Who lost the Ryder Cup for the Americans, dammit!!

So now the recrimination begins. Who lost the Ryder Cup for the Americans?

Was it Phil and Keegan because they weren’t that sharp on Friday? Was it Tom Watson for deciding to sit them for both Saturday session? Was it Jim Furyk because he’s been having trouble closing lately? Was it Webb Simpson because he came in not playing well as a Captain’s pick and didn’t seem to have his normal edge? Was it Hunter Mahan who couldn’t hold a 4Up lead over Justin Rose and settled for a halve? Or how about Jordan Spieth, with all his promise, who led off getting Graeme McDowell 3Dn after 5 and then let him up to lose by 2? Or how about Bubba Watson with all his theatrics on the first tee going 0-3-0?

And how about let’s get Watson some more. Why didn’t he adopt Captain Paul Azinger’s pod system that was so successful at Vahalla? That was so slick, wasn’t it? It was a bottom/up management system with the players responsible for their 4-man pods including Captain’s picks and who played when. Wasn’t that much better than Watson’s old-school, authoritarian, top/down system? 

So this it pretty much how the post-loss media session went (with a couple of representative embellishments I added for the folks playing at home). At one point there was a persistent attempt over a couple of questions to pit Phil’s admiring explanation of the pod system (he was asked about it, he didn’t bring it up) against Watson’s glaring failure when that wasn’t the point of the explanation in the first place. Things were bad enough; that didn’t need to be injected into the gloom.

The reason the Americans lost the Ryder Cup is that the Europeans played better than they did.

But wait! Wait! Somebody has to be to blame for this. What about the players who didn’t play good? What were they trying to do, throw the game?

I’ve taken this hypothetical rant over the line with that one to make the point about how rabid we become in our disappointment. Somebody has to be at fault! We need to fix this thing so that it doesn’t happen again!

The truth is that every one of those players were tying as hard as they could to win points for America, for their team, for their captain. Nobody lost on purpose. Nobody wanted that stain on their career forever.

We all know that, but in the flushed heat of another ignominious loss, we lash out, thinking we care more than the hapless players do. Nobody cares more than the guy who has to wear the crown of thorns.

We conveniently forget that the game of golf has thousands of variables: physical, mental, psychological, meteorological, agronomic, etc. About the only constant is gravity. And even then, there’s the mystery of the fourth dimension where all of these things are brought together in a cohesive, unifying way…we think.

Plus! Putting greens, no matter how finely constructed, rolled and double cut, are not billiard tables. Stated another way, not all good putts go in. Which is a big problem to overcome when the secret to winning the Ryder Cup has finally been revealed: it’s all about the putting.

When you finally find some quality time to devote to putting practice, pay attention to how many differences there are in each stroke. You really have to quiet the mind to be able to do that. How may different paths does your putter track on both sides of the ball? How many different angles of attack does the putter come into the ball with? How much loft do you add or subtract on the target side of the ball? Which hand takes the putter back and which hand delivers it to the ball? If you think they work together, which one tries to dominate? Do you breath when you make a stroke?

These are but a few variables that Tour pros take into account when they putt. Think not? Spend an hour at the putting practice green at a PGA Tour event on Tuesday and Wednesday the next chance you get. You will see all manner of contraptions laid on the green designed to do one thing: train a putting stroke to a defined path. They will constrain the path with tees in the ground, a metal arch the heel of the putter rides and even large ball bearings that get knocked out of machined notches in a metal plate if the path is off a little bit.

Now imagine trying to do all of that fine sewing in front of 30,000 fans who will erupt no matter what you do. 30,000 fans who will roar their approval if you make it, boosting you into euphoria or casting you into shame with their “oohing” dismay if you don’t. 30,000 fans who will render “judgements” about you and not think favorably about you for a millennium.

Tour pros train themselves to all of this; it’s the reason they tuck themselves into the zone and walk the courses with few expressions on their faces. They look like they are zombies, but ask them later on a good day and they will tell you they were having a lot of fun.

So on a bad day like today when nothing was falling, we need to free ourselves from the act of judgement, be grateful we even have such fine players on our side and, knowing that they wanted it worse than we did, compassionately wait for the good times to come again.

They are, after all, our boys.

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2 Responses to Who lost the Ryder Cup for the Americans, dammit!!

  1. Lee Garcia says:

    Excellent summary of the nonsense of the talking heads Bill. Whether its called a pod, a matrix, or a template, the Euros had the better players heading into the Ryder Cup and there should have been LITTLE surprise that they would win fairly easily. I will bet you a Euro that the method of choosing the U.S. team WILL CHANGE before the next Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. We clearly did not have the two hottest and seriously tested players, Chris and Billy, for this contest, and that was a major failing of our weak process of team selection compared to the Europeans.

  2. John Monteleone says:

    I agree that the loss is a case of one team playing better than the other. I have one observation that I think contributes to winning. Golfers who can adapt to team competing, including embracing one’s role, whatever that role happens to be, on a team get better results. The captain or the pod leader needs to understand the psychological make-up and playing strengths vs. weaknesses of each player and put him in the best position to perform well. In baseball, it’s having a pitcher with two great pitches in the bullpen and those with three great pitches as your starters. It’s knowing which guy has the mental makeup to close a game and which will perform better in the seventh or eight innings, those innings usually of less importance and pressure. In golf it’s knowing which player loves to hunt pins, and playing him alongside the guy who’s comfortable shooting for the middle of the green. It’s playing a bomber who can reach the par 5s in two with the great short-game player—who cares if it’s a two-putt birdie or a wedge and one putt for a birdie? Two players with different playing mentalities complement each other and neither is playing outside his comfort level. This doesn’t always guarantee victories but it allows every player to play knowing that the role he’s assumed matches his comfort zone. Players can then relax and enjoy the competition. You are ready to play extraordinary golf. The team personality will emerge naturally. Too much is made of a captain creating a team identify with his style of coaching (perhaps that’s why the pod system seemed better—it kept the players closer to the process of choosing pairings and opponent matchups). Remember the scruffy beards that the 2013 world series champion Boston Red Soxs sported? The team personality evolved—unkept, dogged, old-school competitors . . . and world champs!