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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Questions Begin

To be honest, I'm not in the mood to dissect the Ryder Cup at this point, and I'm not going to spend much time doing so -- at least, not today. But posted a couple of articles that tell me the US team's expectations might have been too high.

The Ryder Cup venue in France

The two articles concern the apparent friction between Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth and a near fistfight between Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka. You can read the articles for yourself, but they do indicate that "the Committee" didn't solve all the problems as well as they thought they did.

It's these sorts of incidents that cause people to believe the US team doesn't really know how to be a team. But I think that is a misunderstanding of the problem. In my Saturday post I wrote the following:
Team play is a learned skill, one which the Euro players tend to learn as youngsters because they play more teams growing up.
While I've never been on something like a Ryder Cup team, I've been on a number of teams in my life. Church mission teams and business teams aren't really that different from sports teams when it comes down to relationships and how they work, but it's easy to put too much emphasis on "bonding."

Don't get me wrong. "Bonding" does make the whole team experience more enjoyable, and it can help group members get past some of the barriers to cooperation. But it seems to me that it's been elevated to some level of magic, one that people think can instantly transform a disfunctional situation into perfect one. (Cue multitudes of angels singing amid rays of bright light.)

The American team really does have most of the qualities their fans believe define a team, but teamwork takes work, not magic.

Working in a team setting IS a learned skill. The American system tends to create alpha dogs while the European system teaches the basics of teamwork long before players become good enough to be alpha dogs. It's not that the US team members aren't united in their desire to work together -- they simply don't fully understand how to do it. An alpha dog's idea of covering for a teammate who just hit a bad shot is to try a hero shot of his own, rather than playing a safe shot that enables the team to avoid the big number.

Fans are no better in this respect. They tend to brand any safe play as "weakness" or "a lack of desire' when that play is, in fact, the only smart play. And alpha dogs really don't like to be labeled as weak. I think of Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies, constantly endangering his future because "nobody calls me chicken!"

I'll leave the "experts" to debate this issue, as I know they will for the next two years. But in the spirit of instruction, let me offer one piece of corrective advice to all the alpha dogs out there on the Tour who hope to make future Ryder Cup teams. And because this debate takes on almost religious dimensions sometimes, I'll even phrase it as Jesus often phrased His teachings in the Bible:
You have heard it said, "The goal is to have two birdie putts on every hole."
But I say to you, the true goal is to insure one easy par putt on each hole, and then the birdie putts shall come to you as well.
It's a hard truth that's foreign to an alpha dog's mindset. It's much harder to do than it sounds, because it strikes at the root of how alpha dogs see themselves. The problem isn't so much about team as it is about self-image. It's about understanding that the real magic of a team is that the individual often needs to be less impressive rather than more -- in fact, often needs to be less impressive rather than more.

The word for that is "paradox." In a true team, less is often more -- dramatically more -- if the players are willing to step back and rethink what they really need to be on that team.

I don't know that the golfing world is ready for that truth -- at least, not the American golfing world -- but I think the European players already know it. And if the American alpha dogs could just grasp this one simple truth, they'd be well on the way to learning that teamwork is a bit different -- and more wonderful -- than anything a committee can legislate.

End of rant.


  1. Still think 9/11 hurt the Americans in the Ryder Cup as well?

    1. Ironically, I think 9/11 may have actually helped the US, simply because it put things back in perspective for us. The unity shown to us by the Euro players helped create a friendlier atmosphere between the teams that had been lost; the Ryder Cup, after all, is NOT a war.

      The US problems aren't in their relationships with the Euro team, nor in a lack of momentum caused by delaying the next Cup after a US win. The US players need to learn how to play to their partners' strengths, rather than trying to do it all on their own and hope their partners can keep up. That's why "Moliwood" was such a great team -- they knew each other's games, so they each put the other in position to look like the best player of the two. As a result, they both played well enough to be a juggernaut. The US players can learn a lot from their example.

  2. PGA of America is another issue going back to '57 (Palmer couldn't go) and '69 (split and Archer couldn't go)

    Looks like Kevin O’Connell has WD from ET QSchool. Augusta and Pebble Beach are certainly not worth giving up for a roll of the dice in France next week.

    1. I agree 100% about O'Connell. He can go to QSchool later!

  3. I'm not sure if you guys got it in the US coverage but, on this side of the pond, Sky did a quick Q&A with the 12 players on each team and asked them fun questions about their team mates, e.g. "the Ryder Cup has to be decided by a wrestling match - who are you going to send in?" The European team loved it all and really got into it. You could tell they were a team (or at least they weren't worried about hurting any egos). The US guys (not all - but the majority) were a little closed down and it felt like they were enduring the questions or a little wary of them. I guess they treated it as another media hoop they had to jump through and I imagine if I was a little jet-lagged I wouldn't be digging it too much either. However, it really highlighted the difference in the teams' dynamics. The Europeans were 12 guys out to have fun and enjoy themselves; the US Team not so much.

    My personal opinion is that the European ethos is to take part and give it your best shot with no expectation to win, whereas the focus of the US is to win (second is first loser). That mindset brings pressure and where there is pressure then the fun aspect goes out the window and it becomes a chore. I think that a change of mindset is required for the US to change their fortunes in this event. Patrick Reed showed that kind of spirit after he won his singles match by doing the "shhhh" and then applauding the crowd (sincerely) - I thought it was a classy touch and showed he was enjoying himself and his surroundings and he wasn't taking things too seriously. I loved it. More of the same please.

    1. If we got that in the coverage here, I missed it. But I agree with you that the US Team doesn't seem to be having much fun -- at least, not when they're out on the course.