News & Opinion

Stricker faces inertia ahead of Ryder Cup

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The 2020 Ryder Cup will lure Steve Stricker home to Wisconsin as U.S. captain.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – In September 2020, the U.S. and Europe will embark on what likely will be another epic match to see which side will take home the Ryder Cup.

The teams will be familiar to TV viewers, with few new faces likely on the U.S. side, which would be particularly disturbing because the depth of good, young U.S. players is extensive.

Last year, Xander Schauffele was on the outside looking in, but Daniel Berger, Gary Woodland, Kevin Kisner and Patrick Cantlay also could argue that they had shown enough to make the team, as well.

All would have been rookies, and all were overlooked.

Instead Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods were part of captain Jim Furyk’s selections for the U.S. team. They combined to go 0-6-0 over the three days at Le Golf National near Paris and did nothing to help an American team that was outplayed in a 17½-10½ loss.

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Steve Stricker

Steve Stricker, who will captain the 2020 team at Whistling Straits in his native Wisconsin, conceded that there were issues in France, though he said he has yet to do a thorough analysis of the setback.

“Obviously, the course was the biggest talk, you know, where it was set up for a little bit more accurate ball-strikers off the tee, accurate drivers. Jim [Furyk] knew the type of player that he wanted, and he has spoken about this where some of guys that he thought would be well-suited for that course weren't playing well at the end of the year,” said Stricker, speaking Tuesday here at Oak Hill Country Club, site of this week’s Senior PGA Championship (tee times). Mentioning by name Matt Kuchar, Kisner and Schauffele, Stricker added, “just like a player of Jim's caliber, you know, very meticulous, hits it down the fairway.”

Yet, when Stricker was asked whether he would prefer to have no captain’s picks or to select all 12 team members – the approach that Herb Brooks used for the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1980 – Stricker would opt for no picks.

No captain wants to hurt his colleagues’ feelings, which often leads to sentimental picks such as Mickelson and Woods. The captain tends to be older and has competed with and against those players for years.

I don’t believe that Furyk selected friends while believing that they were not the best picks available, but the subconscious can play tricks and the selection process can be compromised by it.

As captain, why wouldn’t he have wanted the best 12 players? Of course, the likes of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas wouldn’t be overlooked, but maybe course setup and team personality would be factors for the selections.

When Paul Azinger picked Kentuckian J.B. Holmes for the 2008 U.S. team at Valhalla, Holmes ranked 18th on the Ryder Cup standings, but the Kentucky connection was important. Holmes went 2-0-1, posting 2½ points around which Azinger could rally.

Will Steve Stricker be as aggressive today as Azinger was more than a decade ago?

The 2008 Ryder Cup team remains the American gold standard, and Azinger was lauded as the pied piper of captains. Since Valhalla, the U.S. has recorded only one victory, in 2016 at Hazeltine, and lost four of the biennial matches.

“There's not much different things you can do,” said Stricker, responding to a question about putting his signature on the next Ryder Cup. “Jim Furyk did an unbelievable job. He gave great motivational speeches. He had some great talk, people that came in and gave us talks and the players. I went through this with the [2017] Presidents Cup. Was there much different than I did there than any other team? Probably not.”

Azinger sought change in his lead-up to the 2008 matches. The Americans had lost three consecutive matches to Europe, and five of the past six heading into Valhalla. He lobbied the PGA of America to allow him four captain’s picks, instead of the customary two. He sought for an extension of the selection, from the Monday after the PGA Championship to a date closer to the Ryder Cup.

Azinger got his four picks, and he was the first captain to make extensive use of statistics to make those selections.

It’s not easy to come up with ideas that will work, but it’s important to think outside of the box when the other side has the Americans’ number 80 percent of the time during the last 10 years.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli