Two years ago, after winning the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National in Minnesota, Americans had plenty of reason for optimism about their future in the biennial team event. When the Ryder Cup task force was disbanded in early 2015 and yielded to a permanent Ryder Cup committee, the path forward had been cleared.
The PGA of America’s leaders – president Paul Levy, vice president Suzy Whaley and then-CEO Pete Bevacqua – joined with former captain Davis Love III and veteran players Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in shaping the approach for the 42nd Ryder Cup in France. The American mood was high.
But, that sentiment belied an omnipresent truth that could not be ignored: no U.S. Ryder Cup team had won overseas since 1993.
Nonetheless, a confident U.S. team headed to Paris, with many observers labeling it as America’s best team ever. Those accolades overlooked the 1981 U.S. team, which featured nine future World Golf Hall of Fame players who would amass 47 majors collectively compared with 33 majors on the ’18 squad. Still, with a “system” now in place, the heavily favored Americans appeared primed to break the 25-year drought on European turf.
Once again, an American Ryder Cup team left Europe licking its wounds. As if the 17½-10½ beatdown weren’t humiliating enough, the 2018 U.S. team squabbled like the dysfunctional family it has become in the eyes of the golf world. This team turned in another embarrassing performance on the course and then followed it up with a tiff between Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth that should have stayed behind team-room doors. That was outdone by a reported fight between Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka in the European team room on Sunday night. (Both players have denied any dispute.) Just when we thought that U.S. fortunes couldn’t get any worse than the 2014 loss and subsequent player revolt at Gleneagles, Scotland, they did.
The Ryder Cup task force was formed in the wake of Gleneagles to give the players more input on decisions. Quite frankly, as PGA president at the time, I was tired of having the blame for losing Ryder Cups fall into the lap of the captain and the PGA of America. Our job was to provide the resources for a winning formula. Then, it was up to the players to perform.
I’ve been around golf for 47 years, and “putting a player in a position to win” usually means proper instruction, equipment and mental preparation. Once the peg goes into the ground, the outcome is in the hands of the player – particularly when it involves the best players in the world. The Ryder Cup committee gives the players complete control over their own fortunes. Like many other PGA committees made up of members in the areas of their expertise, it’s very sensible to give PGA Tour players a direct say-so on Ryder Cup matters.
Julius Mason, a spokesman for the PGA of America, told Morning Read that there are term limits for players on the committee. The player and captain transitions will occur at the next meeting following last week’s Ryder Cup. The committee determines who comes and who goes. This is an ongoing committee that provides continuity, input and feedback to help put our team in the best position to win future Ryder Cups, and ultimately select future captains.
The PGA officers automatically transition every two years. The PGA’s chief executive officer – Seth Waugh recently replaced Bevacqua, who left to head NBC Sports – is a semi-permanent position, as long as he/she stays in the job. But, what about the three players? Love has been involved as a captain or assistant in four of the past five Ryder Cups. His time seemingly would be nearing an end. Given the committee’s decision-making duties, Mickelson and Woods are in position to dictate their future roles. That’s a weird dynamic.
Steve Stricker will captain the American team for the 2020 Ryder Cup. He will become the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain who has never won a major championship. That is a good mold for the committee to break. Stricker, a native and resident of Wisconsin, is a natural fit at Whistling Straits.
The vice captains now have structure, and most are destined to become future captains. Products of the system are Furyk, Stricker and probably Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar. The committee never has had two former Ryder Cup captains as vice captains. That was supposed to be part of the criteria, according to the original task force. It makes me wonder how many past captains with whom Woods and Mickelson held good relationships. When both have competed for the U.S., the Americans have a 1-7 record. That fact leads me to believe that many of those captains simply didn’t put the guys in a position to win.
The PGA of America has done everything that the players have requested in recent years. Until the U.S. wins in Europe, critics will say that nothing has changed. No “system” can help players hit shots. It is past time that the American players accept accountability for their actions on and off the golf course.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga