ATTENTION, READERS in the 28 EUROPEAN VAT COUNTRIES: Because of the new VAT law, you probably can't order books direct from my site now. But that's okay -- just go to my Smashwords author page.
You can order PDFs (as well as all the other ebook formats) from there.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Watson VS Furyk? The Questions Continue...

After Steve Stricker held his presser Wednesday morning after the US Ryder Cup Captain announcement, the media still had a lot of questions. I'm going to try and answer some of them in this short post.

2020 US Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker

One that I didn't hear -- but deserves a quick nod because it affects the other questions -- is exactly when the US team began the changes that the team is now going through. Most think it was in 2014, when Phil Mickelson seemed to throw Captain Tom Watson under the bus for the US loss.

Actually the changes began in 2008, when Paul Azinger's team won. It was that victory that Mickelson referenced in the press conference that led to the establishment of the "task group" or "committee" or whatever you want to call it.

The PGA has tended to choose an authoritarian captain, one who would make all decisions and expect the team to just follow orders. And I suspect they viewed Zinger in that mold as well, as he has always been a bit of a rebel. But the team itself viewed Zinger as more of a facilitator, who tried to give the team members more choice while maintaining his right to a final veto if he felt they were going down the wrong road.

Zinger's pod system gave him a good way to do that, but neither Corey Pavin in 2010 nor Davis Love in 2012 were as successful in their attempts. As a result, the PGA of America gave another captaincy to Tom Watson, whose more authoritarian approach had worked well in 1993, and they hoped for a similar result. Instead, there was friction within the team that boiled over into the aforementioned presser after the loss.

I still don't believe Phil meant to blame Tom for the loss as much as he intended to make it clear that the team would no longer accept authoritarian leaders. The belief was that the Euro team had a better system and Zinger had come closest to duplicating that approach. The result was a wholesale change (for the better) to the US approach to the Ryder Cup, although it hasn't solved everything.

Let's be honest here -- US fans tend to believe their team just doesn't "jell" like the Euros while the entire US "power structure" believes the Euro system is some kind of special magic. It's worth remembering that the Euros also went through a similar process that took the better part of a decade or so back in the 1980s and 1990s, while the US not only has to deal with similar changes but the ego blow that came from no longer having such a huge advantage in talent.

The problem now, as I see it, isn't one of talent or desire or even "team spirit." Rather, it's a culture difference where the Euros grow up playing team golf from a young age and superstars have been traditionally discovered later in their development, while here in the US we focus on developing superstars from an early age and team play is something of an "add-on" in high school and college. That difference can be overcome but it's going to take the US a while yet.

Which brings us to a few questions that fascinated the media after Stricker's presser.
  • Stricker indicated that Furyk, as the past Ryder Cup captain, was expected to be a future vice captain as well. Why, they wondered, was Tom Watson left out of this loop?
    The answer is simple. Watson, as an authoritarian captain, was not viewed as fitting in with the new direction expected of future team leadership. He would have had to adjust his approach dramatically in order to fit in with the new plans. I suspect his age was also a factor -- the new process seems to be focused around a peer group of similar-aged players. But I think his input could still be very useful and I hope they do ask him for his insights (and other older captains as well), as they could still learn from them.
  • Much has been made of the fact that Stricker is the first US captain not to have won a major. Does this represent a new line of thought among the leaders?
    I sure hope so. To be blunt, the Euros have never cared whether their captains have won a major or not. Just to name a few recent captains, neither Sam Torrance, Paul McGinley nor Thomas Bjørn have won majors... but they've won Ryder Cups. Winning a major is no indication that you can win a Ryder Cup -- just ask Nick Faldo. The powers-that-be in the US have tended to see a captaincy as a reward for winning a major. That's NOT the kind of logic that wins Ryder Cups!

    To my way of thinking, this is just a case of finally realizing that you don't need a major to be an effective leader. You just need the respect of the team, some interpersonal skills and the wisdom to recognize your limitations (and pick assistants who can help you with them). It damn sure took us long enough to figure that one out.
  • The "Horschel Pick" has been dumped this time in favor of picking all four Captains choices at once on September 1, 2020. How will that help, since we might miss out on a hot player?
    As Stricker himself noted, while the late pick did help them discover Tony Finau, it didn't give them time to figure out how he fit in strategically. This time the team will have time to work out ALL the pairings before they go to Whistling Straits.

    Besides, had they made their final pick at the same time they made the other three picks, they still would have gotten either Finau or Schauffele. Don't see as either would have been a bad pick. Do you?
Finally, although the media never approaches this subject directly, I think it needs to be addressed. We need to recognize that team play is a strategic skill of its own. You don't need the most talent to win a team event, although that can certainly help you in singles. You can't send two alpha dogs out as a team and expect them to make good team decisions without some serious effort, because it's just not what they're used to doing.

When one alpha dog doesn't pull his shot off, the other alpha dog's reaction is to hit the hero shot because he believes he WILL pull it off. In a team situation, the proper response is to hit a safer, less aggressive shot that still offers opportunities. The problem is that fans will criticize players for making such a decision, and most alpha dogs believe they aren't taking things seriously unless they try the riskier shot.

Ask most players and they will tell you that there is a difference between stroke play strategy and match play strategy. But there is also a difference between team play strategy and solo play strategy, and my personal belief is that the US team won't consistently be a threat at every Ryder Cup until they learn that difference.

And that's the end of today's rant. I hope Stricks can get the boys to understand that there's more to winning a Ryder Cup than just having the "right" formula. Ultimately you have to play good shots -- not great shots, just more good shots than the other team.

The US team is capable of that. They just haven't realized it yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment