HOW ironic that a bid to galvanise the Americans in the Ryder Cup by bringing back Tom Watson as captain after a 21-year gap has had totally the opposite effect, writes Martin Dempster
As wounds continue to be licked on the other side of the Atlantic following the 16½-11½ defeat at Gleneagles, it seems the PGA of America is about to rip up its blueprint for the biennial bout and start all over again.
Not that there seemed too much strategy to begin with, at least in terms of the captaincy. Since 1999, only one man, Davis Love, previously served as an assistant before taking on the main role.
Contrast that to Europe grooming captains – Paul McGinley was at the Great Britain & Ireland helm in two Seve Trophies and also a two-times Ryder Cup vice-captain – and you get the impression that one team is taking it seriously and the other, well, is almost playing at it.
Maybe that’s why Europe has now won eight of the last ten matches. Because, as winning 2008 US captain Paul Azinger acknowledged last week, the Europeans treat the Ryder Cup as a “business” due to its importance to the circuit that spawns its players.
The Americans were a huge disappointment at Gleneagles and, sadly, part of the blame for that lies with the man who will always hold a special place in Scottish hearts.
Watson got it wrong by leaving out Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth on the first afternoon after they had started their Ryder Cup careers in spectacular fashion by crushing Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher.
He also got it wrong by sitting out both Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley from the two Saturday sessions, as well as sending out Jimmy Walker for a fourth match in the company of the younger Rickie Fowler.
As for starting his Saturday night team talk by telling his players “you stink at foursomes” and then scoffing at a gift from them, that wasn’t very clever, either, and Watson, in his open letter at the weekend, admitted that there had been shortcomings in his communication with the players.
Bold and exciting though it was, Watson’s appointment, on reflection, was a mistake. The Ryder Cup is now a monster, a different event to the one he was used to as a player and also winning captain at The Belfry. The media demands, in particular, are like night and day compared to then and that burden seemed to weigh heavily on Watson’s shoulders.
At the same time, has there been an over-reaction to the result in Perthshire from an American perspective? Yes, they have now managed only two wins in the past 15 years in an event they once dominated, admittedly when their opponents were Great Britain & Ireland as opposed to Europe.
We are surely forgetting, though, that only a point separated the two teams at Celtic Manor in 2010 and again at Medinah two years ago. Both of those matches could easily have gone the Americans’ way and, with a four-point lead heading into the singles, the latter really should have.
Despite that, the aforementioned Love was not a bad captain. Far from it, in fact. Indeed, with seven players from that side in Chicago also on duty at Gleneagles, it would have been advantageous, surely, if he had been in Watson’s backroom team a fortnight ago.
The crazy thing about this, of course, is that the Americans are getting themselves in a frenzy when they already have a tried and tested captain yet have not turned to him thus far in the Ryder Cup. Fred Couples has been successful in three stints as US captain in the Presidents Cup, but is still awaiting the call from the PGA of America for an event that matters way more. Or should do, anyway.
It must be either him or Azinger for Hazeltine in two years’ time, though what, really, has the latter to gain if he puts himself in the firing line again? He is the only American captain to have come out on top in the last seven tussles and, therefore, looks a genius right now.
It will be fascinating to sit back and see what plan the Americans come up with. In the meantime, let’s hope the appointment of McGinley’s successor is not soured by too much politics creeping in. If, as seems likely, Darren Clarke is the man for the job, we need to get him attuned to a successful template and let the opposition see if they have, indeed, learned lessons from Gleneagles.
‘A great journey and a great Scottish success’
For one reason or another, including the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship coming hot on its heels, the success of Scotland’s first Ryder Cup in more than 40 years has perhaps been underplayed since the iconic gold trophy stayed in European hands.
Let’s not beat about the bush here. From start to finish, it was a magnificent advert for Scotland, both in the setting, which, admittedly, was enhanced by some fine September weather, and the organisation.
As a pessimistic race, we always expect something to go wrong, but, in all my years covering this great game, I can honestly say this particular week passed with easily the fewest grumbles I’ve heard. On the contrary, there was nothing but praise.
It was a terrific effort by the army involved behind the scenes, with boxes being ticked all the way through from the Gala Concert, the opening ceremony and a trophy presentation that took place much quicker than in the past and in a better location, too.
Along with so many others, I feel a strong sense of disappointment that an event we had been building up to for more than a decade has come and gone. It was a great journey, though, and the end product – in more ways than one – ensured it will go down as one of the great success stories in Scottish sporting history.