CHASKA, Minn. – Did you hear last week, when U.S. captain Davis Love III made the eyebrow-raising comment that his U.S. Ryder Cup team was “the best golf team maybe ever assembled.” Of course you did. It was everywhere.
“It raised some eyebrows around our team, too,” Love said Tuesday, while the best golf team maybe ever assembled practiced at Hazeltine. But only because he believes his remarks were taken out of context.
And he might have a point.
Anyone who knows the difference between a Titleist and a TaylorMade can look at this roster and determine that it isn’t the best ever. (1981, anyone?) Dustin Johnson is the presumptive Player of the Year. Jordan Spieth added two more titles to his growing collection. But other than that? The Americans have combined for just three wins this year. This probably isn’t even the best team this decade.
So, yes, Love’s comment was brash, bordering on arrogant. It was probably unwise, too, given the Americans’ recent history in this event. But it also was misinterpreted.
Listen to the full interview, Love said Tuesday. And so we did. Again.
This was the question posed by “Fairways of Life” host Matt Adams, in a final sendoff before Love headed to Minnesota for this week’s matches: What is your counsel to your team coming in?
Love began by saying that the Americans put too much pressure on themselves and tend to panic when things start poorly, that they play defensively. Then he told a story about Tom Kite, his captain in 1997. The Ryder Cup is all about an attitude, a mindset, a swagger, and Kite told him if you’re 2 up, push it to 3 up. Try to crush your opponent.
“If we go out with that attitude, like he was saying, “Love said, “we are the better team. Let’s show them. Let’s go out there and show off. That’s a big part of it.
“And then just having confidence. We don’t have to do anything superhuman. We’re a great golf team. This is the best golf team maybe ever assembled. If we just go play our game – like coach (Bill) Belichick told us a few weeks ago – ignore the noise, work hard, do your job, everything else will take care of itself.”
Listen to the clip quickly, and it’s easy to conclude that Love believes this might be the best 12-man roster in history. He did say that, after all.
But the original question was not: Where does this team stack up all time? No, it was: What is your counsel to your team coming in?
And so, he says, he plans to tell those 12 players that they’re the best team maybe ever assembled. He already has, apparently. “Captain told us he believes – as anybody should tell their team – that we’re the best team in the world,” Spieth said. “And we believe that, as well.”
It’s the same speech that’s been delivered in every locker room and clubhouse, in every sport, at every level, for decades.
“That’s what Nick Saban would tell his team when they’re getting ready to go play Ole Miss,” Love said of the famously intense Alabama football coach. “He wouldn’t say, ‘You guys have done a pretty good job this week, and you’re a pretty average team, let’s go out there and just give it a good shot.’ No, he’s going to say, ‘You guys have worked hard, you’re the best team I’ve ever seen, so let’s go crush these guys.’”
Somewhere along the way, though, that context was lost – not that the Europeans minded the easy bulletin-board material.
Rather than ignore the noise, as Belichick suggested, the typically mild-mannered Love instead turned up the volume.
And the Europeans heard it loud and clear.
Lee Westwood poked fun at Love’s bravado on Twitter. Last week, Rory McIlroy sent his own zinger: “They’ve definitely assembled the best task force ever, that’s for sure.”
Added Sergio Garcia: “You don’t win Ryder Cups with your mouth. You win them out there on the golf course.”
And so Love might as well have walked into the media tent Tuesday with an extinguisher, prepared to snuff out any of the simmering controversy.
“It’s just unfortunate that, in that nice conversation, it got misconstrued,” Love said. “Obviously that comment, and to the other extreme, the comment about the European team” – NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller said the Europeans have the worst team they’ve had in years – “is not what this is all about.”
Love said he has talked to Clarke about both remarks and that there were no hard feelings. Nor should there have been.
It’s all in good fun. The light ribbing is part of what makes the Ryder Cup so spirited. It’s not war – it’s a three-day exhibition with nothing at stake but pride and bragging rights.
But while Love clarifies – or, to some, backtracks – the Europeans have gladly accepted the free motivation.
“I don’t think it’s hard for us to find motivation,” McIlroy said, “because anywhere you look, whether it be the sea of red you see on the golf course, or the comments that are made in the media by the U.S. team or by the captain, that gives us so much motivation already.”
And here he got a bit cheeky.
“Whenever we are going up against one of the greatest teams ever assembled,” he said, “that’s motivation enough.”
Sorry, Davis, but it’s clear that the one-liners are just beginning – win or lose.