CHASKA, Minn. – When the U.S. Ryder Cup squad assembles in the team room Saturday night, expect captain Davis Love III’s speech to fall somewhere between Norman Dale of "Hoosiers" fame and Bill Belichick.
Love’s not a big fan of public speaking. Ask him, he’ll tell you. His address at Thursday’s opening ceremony may have been the toughest part of his week and he’d just as soon let his band of vice captains handle the speaking duties.
He actually caused a bit of a stir in the frenzied build-up to the 41st matches when he was asked what he would tell his dozen: “This is the best golf team, maybe, ever assembled,” he said.
That media miscue and his aversion to public speaking aside, this version of Captain America has a plan and a message; it’s in his body language if not his delivery.
Normally one of the game’s most approachable and forthcoming players, Love has largely plucked a page from Belichick’s notebook this week with a series of short answers and bullet-point messaging.
The plan has been to convince his players that each is a world-beater, an unstoppable force with a single job – win a point.
Military types say that plans rarely withstand the first 15 minutes of combat, but through two days the U.S. blueprint has more or less gone to script. After rolling through Friday’s foursome session for the side’s first sweep in alternate-shot play since 1975, the home team endured a late Day 1 rally by Europe.
After Saturday’s foursomes session didn’t go the American way, 2 ½ to 1 ½, they bounced back in the afternoon, winning three of the four matches, to extend the lead to 9 ½ to 6 ½.
For the United States, the final frame of team play was about more than adding three points to the total. It was about momentum.
History shows that it’s not how you start the matches, it’s how you finish, and in the fall dusk the Americans grabbed more than a three-point advantage, they wrested the advantage away from the Continent.
“You could tell Dustin Johnson, well, you played a great match, you made a ton of birdies, you played awesome. But he still didn't win and he still had that feeling of, I wish I would have won that point for my team,” Love said. “It's nice to go in on a high.”
Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter powered a similar reversal in 2012, playing their last six holes in 6 under to rally from 2 down for a late Day 2 fourball victory that set the tone for what turned out to be the largest Sunday collapse in Ryder Cup history.
“We know the deal; that tomorrow is extremely important. There's still 12 points to be played, and you just can't get off the game plan, and just keep grinding it out for one more day,” Love said.
Whatever the details of Love’s speech, the tone should send a clear message – get mean.
Winning often requires a degree of broken china. The ugly side of victory is that you can be friendly, but not friends with your opponents. At least not for the four-plus hours it’ll take to finish the guy off.
Look no further than McIlroy for proof of this. Most weeks, the Northern Irishman has a boy-next-door appeal, a genuine charm that is there in victory or defeat; but for two days in Minnesota he’s taken on a wild-eyed glare that makes people lock their doors.
For McIlroy, it’s a response to crowds that have repeatedly stepped over the line. It’s fueled him. It’s angered him.
Love must bottle similar emotion in his dozen heading into Sunday's singles. Not hate or animosity, but an authentic chip to carry proudly to the first tee.
This week Love has had Jack Nicklaus, Michael Phelps and a group of former U.S. captains speak to his team. On Saturday evening maybe he should consider inviting Lewis Black in for a chitchat.
Better yet, instead of bringing a “name” into the room to rally the troops, he could simply tell a tale from his own Ryder Cup past.
It was 1999 at Brookline, site of the U.S. team’s largest comeback in the biennial event and Love set out in the day’s fourth singles match against Jean Van de Velde, who had sat on the bench all week for Europe.
By the turn, Love was 2 up on the Frenchman and he won the next two holes to go 4 up when Van de Velde hit a shot into a water hazard, which prompted a sympathetic sigh from Love’s caddie, brother Mark.
“What was that?” Love glared. “We can feel sorry for him after we win.”
Love closed Van de Velde out, 6 and 5, to help lead the U.S. to a one-point victory, and the moment stands as an example of the unsympathetic mindset it takes to win.
Love is not a heartless man, nor are the members of his team – although Patrick Reed certainly seems capable of an occasional bout of insensitivity – but he’ll have to send the same cold and calculating message to his team if they are to avoid the same fate of the 2012 squad.