The Ryder Cup! What drama; on and off the course. This is golf in a different universe. Players can go for shots that they can’t dare hit in stroke play. Players can cheer with the crowd in partisan ways that they can’t every other week. Players can help each other and sense what team work is like in what is a very individualistic sport.
That last point has been highlighted most of all in the postmortem of this particular Ryder Cup. It would seem that the winning team was more united that the one that lost. The closing American press conference was a sad and unpleasant place where Phil Mickelson exposed the disunity and lack or respect for captain Tom Watson that told a few tales.
Mickelson of course had been asked about the unity of the American team before the match started and told the press that America was not only united but hadn’t taken out litigation against each other. This latter phrase, supposed to be humorous, was a reference to a court case involving European players Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. It seemed a little tasteless, and surprising coming from gentleman Phil but it perhaps betrayed Mickelson’s unease with the team situation.
That it was Phil who then critiqued Tom Watson at the post match conference only heightened the PR disaster it has been for Mickelson. He also talked some nonsense. He was speaking about the last time America won the Cup in 2008 under Paul Azinger and how that formula that weekend had seemed to have been lost. What formula? America hadn’t won for nine years before that, so it wasn’t exactly a solid formula. Azinger’s captaincy has to be commended but a formula?
What wasn’t said is that the European team that year was captained by Nick Faldo. That might have been a contributing factor to the American win. During this Ryder Cup Faldo criticised European hero Sergio Garcia as being useless and the European team, most vocally Graeme McDowell, criticised Faldo’s captaincy in 2008. Again the importance of team unity came through.
As well as that Tom Watson had captained a rare Ryder Cup victory for America in 1993. Not only that but it was the last American victory on European soil so Watson’s formula had worked in the past. That it seems, from what I have heard, that Mickelson neither arrived with the rest of the American team or indeed returned home with the rest of the American team could say more about who was the contributor to the lack of team cohesion than Watson!
That American needs a formula might be Mickelson’s most useful remark. Europe have a formula and it works. It is very like the Liverpool Football formula of the 70s and 80s. The European captain Paul McGinley was at his sixth Ryder Cup, as a player, as a vice captain and now as captain. Around him as vice captains he had two former captains and a former vice captain. This is a back room staff and a team that have bonded over decades. It is a small pool of players and captains who know each other, relate to each other off the course and when they come together don’t set up anything particularly new but build on what they have minted over years. So many of the European players in their praise of McGinley spoke of how he simply tweaked the detail. He didn’t change the formula.
Across the world, America don’t do team sport. The soccer team is making inroads but Baseball and American Football in particular are very insular. The European team have grown up loving team sports like soccer and rugby or in Captain McGinley case GAA hurling and football. I get the impression that McIlroy thinks this is as close to getting to play for his beloved Manchester United or Ulster Rugby team as he will experience and he embraces that as a joy.
My hope is that American can sort it out. Eight defeats in ten? How long before Europe win another and lose the Ryder Cup altogether as American loses interest. Maybe it was Phil's pitch to have Azinger chosen as the next captain? Maybe we need Nick Faldo back again as part of that formula?! (sorry… that is a little Mickelson-esque!)