In the wake of the Americans losing yet another Ryder Cup, it seems like their fellow Americans are quick to lay blame. Using an informal poll of despondent respondents, the priority order is as follows: Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Davis Love III, the trooper who drove Rory McIlroy to the course, former president George H.W. Bush, Michael Jordan, former president George W. Bush, Johnny Miller and Ian Poulter's optometrist.
Feel free to play the blame game if that’s your thing, but come armed with enough knowledge to do it intelligently.
Personally, I think there’s way too much blame being thrown around already. Think of it this way: If just one U.S. player could have turned a loss into a win Sunday afternoon, the entire result would have changed and we’d be hailing Love and his team as heroes. Hell, one more point for the red, white and blue and we’d be calling DL3 one of the best captains in recent memory, maybe even wondering if he’s got a passport ready for Gleneagles in 2014.
It didn’t happen that way, of course. The U.S. lost and its fans are hurt, heartbroken and above all else, angry. In the aftermath of defeat, theories and analyses are flying all over the place as to what went wrong, where it went wrong and how it all could have been avoided.
Many of these hypotheses hold some credence, but for every notion that makes sense, there are two that fly in the face of logic. The following are 12 myths which have been floating around, followed by a thorough debunking that would even make Poulter’s eye guy proud.
Yes, they were hot, going 3-0 as partners. But there were a few reasons for not sending 'em back out for Saturday afternoon’s fourball session. First and foremost, Mickelson told Love that they shouldn’t play again. There aren’t too many hard and fast rules as a captain, but one of them states that when a player says he can’t play, then you can’t play him.
“Keegan and I knew going in that we were not playing in the afternoon, and we said on the first tee, ‘We are going to put everything we have into this one match, because we are not playing the afternoon,’” Mickelson said Sunday night. “When we got to 10, I went to Davis and I said, ‘Listen, you're seeing our best. You cannot put us in the afternoon, because we emotionally and mentally are not prepared for it.”
Bang on Mickelson all you’d like for essentially removing himself from a fourth straight match – and taking Bradley with him. (And yes, I’ve heard the sentiment which claims the rookie should have teamed with Woods in the afternoon. Nice thought. Other than the fact that they never practiced together, never played together and may not even know each other. For those who think such relationships aren’t important in fourballs, well, you’re contradicting yourself if you’ve already maintained Mickelson and Bradley needed to remain together for that very reason.)
Think about it from a negative point of view: After they won three matches together, Love had a chance to give both players some rest and let them enter Sunday riding a wave of confidence. If they let it ride and lost Saturday afternoon, though, Love was looking at the possibility of having two tired, less optimistic players the next day. It backfired because they each lost but would have been ingenious if they won.
Myth 2: Steve Stricker shouldn't have been a captain's pick.
He didn’t play well. In fact, Stricker played terribly. Worse than any other player in the competition.
It’s the ultimate in Monday morning quarterbacking, though, to second-guess this selection. At the time the captain’s picks were made, Stricker was the 10th-ranked player – in the entire world! He was the no-brainer of the four, the one unquestioned choice because of his ability to partner with Woods and his silky putting stroke. The idea backfired, but to claim Stricker shouldn’t have been named to this team is awfully shortsighted.
Just in the past 24-48 hours, I’ve heard hand-wringing over the fact that Stricker was named to the team over younger players such as Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler. I like each of those guys, I really do. Terrific talents. But what a poor memory some of you have. Just two years ago at Celtic Manor, Mahan was left in tears after losing the clinching match while Fowler finished a mundane 0-1-2. Add in the fact that after a combined three wins from those two players in the spring, they each endured underwhelming summers and were unimpressive in the events leading up to the captain’s picks being made.
Want to crush Stricker for his poor play at Medinah? Go right ahead. But if you’re trying to contend that you were against the pick a month ago, just stop. He was the easiest of the four picks. It didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision.
Myth 3: Jim Furyk has always been a choker.
Perhaps the most controversial captain’s selection, Furyk failed to prove Love right by finishing 1-2-0 and losing his singles match in dramatic fashion. He missed a 12-foot putt on 17 and a 6-foot putt on 18, the culmination of a brutal summer that included a pull-hook off the 16th tee at the U.S. Open and a yipped putt on the final green at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
How bad has it been? I’ll put it this way: The Boston Red Sox have had a more productive summer than Furyk.
