MORE than anything, it’s come down to holing the putts that matter. But, once again in the countdown to a Ryder Cup, it is starting to look as though America’s appalling recent record in the event is also being fuelled by a glaring lack of passion for the biennial joust with Europe.
Rarely does a press conference with a leading European player pass by without the match being raised, this year’s contest at Gleneagles, for example, being a consistent topic throughout the recent Middle East Swing. It will be on the agenda this week, too, when players like Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, three of the heroes at Medinah last time out, try to use the WGC Match Play in Arizona to kickstart their bids to be back on duty in September.
Not for one minute am I going to suggest that Tom Watson, even more so now with Ray Floyd as one of his assistants, will allow any of his 12 players to step on to the first tee on the PGA Centenary Course lacking passion.
Is it enough, though, to try and switch that on for just one week when it’s something that has been driving your opponents almost from the last putt dropping in the previous match, especially one that provided such a boost for Europe after that record-equalling last-day fightback in Chicago?
In his media centre interview after winning the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles on Sunday, having closed with two 64s to triumph in an event he’d started with two double-bogeys in his first three holes, Bubba Watson was grilled for more than 18 minutes yet the Ryder Cup was never mentioned.
Sure, it was interesting to hear what Bubba, close to tears as always, had to say about recording his first victory since the 2012 Masters and also how it felt for Caleb, the little boy he adopted just before that Augusta win and now almost two-years-old, to be there at Riviera. That none of my American counterparts, many of whom are the finest golf writers in the business, felt moved, however, to ask him about the Ryder Cup was, quite frankly, astonishing when you consider how important he could be to his namesake later this year. Okay, so a finger of blame could well be pointed at Bubba for allowing the door to swing open for Europe’s remarkable salvage operation 18 months ago, when he lost to the aforementioned Donald after being sent out first in the singles by Davis Love. Prior to that, though, he’d done more than anyone to fire up the crowd and put the home team in what should have been a winning position, having possibly changed the first-tee protocol in the event henceforth.
Only Bubba, and probably even then it was spontaneous, could have asked for the volume to be turned up rather than stand there hitting a shot in hushed silence and those expensive tickets will certainly have more chance of providing value for money if the left-hander makes that team for Gleneagles.
If I was Captain Watson, in fact, I’d be asking a couple of the American golf writers attending the WGC Match Play to quiz Bubba about the Ryder Cup and where it ranks in his 2014 goals because I’m pretty sure he’d start spreading some passion about the event to his fellow countrymen.
Europeans, whether it’s players, officials or the media, aren’t scared to talk about the Ryder Cup, which to a large extent, of course, is fuelled by us winning seven of the last nine encounters. Perhaps, faced with the other side of the coin, it’s no surprise it’s a subject that almost seems taboo on the other side of the Atlantic.
It would help them, though, surely to have a bit more awareness about the event at times, something I first became aware of when Phil Mickelson – and I must admit I’m loathe to criticise the current Open and Scottish Open champion – was once asked in July about how he thought the US team for a Ryder Cup was shaping up and admitted he hadn’t been looking at the standings.
In America, what seems more important to individuals is where they are sitting in the FedEx Cup standings and, though success in that will, of course, lead to Ryder Cup qualification, for Europeans making Paul McGinley’s team will be a bigger goal this year than where they will ultimately finish in the Race to Dubai.