| The Dis-United States in Ca­pit­u­la­tion

Does the typ­i­cal PGA TOUR pro­fes­sional un­der­stand team golf in gen­eral?

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Mike Wil­son

Hav­ing taken back con­trol of the Ry­der Cup with a com­mand­ing 17-11 vic­tory over Europe at Hazel­tine in 2016, it had looked as if the good ship USA had been stead­ied and was pre­par­ing to sail into French wa­ters to record back-to-back wins for the first time since the 1990s.

Just a week af­ter Tiger Woods had re­gained that win­ning feel­ing with a stun­ning in­di­vid­ual vic­tory at the PGA TOUR Championship, he and the rest of his high-fly­ing team rais­ing the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion whether the typ­i­cal PGA TOUR pro­fes­sional un­der­stands team golf in gen­eral and the Ry­der Cup in par­tic­u­lar.

The Stars & Stripes had won only 8 out of 21. But Hazel­tine in 2016 un­der the shrewd cap­taincy of Davis Love III ap­peared, on the sur­face at least, to have reignited the USA’s pas­sion for the Ry­der Cup and its team mem­bers’ love of golf’s equiv­a­lent of handto-hand com­bat.

It was the 42nd Ry­der Cup, the first ever to be staged in France, that Team USA had en­tered the fray as red-hot favourites for the first time in a gen­er­a­tion. The Amer­i­can wiped-out 0–4 on the Fri­day four­somes. They failed to mea­sure up in the cru­cial Sun­day Sin­gles, los­ing 7.5 to 4.5 pts. Woods – hero one week, zero the next - fail­ing to reg­is­ter a sin­gle point for Team USA in four matches. Phil Mick­el­son stood down for two vi­tal Satur­day four­somes and four­balls sim­i­larly draw­ing a blank, no points from two matches.

And it was widely felt that Team USA, as favourites and hold­ers – mean­ing they only needed a 14–14 pts tie to re­tain the small gold cup – had too much fire­power for an in­ex­pe­ri­enced Euro­pean team un­der a cap­tain few had faith in.

How­ever, Europe’s go-to men, Ian Pouter, Hen­rik Sten­son and Ser­gio Gar­cía, those bat­tle­hard­ened Ry­der Cup war­riors all con­trib­uted heav­ily to the win­ning 17.5 points in to­tal. So as did Ital­ian Francesco Moli­nari, who be­came the first Euro­pean to play five - win five - in what was a cru­cial con­tri­bu­tion from the best player in world golf right now, bar none.

De­feated cap­tain Jim Furyk was mag­nan­i­mous in de­feat, say­ing at the of­fi­cial post-match press con­fer­ences, “Hats off to what they ac­com­plished this week, Thomas (Bjørn) did a great job as cap­tain, play­ers on their team, class acts, and gritty,” adding, “When we put some heat on them early this af­ter­noon, they re­sponded. They played some great golf this week, and I take my cap off, their team out-played us, and there's noth­ing else more you can say, they de­served to win, they played well.”

Masters cham­pion Pa­trick Reed, re­ported to be less-than-pop­u­lar in the PGA TOUR locker-room was first to break USA ranks to tell the me­dia, "I was look­ing at (Jor­dan) like I was about to light the room up like Phil in ’14,” adding, “Ev­ery day, I saw ‘Leave your egos at the door’, but they (the Euro­peans) do that bet­ter than us.”

Reed was also un­happy that Furyk sat him out for two ses­sions. "For some­body as suc­cess­ful in the Ry­der Cup as I am, I don’t think it’s smart to sit me twice,” the reign­ing Masters cham­pion said.

Team USA had al­ready been un­der a cloud since an open­ing-day in­ci­dent in which an Egyp­tian spec­ta­tor had re­port­edly lost the sight of an eye af­ter be­ing struck by a loose tee-shot from Brooks Koepka. A seem­ingly Dis-United States team looked in­creas­ingly un­man­age­able, while the multi­na­tional Euro­pean team seems to bind and blend with re­mark­able ease.

Suc­ces­sion plan­ning is said to be al­ready un­der­way, and one might sus­pect there could be a few more ap­pli­ca­tions on Euro­pean bosses’ desks than so­lic­i­ta­tions for what some con­tem­po­rary PGA TOUR stars are be­gin­ning to see as some­thing of a poi­soned chal­ice.

In­deed, ru­mour al­ready has it with Lee West­wood re­port­edly stand­ing aside un­til Italy 2022 that Pádraig Har­ring­ton will be the 26th cap­tain for the re-match as Whistling Straits in 2020.

Furyk then jumped into the Spi­eth/Reed de­bate, say­ing "Jor­dan and Pa­trick have been great in the past. Whether that’s a point of con­tention or not I felt we had two great pair­ings out of it.

“So, it was to­tally my de­ci­sion and my call,” con­tin­ued Furyk, few be­liev­ing him,

in­sist­ing, “'It just didn't work out for them this way, but I would like to put it down to our 12 play­ers just play­ing re­ally, re­ally well.”

Lead­er­ship, it is said, falls some­where be­tween an art and a sci­ence. Ar­guably, in sport, es­pe­cially team sport and in golf with its many ex­ter­nal fac­tors be­yond a cap­tain’s con­trol, more of a for­ward plan­ning, hard work and hope-for-the-best ap­proach. But it does ap­pear for the time be­ing at least, Europe has the In­dian sign over Cap­tain Amer­ica and its charges.

It has been sug­gested that the 2018 Ry­der Cup was won be­fore it had even be­gun. Euro­pean cap­tain Bjørn and his many as­sis­tants, also known as ‘the next cabs off the rank,’ were put­ting the fin­ish­ing touches to their strat­egy, is­su­ing each player with a spe­cially-com­mis­sioned DVD in­clud­ing touch­stone mo­ments and quin­tes­sen­tial quotes from for­mer cap­tains Brian Huggett, Sam Tor­rance and José Maria Olazábál.

For this cor­re­spon­dent at least, the term ‘suc­cess’ can be brought by - and mea­sured against - a fu­sion of fac­tors over which cap­tains and play­ers have lim­ited con­trol and in­flu­ence.

These in­clude in­di­vid­ual, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional pride, a sense of in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive pur­pose, men­tal and phys­i­cal strength, mu­tual re­spect, per­sonal and cu­mu­la­tive de­sire and, prin­ci­pally, in the case of Team USA, fi­nan­cial re­mu­ner­a­tion.

Lack­ing the for­mer, the col­leagues they re­quire to bond with are, week-in, week-out, arch ri­vals on the PGA TOUR (in­ter­col­le­giate af­fil­i­a­tions can of­ten out­weigh the bond of the Stars and Stripes). Jim Furyk’s team, like many be­fore them (and one sus­pects af­ter), were/will be de­prived of their pri­mary (some might say sole) driv­ing force - hard cash.

Team USA is in­di­vid­u­ally and cor­po­rately be­wil­dered, col­lec­tively con­fused by the no­tion that there is no multi-mil­lion-dol­lar prize fund on the line on Sun­day af­ter­noon. Just a small, some­what anony­mous gold tro­phy, com­mu­nal pride and a sense of coun­try­wide achieve­ment, which, the next week, the fol­low­ing big-money tour­na­ment can, and will blank out, send­ing the mem­ory of a dispir­it­ing de­feat into the far dis­tance.

Tiger Woods had re­gained the win­ning feel­ing with a stun­ning in­di­vid­ual vic­tory at the PGATOUR Championship just one week be­fore the Ry­der Cup

Euro­pean Team cel­e­brates win­ning the 2018 Ry­der Cup

Justin Thomas and Jor­dan Spi­eth watch Jon Rahm play a tee shot dur­ing the Satur­day morn­ing four­balls

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