Despite him enduring an ugly run as of late, it’s impossible to label a 15-time PGA Tour champion and likely future Hall of Fame member as a choker based simply on a few months of “unclutchness.”
This is a guy who has made a career out of not letting things rattle him and keeping calm under pressure. He’s done a world of hurt to that reputation since June and his atrocious Ryder Cup record won't assuage such criticism. All of which he understands.
“It's been a low year,” he said after losing to Sergio Garcia in singles. “I've played very well this year, but haven't closed the door. I'm pretty sure Sergio would tell you that I outplayed him today, but I didn't win and I lost the match. I've had a lot of that happen this year. As far as team versus individual, it's the lowest point of my year.”
Call it a choke, call it a collapse, call it whatever you want. It wasn’t good and he knows it. This week, though – heck, this whole year – shouldn’t serve as a symbolic representation of Furyk’s entire career. He’s been much better in the clutch than he has been lately, even if a dissenter would point out that he couldn’t have been any worse.
Myth 4: The U.S. players don't buy into the team concept.
Here’s some irony for you: The U.S. players have forever been criticized for not buying into the team concept and competing instead as 12 individuals. That isn’t always such a bad problem to have; it’s helped the team win each of the two previous singles sessions.
And yet, this time around, the team that “doesn’t play like a team” claimed 10 of a total 16 points in the opening four team sessions but only 3½ while playing as individuals on Sunday.
There was high-fiving, there was fist-bumping, there was hugging and there was butt-slapping – sometimes all at once. Even if those celebrations weren’t always coordinated so that the teammates were in synch, it’s the thought that counts.
These guys may not be best buddies the other 51 weeks of the years and they may not have even been best buddies last week, but they played like they were and they played like they didn’t want to let down any of the other 11 guys in the locker room. That’s exactly what the team concept is about. It’s taken the U.S. team awhile to figure that out, but like a poker player with pocket aces, they’re now all in.
Myth 5: Davis Love III didn't adjust well on the fly.
The captain came into the week with a few definitive plans. One was that none of his 12 players would compete in all five sessions. He wanted to keep everybody physically and emotional fresh for all three days. The other was that each player would have limited partners. It may not have mirrored Paul Azinger’s pod system exactly, but as it turned out, there were only six total teams, and each player had only one partner.
It’s much easier to shift from the original game plan when you’re losing. But Love’s squad was in control for the first two days, so he stuck to the blueprint rather than trying to make adjustments that didn’t need making. If the score had been reversed during the opening four team sessions, there would have been adjustments to make. As the case was, the plan worked until Sunday.
Once again, think of it from the opposing viewpoint: If Love had opted away from the script after a 5-3 lead on Friday night or an 8-4 lead on Saturday afternoon, wouldn’t that be more of a sign of panic than sticking with what got him there? Can you imagine the consternation if he came out Saturday afternoon with completely different pairings and it backfired? It would be the golf equivalent of a manager pulling his ace after six shutout innings.
Love was adhering to the old axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Nothing broke until late Sunday afternoon. By that time, it was too late for the captain to fix anything.
Myth 6: Tiger Woods was the goat.
And no, that doesn’t stand for Greatest Of All Time. At least, not in this case.
Wins are the thing – and when the team’s best player concludes his Ryder Cup week without a single one in four matches, he can expect to take his fair share of the blame.
Delve a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a guy who wasn’t nearly as pitiful as his record indicated.
Woods was the second-best player on the course Friday afternoon but lost to Nicolas Colsaerts, who enjoyed a career day. He received virtually no help from Stricker in their three team matches together.
And check out this stat: In three matches playing their own ball, Woods posted 13 birdies, while Dustin Johnson posted 11. Final records in those matches? Woods was winless, Johnson was undefeated.
Again, it all comes down to winning, and Tiger didn’t win. But he was hardly one of the worst players on the course.
Myth 7: Playing in the No. 12 spot was a slap in the face to Tiger Woods.
Quite the contrary. Instead, he was the greatest insurance policy Love could ever want. Granted, the Ryder Cup doesn’t often come down to the final match – and this one didn’t, either, though not as the captain would have expected – but every point counts the same.
