Losing captain always thrown to the wolves

Oh captain, my captain!

Losing captain always thrown to the wolves

Oh captain, my captain!

It’s one of sport’s most thankless jobs.

Just ask, Corey Pavin, who is forever remembered for his team’s rainsuit malfunction in 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales. If you win, your players made the birdies, but if you lose, despite never hitting a shot, the captain is held responsible and, oh, the second-guessing. writes Adam Schupak

Once upon a time, the role of Ryder Cup captain was simply a mascot -- he was a former major champion expected to stand up, take bows, salute the flag and say funny things. The toughest task? To choose which colour shirts their team played in.

That all changed with Tony Jacklin, who in four tours of duty in command of Team Europe proved that there were elements for a captain to affect if never wholly control.

He was the master tactician, always plotting his next move, second-guessing his opposite number with his singles order, and finding surprise, but correct, pairings.

Paul Azinger cracked the code for the US in 2008 and Paul McGinley proved to be in the Jacklin mold in 2014. Win and you can write a best-selling book on how you did it, be a TV star at future Ryder Cups and drink for free for the rest of your life. Lose and you could be Darren Clarke, just two years removed from leading a failed campaign at Hazeltine, who is missing in action this week. (If you look hard enough, you’ll find him playing a PGA Tour Champions event at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.)

Prepare to be Monday-quarterbacked to death. American Captain Jim Furyk had to answer questions for playing Phil Mickelson in foursomes on Friday, where his crooked tee game was exposed, rather than fourballs, and said, “If I had to do it again, I would.”

Then he sat Mickelson all day Saturday. Furyk’s job seemed to be made simpler given that among the core of his team he had three built-in pairings: Patrick Reed-Jordan Spieth; Justin Thomas-Rickie Fowler, and Dustin Johnson-Brooks Koepka. Instead, he paired Thomas-Spieth in four sessions to great success but Fowler and Reed were lost without their partners, and Johnson and Koepka only teamed once and lost. So much for continuity.

Some of his pairings have been uglier than his swing,” one scribe wrote.

Bjorn’s best move was sensing that the American side’s strength was its strength. He neutralised the American power game off the tee by taking the driver out of their hands by narrowing fairways and growing the rough.

The average rank of Furyk’s team on the PGA Tour’s accuracy list is 131. Europe: 83. He would’ve been better off picking himself — he ranked 10th in fairways hit — or any one of his vice-captains such as Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker or Matt Kuchar.

Furyk always was a fierce competitor, but as a captain there was little he could do to affect the outcome. Is it his fault that Woods, Reed, Fowler and Mickelson didn’t produce a single point over the first two days? Still, some claimed that he was badly outcoached by Bjorn whose four wildcard picks had each delivered at least one point and six in total, whereas Furyk’s four choices have combined for just one point in the four sessions.

On Saturday morning, Bjorn was asked to name the toughest decision he had to mull over?

Do you go with the same theory as you did yesterday and get everybody on the golf course, or do you go with the successful group of guys that did so well in those foursomes?” Bjorn said. “In the end, I just felt like these foursomes did well and they feel comfortable with each other.

In doing so, the Dane sat his fellow countryman Thorbjorn Olesen. Down 10-6 heading into the singles session, Furyk said he had little choice but to front-load his lineup and try to put some early points on the board. Bjorn faced his own dilemma. Go for the knockout punch by putting his six best players at the top to grab the 4½ points needed to achieve victory? Or save some studs for the back end? And where should he hide an out-of-form player? It’s decision such as these that establish a legacy for a captain.

The succession plan for Team Europe is told in its vice captains.

Pádraig Harrington, who turned 47 in August, served his third tour of duty in the role and is expected to be named Europe’s next leader for Whistling Straits in 2020. The three-time major winner has said publicly he’s ready for the job. Englishman Lee Westwood, a 10-time Ryder Cupper, likely would be in line for 2022 in Italy.

Then it gets a bit murkier for Team Europe. They have an embarrassment of riches to choose from as potential captains, all ranging in age from 38-42: Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson will fill out the dance card for quite some time.

As Bjorn conceded, “Someone will have to miss out.”

Harrington, McDowell and the other future captains of the Blue and Gold should take heed that the result will shape the way they are remembered. Win and you’re a legend; lose and you’re a goat.

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