John Huggan: What the US must do for Ryder Cup glory

The USA team must embrace their natural selfishness and ditch wimps, wives and silly outfits to become a Ryder Cup force once again, advises that well-known admirer of the PGA of America, John Huggan
The American team stand for the National anthem at the Ryder Cup trophy presentation. Picture: Ian RutherfordThe American team stand for the National anthem at the Ryder Cup trophy presentation. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The American team stand for the National anthem at the Ryder Cup trophy presentation. Picture: Ian Rutherford

ESPECIALLY for those who rather enjoy the odd shock result, the last seven days have represented an unusually eventful week for golf. First we had the welcome sight of former Ryder Cup player Oliver Wilson returning from a place not far removed from oblivion to win the Dunhill Links Championship. Then it was announced that the R&A are to build a “new” equipment testing facility at Kingsbarns in Fife. (Who knew they had an “old” one, given the inexorable and seemingly unfettered “advances” in ball and club technology over the last two decades or so?) Finally – and perversely – seven-and-a-bit weeks before the end of the 2014 European Tour season, the 2015 PGA Tour has already kicked off in California.

But we digress. Despite the fact that Jamie Donaldson’s match-clinching approach to the 15th green on the PGA Centenary course at Gleneagles is already a two-week-old memory, the really big news in the game continues to be the Ryder Cup fall-out on the other side of the Atlantic. Truly, our colonial cousins do seem to have their boxers in an endlessly convoluted twist over their continuing inability to win golf’s biggest biennial contest. Quite apart from endlessly analysing the abject failure of 65-year-old non-playing captain Tom Watson to bond with his 21st-century squad of multi-millionaires – only the England cricket team dressing room is more dysfunctional – just about every aspect of the latest catastrophe has come under Uncle Sam’s microscope.

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To that end and, in the spirit of continuing friendly competition, here are some suggestions for the PGA of America as to how the US team can make things more interesting when the Ryder Cup resumes at Hazeltine in Minnesota two years hence.

1 Travel to the matches alone

Forget all this bonding stuff. You’ve never been a team and, let’s face it, you never will be. So play to your strengths. Don’t try to be something you are not. Arrive as individuals. Play as individuals. And leave as individuals. Let the players eat alone if they want to. Let them be their selfish selves. You know it makes sense.

2 Pick tough guys

Unless they have showered at least once at gunpoint, don’t bother to consider anyone for the matches. Tell them to stay home with the wife and kids. Tell them to work on their pre-shot routines. Tell them to go to church on Sunday instead of playing in the singles. Tell them to read about Ben Hogan and get back to you. And finally, forget anyone who has ever asked: “Do you know Jack Nicklaus’ Ryder Cup record?”

3 Be like Phil – honest in interviews

As W. Somerset Maugham put it so well: “She plunged into a sea of platitudes and, with the powerful breast stroke of a channel swimmer, made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the entirely obvious.”

Don’t do any of that stuff. Don’t be polite. Be as Patrick Reed was at Gleneagles. Get pissed off. Be aggressive. Make the other guy feel second best. To hell with international relations – this is about winning, baby.

4 Find your Fergie

Somewhere amidst the sea of insularity that passes for most sports in America, there must be a coach whose team has an overwhelming home record and so goes into every match as big favourites. Find him (or her). Then get that person on a plane to Minnesota so that he or she can lecture the players on how to handle the pressure of playing in front of a crowd dominated by their own fans. Tell them how to get the people on side and keep them there. Tell them whatever it takes to get them fired up (see Patrick Reed).

5 No more ping-pong or video games

All you need in the team-room is a big screen television. Show footage of European players hitting really bad shots into water hazards. Show them losing. Show your own men winning tournaments (that might be more difficult). Show Paul Azinger at Valhalla in 2008. And, for light relief, show the European captain’s opening ceremony speech from that same year – the last time America actually won the Ryder Cup. Always good for a laugh.

6 Get the captain right

Quite apart from making superstar players – those who always think everyone else is hopeless – ineligible for the captaincy, there are two options here. You can get yourself a European skipper. Why not? It can’t be that hard to get Paul McGinley’s number. Or Jose Maria Olazabal’s. Or Monty’s (which would give TV viewers a break). Or Bernhard Langer’s. Or Sam Torrance’s. Or Bernard Gallacher’s. Or Tony Jacklin’s. Or you can plead with the selection committee on this side of the Atlantic. Get them to re-appoint Nick Faldo. Back in 2008 he did more for the American cause than any convoluted “pod” system or supposedly inspiring speeches from Azinger.

7 Wear what makes you comfortable

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No more tediously predictable red, white and blue ensembles. Everyone is fed up with that stuff. Go classy. Or let the players wear whatever they want to wear. If they are going to be individuals, let them dress as such. Don’t make Rickie Fowler wear the same stuff Jim Furyk deems appropriate. That’s just silly.

8 Three and out

Speaking of Furyk. And Phil. And anyone else who has played in three or more Ryder Cup defeats. Give them the hook. Losing, like winning, is a habit. So anyone who has achieved a hat-trick of losses is automatically ineligible for selection.

9 No wives or girlfriends

They have no business being at a Ryder Cup. They get in the way when they walk inside the ropes. They get in the way during team talks. They inevitably complain about stuff players don’t need to be thinking about. And kitting them out in silly matching outfits is a complete waste of money.

10 Make the players get tattoos

Preferably misspelled. And ban anything soppy like “mom”. “Kick Ass” or “Devil Dogs” is more like it. Make the players feel like members of the Dirty Dozen. No one should be clean shaven (see Thomas Bjorn). There should be no beer or, heaven forbid, soft drinks in the team room. Only whisky. And no clean glasses.

11 Pick all 12 players

Forget all this qualifying rubbish. It makes no sense to have guys who have performed well in a series of 72-hole stroke-play tournaments make up a team for a match-play event. Plus, you want as much freedom as possible when to comes to matching styles of play for four-balls and foursomes – very different disciplines. Picking guys in twos rather than ones is sometimes the way to go.

12 Leave Hunter Mahan at home

This guy has no business playing in any more Ryder Cups. In 2010 at Celtic Manor Mahan he duffed the chip that decided the clinching match on Sunday. Four years on, he bladed one over the 18th green at Gleneagles, instantly turning a full point into a half. While he clearly has all the (bad) shots around the putting surface, he needs to be set aside for his – and the team’s – own good.