What went wrong for the Americans at the Ryder Cup?

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Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Despite predictions to the contrary, Europe captured the 2018 Ryder Cup in convincing fashion. No doubt there will be lots of finger pointing after this one. What went wrong for the Americans?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’m sure the usual adjectives will get bandied about over the next few days… The Americans were: under-coached, over-coached, under-confident, over-confident, trying too hard, lacking in team spirit, jet-lagged, distracted, out of their comfort zones, non-French-speaking, yada yada yada.  The fact is, they were just outplayed.  Pit the same two teams against each other on the same course NEXT weekend, and the result could be the exact opposite. That’s the beauty of today’s Ryder Cup… both teams have achieved parity, so there’s just no predicting who’s gonna win!

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Simple! The USA can’t drive the ball into the fairway. They didn’t hit as many greens and they didn’t putt as well making far fewer birdies. In short, when they play the highly polished, perfectly manicured, medium length rough, pristine courses with wide fairways running adjacent to each other as they do on the PGA Tour they do well. When they can’t escape a poor drive, they don’t do as well.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Everything went wrong for the Americans, starting with the fact that the team laid a collective egg. They were underprepared; they employed the wrong strategy on a difficult, water-laden and shaggy track; they missed fairways; they putted terribly; the players expected to provide some sort of spark plug or leadership did not; and they just seemed to lack a sense of urgency while getting their butts handed to them on Saturday. In all, it was an ugly mess and an extremely disappointing weekend for any die-hard American golf fans out there.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Wow, what a domination by the Euros.  Obviously, the course was a big factor, taking the advantage away from the US bombers.  Hard to say what went wrong with the Americans, but I think it again comes down to team chemistry.  As evidenced by the press conferences and comments after the event, the US squad is not a cohesive group.  The Euros have always had more chemistry and that was more evident this year than any other year.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It’s easy to blame the 0-6 show by Eldrick and Phil and the 2-10 overall bumbling by the ‘picks,’ but what went wrong for the accidental tourists was the Euros playing great on a course they know very well. Parachuting in Kuchar and Schauffele and Kisner as ‘picks’ instead might have made it a bit closer; that’s about it. The stars didn’t shine and the bench was useless. Oh ya, and Molinari happened.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The Euros have won 12 of the last 17 Ryder Cups including five on American soil so this isn’t just a case of home field advantage. I’d say the number one factor in the American loss was not being well prepared. Justin Thomas was the only U.S. player to play in the French Open and get a look at Le Golf National. He was also the top point getter for his team. The rest of them arrived the week of the Ryder Cup, noticed the narrow landing areas and deep rough and then failed to make any changes to accommodate those conditions. Consequently, they handed the advantage to the Euros. You can’t do that in match play.

Three of the four Captain’s picks for the U.S. failed to gain even a single point in the matches, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, while all four European Captain’s picks played pivotal roles in their victory. Does the U.S. need another Ryder Cup Task Force to figure out how to compose a winning team?

Deeks: To add to my answer above, there’s just WAY too much analysis about what went right, and wrong, and who played well and who didn’t and why.  They’re all excellent players!  No one should take anything out of this competition other than the fact that the Euro team won because they happened to play just a little bit better than the American team did, over one weekend, this time around.  Next time, who knows?

Schurman: This was the same model of Ryder Cup Team the USA has been using for the past 25 years and the same style of Captaincy with a couple of exceptions. It’s time for Phil to trash Furyk on world TV as being incompetent and not listening to the players just he as he did to Tom Watson. I can hardly wait until Phil is the Captain. For sure he will be asked several years in a row due to his successes. I wonder how he will react to the public demanding the inclusion of the biggest stars of the day who require a Captain’s pick and then said players play as they always have in the Ryder Cup which is awful. The USA continues to use the same system and expect a different result. Why don’t they simply ask Azinger?

Kaplan: They do not; that would be a waste of time and energy. I don’t believe there would be anything for the task force to determine. The players on the U.S. squad were, by a considerable margin, the best American players in the world—I mean, there were 31 total majors between the 12 of them. You can’t honestly argue that Kevin Kisner or Matt Kuchar would have made an actual difference out there. The Americans played lousy and ran into a European buzz saw on a course that none of them had much, if any, experience playing. I think it’s as simple as that.

