Love changes ev­ery­thing

> US team unity downs tran­si­tion­ing Europe

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

NEU­TRAL OB­SERVERS are rare when it comes to the Ry­der Cup, one of the most highly charged oc­ca­sions in sport, but most would agree Sun­day’s win by the United States gave the team com­pe­ti­tion a timely jolt.

Un­der con­sid­er­able pres­sure to avoid a fourth suc­ces­sive loss to Europe, a much more teamor­i­ented Amer­i­can lineup dis­played bril­liant golf over the three days at Hazel­tine, with a fired-up Pa­trick Reed their very vis­i­ble on-course heart­beat.

US cap­tain Davis Love III took a leaf or two out of tri­umphant 2008 skip­per Paul Azinger’s play book with great suc­cess as the team also ben­e­fited from a com­plete over­haul, from top to bot­tom, of their en­tire Ry­der Cup sys­tem.

Rec­om­men­da­tions by an 11man task force set up af­ter the Amer­i­cans’ heavy loss to Europe at Gle­nea­gles in 2014 were im­ple­mented, and Love and his play­ers also took ad­van­tage of a Euro­pean team un­der­go­ing some­thing of a tran­si­tion.

“I see this Euro­pean team sim­i­lar in a way to the side that Nick Faldo cap­tained at Val­halla (in 2008) and that team also went down,” for­mer Euro­pean Tour ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Ken Schofield told Reuters.

“That was a tran­si­tional team, and so is the team Dar­ren (Clarke) brought to Hazel­tine. As we know, we have lost three re­cent great Ry­der Cup­pers in (Ian) Poul­ter, (Graeme) McDow­ell and (Luke) Don­ald, and those were big boots to fill.

“We can cer­tainly say that young Thomas Pi­eters has stepped up and Rafa CabreraBello also stepped up, and the ex­pe­ri­ence of the other boys who were amongst the six who were new to the Ry­der Cup will only be good for Europe’s fu­ture.”

Euro­pean cap­tain Dar­ren Clarke had six Cup debu­tants in his 12-man lineup – Andy Sul­li­van, Danny Wil­lett, Chris Wood, Matt Fitz­patrick, Pi­eters and Cabr­era-Bello.

Long-hit­ting Bel­gian Pi­eters (pix) capped a bril­liant week by set­ting a Euro­pean rookie record with four points af­ter playing in all five ses­sions while Spa­niard Cabr­era-Bello im­pres­sively reg­is­tered 2-1/2 points from his three matches.

In stark con­trast, Sul­li­van, Masters cham­pion Wil­lett, Wood and Fitz­patrick came away with a col­lec­tive total of one point.

Clarke will also be crit­i­cised by many pun­dits for his ques­tion­able de­ci­sion to se­lect good friend Lee West­wood as one of his three wild­card picks at Hazel­tine, in­stead of Scot­land’s Rus­sell Knox, a dou­ble win­ner on the PGA Tour this sea­son.

West­wood is now a vet­eran of 10 Ry­der Cups and, while his ex­pe­ri­ence was cer­tainly help­ful to the six rook­ies on Clarke’s team, he strug­gled badly with his putting, par­tic­u­larly from short range, and ended the week with zero points.

As for the Amer­i­cans, ev­ery sin­gle player on Love’s team con­trib­uted at least one point, a feat that had not been achieved since the 1975 Ry­der Cup at Laurel Val­ley, when the late Arnold Palmer was cap­tain.

Just like Azinger at Val­halla in 2008, Love en­sured that his play­ers were fully in­vested in ev­ery as­pect of their team and prac­tised in ‘pods’ of four, while he also re­lied on the in­put of the au­to­matic qual­i­fiers for his four wild­card se­lec­tions.

While Love was non-playing skip­per at Hazel­tine, Mick­el­son was the unofficial on-course cap­tain, hav­ing been a key mem­ber of the task force af­ter lam­bast­ing the tac­tics of 2014 cap­tain Tom Wat­son im­me­di­ately af­ter the US loss at Gle­nea­gles.

“Mick­el­son had some very sting­ing pub­lic com­ments (at Gle­nea­gles) and the pos­i­tive out of that po­ten­tial neg­a­tive was the set­ting up of their in­ter­nal re­view on all fronts,” said Schofield.

“And quite clearly what’s hap­pened is that the play­ers have been asked and have been au­tho­rised to give their views as a way for­ward ... so they feel much more in­volved from start to fin­ish.”

Schofield, who ended a 30year run as Euro­pean Tour ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor in 2005, be­lieves the US are now em­u­lat­ing the shift in Ry­der Cup strat­egy im­ple­mented by Europe when Tony Jack­lin was first ap­pointed as cap­tain for PGA Na­tional in 1983.

That year, Europe hinted at what was to come over the next three decades by chas­ing the Amer­i­cans hard be­fore go­ing down by the wafer-thin mar­gin of 14-1/2 points to 13-1/2.

“The younger play­ers on thethen tour­na­ment com­mit­tee de­cided they wanted Jack­lin as a cap­tain they could re­late to as a ma­jor cham­pion who was still playing, rather than an older per­son with a view to giv­ing an award for past ser­vices,” said Schofield.

“From that mo­ment in Europe, it has been very much a team, an ef­fort by the play­ers for the play­ers. I sense the United States are on that same path­way. It bodes well for the fu­ture.” – Reuters

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