Monday, September 29

European Dominance and Culture of Blame

EUROPE HAS WON YET ANOTHER RYDER CUP. The final score was Europe 16 1/2, United States 11 1/2. The Europeans have now won three in a row, six of seven and eight of 10.

"No team embodies togetherness quite like Europe," wrote Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press.

So very true.

Judging from the press conference afterward, Ferguson could also have written no team embodies blame and bitterness quite like the United States. It was personified by none other than Phil Mickelson.

I will not defend the captaincy of Tom Watson. He may be out of date. He may not have been very communicative in this modern sports era of collaborative coaching. He did it his autocratic way, and he and his team came away from Gleneagles with a loss. The blame is now raining down on Watson like a Scottish storm.

But this U.S. team, with Watson at the helm, has something in common with 10 other American squads since 1985. A defeat. One could say that it hasn't made much difference who the captain is for the Americans. The result has been the same.

The one fairly recent exception was 2008, when U.S. captain Paul Azinger introduced the pod system and the United States won at Valhalla. Mickelson would have us believe that Azinger was the difference, that the pod system was a stroke of genius. Maybe so. But also this: maybe the Europeans didn't play quite as well that year. And, of course, the Ryder Cup was in Louisville, Kentucky.

Which matters more: the players or the captains?

Maybe the answer is not clear cut, but I go back to the Ferguson quote: "No team embodies togetherness quite like Europe."

Whether for Captain McGinley or Captain Montgomerie or [insert name], the Europeans are great players who play for each other and overcome adversity. They fight back in matches to get a half point when all seems lost. They love to win for their countries and their continent. Perhaps more than anything, they absolutely love to beat America.

By and large, in recent years, I have not seen that same resolve and fire from the American players. Is that entirely Watson's and the other U.S. captains' fault?

American skipper Davis Love III was absolutely brilliant heading into Sunday at Medinah in 2012. Ahead 10-6, the Americans were on their way to victory. And then they lost, an epic collapse.

Was that Love's fault, as Mickelson inferred yesterday? Is it all about pods?

No team embodies togetherness quite like Europe. No team embodies blame quite like the United States. This is one takeaway from the 2014 Ryder Cup.

This also could be why Team USA will continue to lose until there's a change of attitude. Regardless of the captain, it seems abundantly clear that the U.S. team needs to perform better under Ryder Cup pressure if it's going to beat the Europeans.

I suggest this to American players: You don't like your captain's philosophy or management style? Understood. Go out and win your point anyway. You are playing for pride. You are playing for your teammates. You are playing for your country.

And when it's over, whether you win or lose, don't gloat and don't blame.


Kevin Markham said...

Well put, Neil,
I also think it's in the American psyche now and that's tough to shake - it's as if Europe have a one point advantage before the contest even begins.

The Armchair Golfer said...