That’s the idea that crept into Davis Love III’s mind late last year after the U.S. team’s victory at the Presidents Cup. In some ways, those matches were a dress rehearsal for what promised to be a seminal moment for the American Ryder Cup team in 2016.
The sea change to the U.S. Ryder Cup process had been building since the American loss to Europe in 2014 in Scotland. Essentially, the PGA of America cleaned house and gave the players, the most important part of the matches, a much-needed voice at the table.
Everything from how captains are selected to the team’s wild-card picks, even the itinerary for the week and how the team room was structured, was gutted and remade.
As the celebration grew at the ’15 Presidents Cup, Love – who’d been selected to captain the U.S. Ryder Cup team – realized it was time to start putting those changes to the test.
From the outset, the ’16 matches were different. Love selected Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and even Tiger Woods, sidelined for the season by injury, as vice captains, a nod to a process that is now supposed to groom future captains instead of the “friends and family” plan used by recent captains.
Love figured he spent more time talking and texting with his vice captains – and Phil Mickelson, who assumed a playing vice captain role – than he did communicating with his own family as the matches approached.
If the U.S. team looked a lot like past American rosters, the revamped timetable for Love to make his picks produced an unlikely selection after Ryan Moore finished second at the Tour Championship.
Moore hadn’t even been fitted for a team uniform, he’d had virtually no communication with Love in the weeks leading up to the selection and didn’t expect to get the call as he headed to the airport following the final round at East Lake. Twenty-four hours later, he was bound for Minnesota and his first start in the biennial event.
Things went the U.S. team’s way early and often, with Love’s team sweeping the opening foursomes session on its way to a 17-11 victory.
Of all the celebrations and statements made following the victory, the moment of clarity came just as the U.S. team completed its post-matches press conference and started to make their way back to the team room.
Furyk, who appears to be the likely choice to succeed Love as U.S. captain, paused as the celebration echoed through the night.
He stopped well short of calling the victory validation for the time and effort the “task force” put into the reworked process, because that was never the goal. But as the American team scattered into the night, bound for a celebration that was eight years in the making, he considered the outcome and the obstacles the U.S. team faced at Hazeltine National.
“We had great leadership, with Davis Love, we had a lot of experience and we had 12 guys that bought into the theory of what we tried to accomplish,” Furyk said. “Some years we’ve had that, but not every year. We had a long-term plan and a goal for the next 10 Ryder Cups. Let’s look back in five or 10 Ryder Cups from now and say, ‘Hey, we righted the ship.’”