We have been here before of course, as recently as 2014 when Phil Mickelson, now a veteran of 12 Ryder Cup matches, which includes nine defeats, roundly criticised his team captain Tom Watson in the post-match press conference. Mickelson slammed Watson’s authoritarian leadership model that he viewed as outdated and which left his team competitively disadvantaged.
His agitated comments set off a series of changes that radically reformed the US selection process for the Ryder Cup captaincy, including a succession model. It also created a more updated player selection process as well as a more modified playing system - built around the “pod model”, originally introduced so successfully by Paul Azinger in 2008 to allow the US team play their best golf.
That Mickelson was prepared to stake his reputation on these changes spoke volumes in itself, and when the USA duly delivered in Hazeltine in 2016, he was given great credit for helping make the US the dominant team once more. But the greatest validity for this new process was only ever going to come in Europe, where the US team had not won for 25 years.
Prior to those matches in 2016, Mickelson said that the players had known for a while who they were going to be paired with, allowing them to learn one another’s personalities and become invested in one another’s success, by way of building a collective camaraderie among players, vice-captains and captain.
In Mickelson’s post-match interview last Sunday, he complimented Furyk’s captaincy for bringing “everybody in together on decisions”.
But not all the American players were reading the same script. Masters champion Patrick Reed roundly criticised both Furyk and Jordan Spieth for not respecting his Ryder Cup record enough and for breaking up his winning partnership with Spieth, (at Spieth’s request). And Reed had a point, given they won 5½ points together over the past two Ryder Cups.
As Reed rightly pointed out: “He (Spieth) and I know how to make each other better.
We know how to get the job done. When it comes right down to it, I don’t care if I like the person I’m paired with or if the person likes me, as long as it works and it sets up the team for success”.
Reed’s comments have no doubt come as a hammer-blow to a team already reeling from a comprehensive defeat, but clearly his view also reflects the fact that all was not well in the camp.
As a player and a major champion, no one can doubt Reed’s pedigree. He is super talented but he is also a controversial character who has unwavering faith in his own ability but likes to call things as he sees it and that is often viewed as both brash and alienating.
He is famously estranged from his parents and younger sister for years, even having them escorted off the grounds of the 2014 US Open at Pinehurst and even though they live in Augusta, they did not witness his victory at this year’s US Masters.
That said, no one can argue but that he bleeds red, white and blue, talking about how great he felt representing Team USA in the Olympics, while other leading lights including Jordan Spieth stayed away, lamely blaming their absence on the threat of the Zika virus.
So, let’s judge him on his golf, not the person we think he might be, when we don’t really know him.
As the current US Masters champion, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour and a three-time Ryder Cup player with a very healthy record in the Ryder Cup, which includes wins in all three of his singles matches, Reed’s observations deserve to be listened to and be respected.
As one of America’s most important players, his opinion, especially when talking about a formidable winning partnership, should have been listened to, but why wasn’t it?
He intimates that there was more of a buddy call on partnerships than proven formulas? Surely this goes against everything that Phil Mickelson staked his reputation on just four years ago at Gleneagles?
Given that the USA entered the week with one ambition to retain the Ryder Cup on European soil for the first time in 25 years, shouldn’t they have known the enormity of the task that they already faced?
It was a time for complete respect, for the perfect hand to be played and that included tried and trusted pairings, just as the Europeans so readily reverted to their proven forumulas time and again.
Did the USA team have a chance of winning last week? Absolutely but only if egos and reputations were first parked at the front door.
In the end, Jim Furyk let his own captaincy down by not being true to everyone. Reed knows that and so too do the team, judging by their body language last week.
Being a divisive character, Reed’s message is now more likely to be shut down by the bigger personalities in the team. Already they are thinking about themselves, it seems.
Tom Watson is probably quietly chuckling to himself in some distant corner but if the USA is truly serious about being consistently competitive once more then they need to listen to, and acknowledge Reed’s honesty.
Only then will they get all of their players consistently winning points as Europe did last week.
With egos flying high, don’t suspect that to happen any time soon.