Rule: Clearly the captain’s picks were the big difference.  Tiger looked exhausted, and really didn’t seem into it during any of his matches until the last day.  Perhaps it was his partner that he didn’t like playing with?  It was a tough spot for Furyk because if he didn’t pick Tiger and Phil, he would never have heard the end of it, but they just didn’t perform for him.  I was so impressed by Sergio and Henrik, who didn’t have great years, weren’t in great form entering the competition, but somehow rose to the occasion again!  Great picks by Thomas Bjorn, especially in the locker room.  I think the US might have to rework their selection process so that they can vote out someone who automatically qualifies and then maybe they can get rid of some of the cancerous personalities in the room (Reed, Watson).  They need to bring more of a team and less of a group of individual talents.  Clearly, they have more talent each year, but never have the chemistry required to win a team competition.

Quinn: No matter the interim machinations, in a couple of years (with Eldrick and Phil in golf carts) the Yanks will win on home soil. This is turning into a home court event, albeit a multi-billion dollar one that the PGA and Euro Tours are now dependant on to fill their coffers. The hype and gravitas by Golf Channel/NBC talking heads is already well beyond the pale. But losses by heavily favoured (favored) Yank teams give the shallow thinking air time fillers much to yak about. Once again, the mute button is thinking man’s best friend.

Mumford: Maybe not a Task Force but definitely a change in the way they think about teams. The U.S. captain needs to have the courage to leave guys like Mickelson and Woods at home. Their Ryder Cup records suck and they don’t add anything in terms of leadership. Whiners like Patrick Reed need to be left behind too even if they automatically qualify. Players need to know they have each other’s backs and not be concerned one of them is going to mouth off to the press or throw the captain under the bus. Those aren’t the hallmarks of winning teams.

Jim Furyk put out some unexpected pairings on the first two days that clearly didn’t work. Was Furyk out-captained by Thomas Bjorn?

Deeks: We can analyze this until the cows come home, and not find an answer.  The only answer that works is that the Euros played better.  Period.  My prediction for 2020 at Whistling Straits: US 16, Euro 12.

Schurman: This was one of the most apparent examples of shrewdness ever.  1. Thomas Bjorn set-up the golf course to neutralize the USA by taking advantage of their being unaccustomed to not having any form of recovery after errant tee shots. The Euro’s grew-up with that mindset. 2. He selected some of the best two Ryder Cup performers of all-time in Garcia and Poulter even though both are slightly off form. 3. He paired a struggling Rory with Garcia and Poulter in early team matches to kindle Rory’s belief in himself. 4. He didn’t break-up obvious pairings like Molinari/Fleetwood. 5. He didn’t hold excessive team meetings in an effort to get the players to bond. IMO the USA Team has lost so many times they actually looked a little disinterested and that might eventually become a problem in the future. Maybe the Americans should ask if they can relax in the Euro’s Team Room between matches if bonding is such an issue.

Kaplan: I think that goes without saying. The question to play Tiger three times in the team sessions was highly questionable, to say the least. Tiger’s record in the team format, which was already stinky going into the tournament, became absolutely putrid by the end of play on Saturday. Aside from the pairings, which lacked creativity for the most part, I barely saw any emotion or spirit from the American players once Europe’s momentous tidal wave started to wash over the American side on Friday afternoon. It’s the captain’s job to motivate the squad and to re-invigorate his players in the middle of their matches if they are losing—and Furyk did not appear to do either of those things.

Rule: Bjorn won the captain duel by a mile.  It wasn’t smart of Furyk to put Mickelson out in foursomes when he was struggling so much.  He made the right decision putting Spieth and Thomas together, but didn’t seem to create any other great pairings that worked well together. Tiger with Reed was a disaster!  Bjorn pushed all the right buttons. And he also set the course up to favour his team, so his performance was a big part of the Euros victory.

Quinn: He admitted that he was ‘out-captained,’ a term that did not exist prior to his performance. But, the impact of the captain — beyond being the mouthpiece for the committee announcing the so-called ‘captain’s’ picks — is always exaggerated. If the top guns played great, he’d be credited for a win that he had no hand in, so he shouldn’t shoulder responsibility for the loss.

Mumford: Apart from three captain’s picks that performed abysmally, Furyk made only a couple of egregious errors: putting Mickelson out in the Friday foursomes where his bad driving would be exposed; and putting a tired and disinterested Woods out for three of the first four matches, while players like Tony Finau and Webb Simpson sat. Normally a couple of mis-judgements wouldn’t be so impactful, but everything was going in Europe’s favour, so those errors couldn’t be hidden. Ultimately, the captains didn’t decide the outcome so whether one out-captained the other is moot. The Europeans just kicked ass.

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