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Sunday, October 3, 2021

Some Final Ryder Cup Thoughts

It's been a week since I promised this post in the last Limerick Summary, but I wanted to take some time to get my thoughts organized. Everybody else has had their say about what Team USA did right and Team Europe did wrong. Now it's my turn.

The victorious Team USA

Did Team USA find some key to choosing the 'right' players this time? That's a laughable thought. Here are the US Ryder Cup point standings through the Northern Trust, which is when it ended.

  1. Collin Morikawa
  2. Dustin Johnson
  3. Bryson DeChambeau
  4. Brooks Koepka
  5. Justin Thomas
  6. Tony Finau
  7. Xander Schauffele
  8. Jordan Spieth
  9. Harris English
  10. Patrick Reed
  11. Patrick Cantlay
  12. Daniel Berger
  13. Webb Simpson
  14. Scottie Scheffler

Let's analyze the team. Under normal circumstances the first nine members would have been taken from the list and then there would be three Captain's Picks. According to this list the first nine DID make the team. What happened after that?

Number ten, Patrick Reed, was out due to sickness and injury. So Stricker then took 11 and 12 from the list, skipped 13 (presumably because Webb Simpson was considered too short for the course) and 14 was taken (Scheffler was taken specifically to pair with DeChambeau).

So it appears that this 'newly discovered method' was simply to take the first 11 available players from the list and then make one Captain's Pick that wouldn't have made the team otherwise. Is this really a groundbreaking discovery?

Not really. While I will grant you that the team was especially suited to the course -- which was set up to fit this team, as each side does when they host the Cup -- the first breakthrough this time was that Team USA finally came to play. They played strategically and actually made putts when needed.

One actual breakthrough was mostly ignored by the media. Jordan Spieth specifically said that this time the Ryder Cup team felt just like a Presidents Cup team, which is an event where Team USA typically dominates. This is more a matter of who the Captain is than of anything else; Stricker has led a victorious Presidents Cup team and brought in other Presidents Cup captains like Fred Couples... then he consciously mimicked the things that had been successful with those teams. In my first Ryder Cup post I specifically said I believe the Captain has more to do with the team's success than any specific pairing methods.

I stand by that assessment. In fact, Paul Azinger said it doesn't matter whether you use a 4-man pod or a 12-man pod; what matters is that you pair players with complementary skillsets. And Stricker did exactly that.

Likewise, while I don't deny that having long players on a course set up to capitalize on having long players is good strategy, the idea that we frequently choose the wrong players for the courses we're playing is crazy. As I recall, both Tony Finau and Justin Thomas played very well in Paris on a course that doesn't fit the strategy they used at Whistling Straits. Why did they play well when the rest of the team didn't? It's because they altered their playing strategy to fit the course in Paris while the other players didn't. It's not that players don't fit the courses; rather, it's that they make no effort to change strategy to fit the courses.

I mentioned that in that first Ryder Cup post and again I stand by that assessment.

A final thought before I mention the change I'd like to see Team USA make in how they choose teams: Team Europe simply didn't play well this time. As I mentioned in my last Limerick Summary, the fact that they finally had a bad showing doesn't mean they did anything wrong. It's simply the law of averages catching up with them.

Okay, now for the change I'd like to see Team USA make to their qualifying method.

One Small Change

I don't want to overhaul the entire qualification system, but I do think Team Europe does something smart. They have two different lists for qualifying. Five players come from a World points list and four from a European points list. That gives them some players with slightly different skillsets, since the World points list picks up players with more experience on US courses while the European points list gives them some players with more experience on European courses -- and as anybody can tell you, European courses are rarely set up the same way as US courses.

As far as I can tell, that blend of skillsets is likely where their versatility comes from and it's why they've had such a great run on both sides of the pond. The more variety your team has, the more likely you are to find pairings that can score on any course. You just hide the players who are less suited to the course you're playing and ride the pairings that are playing well.

So I'd like to see Team USA incorporate two points lists -- the current list, which focuses more on 72-hole scoring, and a list based on single-round scoring. Let's take six from the current list and three from the single-round list, which I think might improve our team's skillset blend just enough to give us a slight advantage.

In my Na VS Rahm post I showed how a player could win more rounds while still losing an event, simply because the winner had one very low round. I want a second list that awards points for posting multiple low single rounds. I'm going to use a very simple point system in my example, but I'm sure the experts could figure a better way.

My system is built around the idea that you want to find the players who consistently post the lowest scores each round. Before the cut I want to award points to players in the Top25 scores -- bear in mind that since there will be a mixture of US and world players in that group, not all 25 top scores would earn points. And after the cut, I want players in the Top15 to get points.

But I want more. I want to award more points for going low under pressure. So here's an example of what I have in mind.

American players in the Top25 before the cut might get 10 points for a low round. But on the weekend, it changes a bit. The third round awards 15 points and the fourth round awards 25 points... and if you were in the Top15 in both weekend rounds, your score would double. That means you could get 80 points for a low weekend (15 + 25 and multiply by two).

If you made the grade in all four rounds, you could get a possible 100 points for the week.

The best thing about this is that we could apply it to a US player who went to an ET event, thus giving them points for playing well under different conditions than a US player would normally see.

And we could also give points for how far players get in the WGC-Dell Match Play, which is ALL single-round match play.

In my opinion, this process would give us six players who win tournaments and another three players with a proven ability to post low single round scores under pressure, which is a better indication of what you need in match play.

Anyway, that's my view of what Team USA needs to do to improve the qualifying process. And with that, I'll leave the Ryder Cup debates to rest for another couple of years.

1 comment:

  1. Ga Eun Song because the first rookie to win on the KLPGA this year, and she had to fend off LPGA star Minjee Lee through 3 sudden death playoff holes to do it, claiming the title at the Hana Financial Group Championship.
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