Not too long ago, when golf fans all around the world would gather to watch the first major golf championship of the year, the US Masters – they watched it as much for its mystique as anything else.
You see, while everyone understood the tournament’s status, no one, apart from those in attendance, got full visibility of what it is to this day, a totally unique golf course presented in full bloom.
That was a time when US players were undisputedly the dominant force in the game. Brash and arrogant, they weren’t afraid to let people know how dominant they were, but much like the way that the mystique surrounding the US Masters today has now been lost (now that we have wall to wall coverage of the event), so too did the American mystique and dominance, once the likes of Ballesteros, Lyle, Faldo, Woosnam, and Langer proved they were capable of winning regularly on the PGA Tour.
At that time, the US team was also the dominant force in the Ryder Cup. They were the best group of players and they played like they were too — so it is understandable Jack Nicklaus viewed the Ryder Cup as little more than a ceremonial event, because that is exactly what it was. Back then there was no real depth to the opposition — but gradually starting with Europe’s emergence in 1979, all of that changed too, and quite remarkably, today Europe goes into the 41st Ryder Cup looking for its fourth victory in a row, its ninth in the past 11 matches.
This week it has been really interesting to listen to all the sound bites coming from the American camp. By now we know all about their new “task force” and the fact the US players are having much more of a say in terms of team selections and placements.
Empowerment it seems is now the answer, and yet we still hear the US team talking about their desire to handle the pressure better? Why? Doesn’t this same US team of hardened professionals already have huge pedigree? As individuals, they have proven that they can handle pressure in abundance so why is this time any different? After all they hold most of the trump cards this week — a more experienced team that is playing on a course set-up to meet their own requirements in front of home support?
And yet we hear no obvious worrying about any sort of detail whatsoever coming out of what is realistically an inferior European team, containing six rookies.
Therein, it seems, lies the difference between Europe and the US Team in recent years. The European Team has effectively compartmentalised a playing structure that allows the players to fully express themselves in their more familiar environment, as individuals on the course — all by way of adding to the team cause.
There is nothing ingenious about this structure but it does involve player ownership and feedback with the management as well as a clear statistical understanding in order for Europe to win, it needs to get a 40-45% return from its top four players with the rest of the tally coming from the other eight players.
And yet, when I look at the American teams of the recent past, I primarily see confusion. They never seem to act or play to their collective or individual strengths despite Paul Azinger’s provision of a winning template at Valhalla as far back as 2008.
This week, there should only be one outcome in reality, that being a comfortable win for America, but their consistent ability to underperform does give Europe a chance.
In order to win, Davis Love must do a number of things correctly. Firstly, he needs to get his homework right and make sure he has his most experienced form players playing consistently against Europe’s best. He needs to have the right players playing the key shots and the best putters putting as often as possible on the greens.
Most crucially, he must do everything in his power to have a united group — a team of individuals, each of whom understand their importance to their team’s ultimate success. Only then will they be able to express themselves fully and play with the type of freedom and composure we most often see from them day in and day out on the regular PGA Tour. Only then will they be fully competitive.
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