U.S. gets an­other chance to learn from Ry­der Cup suc­cess

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - Doug Fer­gu­son AP Sports Columnist

CHASKA, MINN. >> His shirt soaked from spray­ing cham­pagne in a rare Ry­der Cup vic­tory, Phil Mick­el­son al­ready was look­ing ahead at how to win the next one.

Not only was this a scene from Sun­day at Hazel­tine, it was eight years ago at Val­halla.

Paul Azinger was in charge of sweep­ing changes for the U.S. team. He de­manded a new qual­i­fy­ing sys­tem based on PGA Tour earn­ings in­stead of the ar­chaic method of award­ing points for top 10s. He dou­bled the num­ber of cap­tain’s picks to four play­ers. He broke up his 12 play­ers into three pods based largely on per­son­al­i­ties.

It worked so well — a 16½-11½ vic­tory over Europe in 2008 — that when some­one asked Azinger if he’d like to do it again, Mick­el­son didn’t give him a chance to an­swer.

“Zinger in 2010,” Mick­el­son said that day.

It didn’t hap­pen. For too many years, the PGA of Amer­ica treated the Ry­der Cup cap­taincy as a life­time achieve­ment award. It would be wrong to as­sume the Amer­i­cans im­me­di­ately em­barked on an­other los­ing streak be­cause of the cap­tain. They lost in Wales be­cause they failed to win any of the six matches in the fi­nal team ses­sion and never caught up. That’s just bad golf. It hap­pens.

Mick­el­son, how­ever, picked up on some­thing at Val­halla. Why aban­don suc­cess? That was his point when he pub­licly crit­i­cized the au­thor­i­ta­tive style of Tom Wat­son dur­ing that awk­ward news con­fer­ence at Gle­nea­gles in 2014 af­ter a third straight U.S. loss, its eighth dat­ing to 1995.

Mick­el­son won­dered why the Amer­i­cans got away from player in­put that worked so beau­ti­fully un­der Azinger in 2008 and worked ev­ery year in the Pres­i­dents Cup.

“I have been a part of 10 suc­cess­ful Pres­i­dents Cups and eight los­ing Ry­der Cups,” he said Sun­day dur­ing the first of sev­eral cel­e­bra­tions. “And it’s very easy to see what the dif­fer­ence is. When put in the right en­vi­ron­ment, the U.S. team brought out some of their most amaz­ing golf. We’re bring­ing home the Ry­der Cup be­cause of it.”

Love for cap­tain in 2018? Not quite. There were snick­ers all week that Love wasn’t even the cap­tain. This was as much Mick­el­son’s team, be­cause it was Mick­el­son who risked his pub­lic im­age at Gle­nea­gles by call­ing out Wat­son, a revered fig­ure in golf, even though his mes­sage was aimed at the PGA of Amer­ica.

Tiger Woods was on that Ry­der Cup Task Force geared to­ward get­ting play­ers more in­volved and had strong­est in­flu­ence of any of the five as­sis­tants. Steve Stricker was an­other as­sis­tant cap­tain. He will be the cap­tain of the Pres­i­dents Cup team next year that will fea­ture many of the same play­ers.

This is what Mick­el­son wanted in 2008. This is what the Amer­i­cans have to do now if they want to catch up to Europe.

The se­ries now stands at 26-13-2 in fa­vor of the United States, though that in­cludes too many lean years when Bri­tain was re­build­ing from World War II. The mod­ern Ry­der Cup dates to 1979 when con­ti­nen­tal Europe was in­vited, and Europe has a 10-8-1 ad­van­tage since then.

Mick­el­son had said the suc­cess of the task force could not be mea­sured by re­sults at Hazel­tine. This was not about the next Ry­der Cup but the next 10 of them.

He knew all along that wasn’t the case, which is why the pres­sure he faced — not to men­tion the rest of the Amer­i­cans — was greater than ever.

“The pres­sure started when some dum­b­ass opened his mouth two years ago in the me­dia cen­ter,” Mick­el­son said, self-dep­re­cat­ing in his mo­ment of glory.

The pres­sure doesn’t go away.

It was a re­lief to win, but the Amer­i­cans haven’t won back to back in the Ry­der Cup since 1993, the year Jor­dan Spi­eth was born.

It’s not about who’s the next cap­tain. It could be Mick­el­son, Stricker, Woods or Jim Furyk. It doesn’t mat­ter if the fi­nal cap­tain’s pick is five days be­fore the matches be­gin or if all four are made at the same time.

What mat­ters — what Europe has had all these years — is that play­ers feel as much a part of the process as the peo­ple run­ning the Ry­der Cup.

“We need to build on this. Oth­er­wise, it’s all for naught,” Mick­el­son said. “Yes, it’s great that we had suc­cess this week. But it’s not about one year or one Ry­der Cup. It’s about a mul­ti­tude, for decades to come.”

Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing, and such was the case Sun­day night. Love reached for a bot­tle of cham­pagne as Mick­el­son spoke and popped the cork. The sound made Mick­el­son stop, and he looked over at Love with a smile.

“That’s my cue to shut up,” Mick­el­son said.

It was time for an Amer­i­can cel­e­bra­tion in the Ry­der Cup, and one could sense the strong be­lief they wouldn’t have to wait eight years for an­other one.

Doug Fer­gu­son cov­ers golf for The Associated Press.

CHRIS CARL­SON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Phil Mick­el­son pours cham­pagne on team­mate Jor­dan Spi­eth af­ter the United States team won the Ry­der Cup Sun­day at Hazel­tine Na­tional Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.

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