It pains me to no end to see the United States’ performance in the Ryder Cup. We have won only three of the past 12 in the biennial matches. Embarrassing, that.
So, what should we do? I solve complicated problems for a living. Thus, here would be a real-world, private-sector approach to fixing the problem, which I define as consistent failure to win Ryder Cups.
1. End crony captain-ism. Let’s stop the parade of old PGA Tour players as captains. No more, Whose turn is it? Or, Which of my buddies do I want to hang around with in Paris? I hate to pick on U.S. captain Jim Furyk – he seems like a nice-enough fellow – but he is the most recent glaring example of what needs to change.
Furyk chose his pals Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods as captain’s choices, and it’s clear that they had huge influences on everything Furyk did, or did not do. They are a combined 90 years old (really). They also are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the category of Most Ryder Cup Points Lost in History.
But they are “very experienced”! Very experienced at losing, actually. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Their losing Ryder Cup scar tissue has scar tissue on top of scar tissue. They just do not play nicely with others. That is not a recipe for success.
Furyk recently said that Mickelson is still an asset to the team, even when he's not playing. “You've got him in your team room," Furyk said. "He's funny, he's sarcastic, witty, likes to poke fun at people, and he's a great guy to have in the team room. I think the younger players had fun having a go at him as well this week, which was fun to see. He provides a lot more than just play.”
That does sound like a good time. But unfortunately, winning the Ryder Cup requires points, which Mickelson does not provide. Ditto with Woods.
The U.S. needs a head man (or woman) with real-world turnaround skills who will create a winning roster and formula, and won’t care whose feathers are ruffled. Or who is a lot of fun in the locker room. Yes, Tom Watson was an autocrat, but he lacked the problem-solving skills that are needed for this task and was saddled with our silly team-selection process (more below). Paul Azinger, on the other hand, was brilliant with his pod system, and figured out how to push buttons successfully without creating a mutiny.
We need a leader who actually will look at statistics. How could Mickelson and others who are erratic drivers play in foursomes, a.k.a. alternate shot? He is a genius at getting himself out of trouble. Others, not so much. And if it’s a narrow course, such as Le Golf National, perhaps we could stock our pool with some straight drivers of the ball.
2. Designate Paul Azinger as captain for life. In what other line of work do we wish someone well when he has achieved success and has much left to give? Azinger is the man. He has proved that. Please give him back the baton. ’Nuff said.
But if somehow that idea does not appeal, here is another option:
3. Hire a turnaround expert from outside the world of golf. Someone not of the insular world of PGA Tour golf. Someone who is used to righting listing ships. Someone with demonstrable leadership skills. A younger Jack Welch, the former General Electric boss, would be fabulous. Here is an example of what I mean, straight from a recent issue of Barron’s:
“A funny thing happened to Best Buy on the way to chain-store extinction. In 2012, with sales and profit slipping and the shares slumping, the company named a French restaurateur and hotelier as chief executive. The stock fell from $18 to about $10 by year’s end. Today, it trades at more than $72.
“Hubert Joly, 58, had led a successful transformation at Carlson, owner of Radisson and other hotels and, back then, more than 900 TGI Friday’s restaurants. Before that, he had overseen a similar transformation at the videogame unit of Vivendi (VIV.France), where he developed his Best Buy connection, supplying the chain with games. At Best Buy, he launched Renew Blue, a plan to fix the stores, rather than institute widespread closings and layoffs. The plan called for remodeling stores to emphasize key products, such as smartphones; reducing costs by, for example, addressing common causes of product returns; building out e-commerce capabilities and Geek Squad services; and finding new areas of growth, such as smart-home devices.”
There are a bunch of Joly/Welch-types out there. Our Ryder Cup program cries out for that kind of leadership, as opposed to nice-guy puppets who let the inmates run the asylum. A leader who can elicit our best, and figure out how to instill fun, pride and confidence in our team.
If it were easy, the smart people would not have to do it.
4. No one qualifies automatically. From a real-world problem-solving perspective, if your system of creating a Ryder Cup roster provides for the possibility of Bubba Watson showing up, it is fundamentally flawed (no offense). We want total accountability, which to me means the captain should pick all 12 players, not just the current four, using whatever criteria he thinks will give America the best chance at winning. But there will be those who argue, Shouldn’t this be the ultimate meritocracy where people earn their way onto the team? Er, no. The goal is not to have a meritocracy. Rather, the goal is to create a winning team.
And even today, a third of the team is “captain’s choice.” I want to take this idea all the way and arm our new breed of captain with 100-percent discretion. I promise you that Jack Welch would not retain executives whom he thought were not capable of achieving his goals.
Don’t we want 12 players who really want to be there? Did Watson, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson look as if they were glad to be there? The guy who most looked happy was Justin Thomas, and he happened to be the sole American Ryder Cupper who played the French Open this summer at Le Golf National. What kind of team attitude is that when but one of the eight automatics took the trouble to play Le Golf National under tournament conditions? A real captain would take note of that and make decisions accordingly.
Because the captain would pick the entire team, he would know upfront whether, say, Spieth does not like Reed, notwithstanding big prior success, and instead wants to play only with his pal Thomas. Can you imagine Spieth telling that to Welch or Joly?
Spieth might be the All-American guy, but we need players who will pitch in where and how asked. Notwithstanding his image, he actually owns a 0-6-0 combined Ryder Cup and President Cup singles record. So perhaps he should either get some religion about what it will require to have a spot on this team or he should otherwise stay home if he cannot figure out how to kick some European arse should the captain tell him that his partner in alternate shot is anybody other than a childhood friend.
By picking a real leader and giving total discretion for all 12 picks, the captain would have the tools to ensure that the U.S. has a combination of enthusiastic players and the best horses for the course. Include the use of data analytics (more below).
We need players who will burn to win, who will want to play nicely with others, will subjugate personality issues to the greater good of the sole objective: winning the cup. I don’t care how they get thusly motivated, but that is the goal.
If it were me, I would be focused on Thomas, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson and Tony Finau as my core. Plus Spieth, if he decides to put team above himself. These guys thirst to win on the Ryder Cup stage, bless them. They’re tough match-play competitors, too.
How about Billy Horschel and Kevin Kisner? Or straight-driving, bulldog Brian Gay? Gimme some bulldogs, please; some birdie machines, if possible; and folks who can hit fairways (remember the data analytics). I want to love Rickie Fowler, but the French divers are still plucking his wayward balls from the Le Golf National waters.
Of course, we could have a few more cold-blooded yet enthusiastic young guns coming up in two years. I sure hope so.
5. Consider a bonus if the U.S. wins. It pains me to think that anyone would fail to walk over hot coals to play for his country. Many of the incredibly spoiled private-jetters we have at the top of our American leaderboard seem to be exceptions. So, significant bonus payment might be in order. Perhaps the PGA of America would put up and/or raise $12 million or more for a winning U.S. team.
Of course, if we get a real leader, he or she might not need to use the financial bonus carrot.
But all I care about is that our Ryder Cup program get a real-world, private sector-based facelift, and start consistently bringing home victories.
Peter S. Kaufman is president and head of financial restructuring and distressed M&A at the investment bank Gordian Group LLC, a firm that advises boards of directors whose companies have financial challenges, often accompanied by operational issues as well. He also is an author and an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia Law School, teaching “Advising Boards of Directors Under Siege.”