With such a large lead on Saturday night, the thought process was the following: If the team doesn’t need the final match, that means it has already won. If the team does need the final match, it has its best player in the right place.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Love was sort of the anti-Hal Sutton. Which is to say, rather than imposing his will on the team and telling them when they’d play, he asked for their input and usually obliged. If Woods wasn’t OK with running the anchor leg, he wouldn’t have. Simple as that.
Myth 8: Davis Love III should have front-loaded his lineup to match Europe's expected order.
Everyone from Medinah to Madrid knew that Jose Maria Olazabal would come out guns blazing with his best players at the top of the order on Sunday. Love didn’t exactly choose to fight fire with fire, but it’s not as if he had much of a choice, either.
“It's hard to decide who the best six players or the best eight players on your team are,” he said Saturday night. “It doesn't really matter which ones you put in which order, because everybody is playing so well.”
That may sound like the easy answer, but in reality, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner turned out to be the only winners in singles. If Love had placed those guys in the 1-2-3 spots, that wouldn’t have been considered front-loading.
The truth is, he did front-load in a way, putting a few high-energy guys along with those who had played well on Saturday right at the top of his lineup. Crowd favorite Watson led off – a no-brainer, because nobody else could get that first tee rockin’ like a guy who actually asked the gallery to cheer during his drive – followed by Simpson (who was electric on Saturday afternoon), Bradley (another fiery favorite) and Mickelson (ditto).
Those who grumble about Love’s ordering of players are likely complaining without offering a solution, because it’s unlikely that a better one existed.
With a blind draw, the match-up of players comes down to blind luck. The captain simply ran out of it Sunday.
Myth 9: Phil Mickelson shouldn't have been clapping for Justin Rose when his chances were imploding.
There aren’t any great analogies in other sports to what we witnessed Sunday. In other competitions, those involved can play defense on their opponents. Block a shot, make a diving save, physically knock the other guy out of the way.
In golf, there’s no defense. Only offense. And so when Rose holed an improbable 35-footer on the penultimate hole, then followed with another birdie at the last, Mickelson could only smile and tip his cap. It’s called class – and the fact that he is being criticized for it speaks greater volume about the critic.
If Mickelson had instead proffered a few choice four-letter words and thrown a tantrum, it wouldn’t have reversed those putts from going into the hole. Handling the situation with the proper spirit of the competition should be commended, not criticized.
Myth 10: Trotting out celebs and politicians was a distraction to the end result.
Once again, NBA icon Michael Jordan was involved in the festivities throughout the week. The presidents Bush joined him in the team room, giving a speech on Saturday night. Other luminaries from Justin Timberlake to Michael Phelps were hanging around at various times, too.
Over the top? Maybe. Major distraction? No way. The team didn’t lose because of a lack of focus. It didn’t lose because the players were too starstruck or asking for autographs from their new buddies instead of practicing and preparing.
Myth 11: Davis Love III was too nice to win.
There’s an assumption that the U.S. needs a fiery, inspirational type of captain in order to triumph, which is probably based on the fact that Paul Azinger was a fiery, inspirational type, and he’s the only one to have triumphed so far this century.
Let’s use two other examples to disprove this theory. The first is Hal Sutton. Not that the 2004 captain wasn’t a nice guy, but his fiery demeanor completely backfired. Instead of listening to the players' wants and needs, he imposed his will upon the team, and they subsequently laid an egg.
The second example is the captain who did win this week. If it’s true that “nice guys finish last,” then how can we explain Olazabal, who was classy when his team trailed and classier when they won? There’s no magic formula for the personality of a winning captain. Love and Olazabal actually own very similar personalities. One of 'em had to lose.
Myth 12: The U.S. players don't care enough about the Ryder Cup.
Here’s an idea: Go find Furyk, look him in the eye, and tell him the problem was that he didn’t care enough. See what happens.
On second thought, say it to any of the U.S. players. They care – whether you believe 'em or not. Just because they don’t have eyes popping out of their heads like Poulter doesn’t mean there’s abject apathy.
There’s no tangible measure for caring, no statistic which can definitively show who cared the most and who cared the least. But I’ll tell you this much: For as much as you cared standing outside the gallery ropes or yelling at the TV from the confines of your couch, the players cared about the Ryder Cup more than you. Way more.