t too thin.

The same is true of Assistant Captains. Assistant Captains only qualification should not be being friends with the Captain. Fred Couples and now Davis Love III took flak for having Michael Jordan as an assistant. You tell me who is likely to bring more awe and inspiration to the team, Mike Hulbert and Scott Verplank or Michael Jordan?

Picking a Team

The U.S. players seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to the “team” aspect of the competition. Maybe its because they gravitate toward each other on the PGA Tour, but for whatever reason the Europeans seem closer.  he U.S. Team has to do something to close the gap.

Getting the players together more often is the way to do it. Every two years the Cup is played somewhere in Europe. What is stopping the captain from getting a group of players together for a couple days each year before or after the British Open to get together, play the course, have dinner together, and hang out to get to know each other. The majority of top Americans are in Europe anyway so it should be pretty simple to schedule.

The years the Cup is in the U.S. it would be even easier to get a group of guys together.

Invite the top 25 Americans in the world and see how they bond and like the course. See who likes to play together, and who is a fit on the course or which young guys hold up to the pressure of playing with the veterans.

Your telling me the players not guaranteed a spot wouldn’t show up to make sure the Captain knows they want to make the team?

Plan for the future

This one should seem pretty obvious. The team should always be planning for the future, but do they?

Looking at the 2012 Team, how many players would you guarantee will be on the 2014 team or 2016 team?

Probably Tiger, but are we sure he can get his game back to the top and play under pressure? He hasn’t shown the ability to perform under real pressure with his new swing. Plus he has an old body with a number of ailments. It is a fair question if his body will hold up two or four more years.

Phil? It’s conceivable Phil won’t be in the top eight of the point standings in two years. He already plays a limited schedule and will continue to do so as he ages and his family time becomes more and more valuable. Not to mention, he didn’t exactly set the Tour on fire this year anyway.

You can assume Bubba, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson have a chance to play in many more Ryder Cups. All five played reasonably well this year and Dufner and Johnson even won their Sunday matches.

The rest? We have probably seen the last of Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar could make the team again, but their spots are hardly guaranteed.

It’s time to build a farm system for the U.S. Team.

This year’s team should have brought a number of younger players to Medinah to soak in the experience and see what they could expect from playing in the Ryder Cup. Having Nick Watney, Kyle Stanley, Bill Haas and other guys come to Medinah and learn from the experience would have been invaluable, so if they make the team someday they would know what to expect.

In 2014, a group of young guns should make the trip to Gleneagles. Call them team interns if you want.

Doing the same thing the last 20 years and expecting to stem the European tide has done nothing to help the PGA of America. Chalking up 2012 to a herculean comeback would be a foolish mistake. The question is whether anybody is going to do something about it.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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Seth is an avid golfer playing year round in Florida.

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