A minority report on the US’s bi-annual screw-up in golf’s Ryder Cup: As has been our custom through much of the history of the matches, and nearly all of the recent ones, the US found a way to lose. Yes, it was a road game, played in the usual crappy weather on a crappy course with crappy fans, etc., etc., but all in all, we lost fair and square.
The post mortem expertise seems to be trending toward nominating Captain Tom Watson for designated under-the-bus throwee. I have no problem with that. I used to kind of like Watson because he was the last athlete on earth capable of giving a victory speech devoted to something other than how truly wonderfully he played, but he started to lose me when he developed the yips – a condition which I consider to be more emotional than physical, one perhaps more candidly identified as a golfer’s synonym for choking. I also was not impressed with his dumpage of Wife I.0 for the standard issue Wife 2.0 (the Trophy Wife), who did not strike me as an upgrade. Having observed his morphing into just about the same smug, narcissistic, stiff as Jack Nicklaus, I was not shocked to see Watson’s Swilcan Bridge selfie in which he does a spot-on channeling of the guy he got rich by being almost as good as. But actually, I don’t think Watson’s captainage was the problem with this year’s Ryder team.
The problem is, our guys, unlike the Euros (and much of the rest of the golfing world), spend their whole golfing lives being trained to play robotic golf rather than match play golf. Robotic golf, aka stroke play, is where every shot is an exercise in ignoring context (mainly, your score, your position on the leaderboard, the difficulty of the hole, the difficulty of the shot, the way your fellow-competitors are playing, the consequences of hitting an imperfect shot, the effect of your performance on your entire nation, etc.). Our golfers – except for Phil Mickelson (which is why we love him) – are not just drilled but psychologically treated to make them into people who can and do ignore context and who simply concentrate upon blocking out everything but the execution of a single swing or stroke. And that is why, when you put them into any version of match play (alternate shot, better ball, whatever), they are just out of their league; they do not know how to play that game, they do not know how to perform under that unique kind of pressure. Tiger Woods is a mediocre Ryder Cupper, but it is not simply because he cannot play well with any other human being who is not a stripper, it is because he is no longer that good at match play. When he was a junior, he was a fabulous match-play player (3 US Juniors, 3 US Amateurs, etc.), and he won the one PGA match play tournament 3 times as a pro in his earlier years; in later years, as an adult, he was simply out of practice.
Guys, this is not as hard as it looks: you want to win the Ryder Cup, install more match play tournaments – even though they are unpopular. If you are not willing to forego the revenue, then shut up and keep losing the Cup.