CHASKA, Minn. – There will be no looking back.
There will be no reminders, at least not within the plush confines of the U.S. Ryder Cup team room, that the Americans led 5-3 after Day 1 at the 2012 matches. And certainly no mention that complacency is every bit the unforgiving foe as a lack of clutch putting.
Davis Love III will have no part of such indulgences. It may be human nature to learn from the past, but when it comes to this Ryder Cup the captain figures one can only have painful association with those ’12 memories and he has had no interest in living in the past.
It’s slightly ironic that at least part of the unspoken motivation to bring Love back for a second turn as captain was to make up for that heartbreaking loss four years ago at Medinah.
But the captain is having none of it.
“This team's never played together before. This is a new 12. We're not looking at past records,” he said.
There’s probably no need to peek into the rearview mirror; those with even the slightest recall will recognize that the 5-3 advantage the U.S. team forged on Day 1 at Hazeltine National was the same mark the Americans had after the opening frame in ’12, although they arrived at this particular cross-roads much differently.
For the first time in three decades, the U.S. team swept the morning foursome session.
The last time the Americans went 4-0 in the alternate-shot session (1975) they got the entire Continent involved, expanding from just GB&I to all of Europe in 1979. Call it the original task force, which began the slow swing in Europe’s direction at the biennial matches.
“Our goal is to win every session,” said Tom Lehman, one of Love’s army of vice captains. “Whether we win a session by half a point or one point or four points, the goal is to win every session.”
Much like virtually every NBA game, the Europeans rallied in the afternoon fourball session, cutting the lead by two points to take some air out of the Minnesota masses and keep the 41st Ryder Cup from becoming mathematically mundane.
As inspiring as the morning session was for the U.S., and it was inspiring, there was no ignoring the entirety of the day. It was, for those inclined to such comparisons, a microcosm of what happened to the U.S. team the last time Love was tooling about in the captain’s golf cart – a roaring start tarnished by a poor finish.
To prepare for this year’s matches, Love leaned heavily on statistics, so he’d probably be interested to discover that no team has led the Ryder Cup by three or more points after the first session and lost.
Captain America will tell anyone who will listen that those kinds of benchmarks mean little to him, and even less to his team, but those kinds of mind games can only cover so much ground.
Competitive amnesia is always an advantage for top athletes - look no further than Dustin Johnson for proof of that - but golfers are funny creatures with a surprising amount of free time between shots and a general sense of history.
Love can tell his players to ignore the elephant in the team room, but saying something over and over again doesn’t make it true.
The captain has embraced a classic locker-room mentality, pushing a narrative of adversity and perseverance. You know the drill: No one believes in the U.S. team, the task force, the reinvented process, it’s us against everyone.
“It's been an emotional trip for this team the way the picks went down. Obviously with Arnold's passing, [it] was a shock for both teams at the start of the week,” Love said. “Just little things that made this team bond together really well.”
But now there are no more manufactured monsters, just points on a scoreboard and a European comeback on Friday afternoon that was very real. As easy as things appeared in the morning session, fortunes can swing just that quickly in this event.
Love won’t give his players a history lesson at dinner, he won’t need to – even though there are only five players from the ’12 team at Hazeltine they all know what happened four years ago and what can still happen this week.
“It’s long way to go. There's a lot more points out there. Keep doing the same thing over and over every session,” was Love’s message.
Last week Johnny Miller scoffed at the notion that this U.S. Ryder Cup team, as Love said he’d tell his squad, is “the best, maybe, ever assembled.”
“Uh, no,” Miller said, citing the ’81 team that included golf’s version of “Murderers’ Row.”
But not even that ’81 group – which included future Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Ray Floyd, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Tom Watson and Miller – managed to accomplish what Love’s dozen pulled off in the opening foursome session.
But historical accuracy notes that Miller & Co. improved with each round in ’81 and routed the Europeans by nine points, which seems to be a lesson Love would be interested in.