NAPA, Calif. – With the PGA Tour set to start a new season this week, much of the focus at Silverado Resort & Spa remains on the Ryder Cup.
Johnny Miller watched the American loss firsthand in Scotland as a commentator for Golf Channel and NBC Sports. This week he is serving as tournament host. A longtime Napa resident and co-owner of Silverado, Miller was instrumental in bringing the PGA Tour back to the Napa Valley for the first time since 1980.
While Miller, 67, is eager to watch a PGA Tour event on a layout where he won twice in his heyday, witnessing another U.S. Ryder Cup loss remains fresh in his memory.
“It was sort of like a snowball running down the hill,” he told GolfChannel.com on Wednesday.
The American effort at Gleneagles left a trail of finger-pointing, but the most-discussed comments have been those of Phil Mickelson, who used the team’s Sunday news conference to lobby for the system put into place in 2008 by Paul Azinger, the only time the U.S. has won the event since 1999.
According to Miller, Mickelson’s comments should not have been offered for public consumption.
“That could have stayed within the walls of the PGA [of America], so to speak,” Miller said. “I guess he was a big fan of Azinger’s pod system, but that didn’t need to come out necessarily. Watson, he didn’t miss all those putts.”
That’s not to say that Miller was a fan of Tom Watson’s captaincy. While he stopped short of placing further blame at the feet of his contemporary – “I can’t say he did a bad job,” he added – Miller did strongly question Watson’s decision to sit Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for the entire day Saturday.
“That, I’d like to hear that from Watson, because that was pretty weird,” he said. “I could see them not playing in foursomes, alternate shot, because they weren’t driving it very good, but fourball you have to go with that team. So that was very strange.”
Miller also was quick to credit the performance by the Europeans, who now have lifted the cup eight times in the last 10 contests.
“The Euros are just good. That’s all there is to it,” he said. “Those guys are just dang good players.”
The notion that the cup was won by Paul McGinley’s European side, rather than lost by the Watson’s American contingent, was echoed by Lee Westwood, one of four Ryder Cup players teeing it up this week.
“Yeah, maybe Tom got a few things wrong. Maybe the U.S. team just didn’t quite play well enough in general,” Westwood said. “You know, if the other team plays well, you’re going to lose.”
Still, the U.S. has now won just one Ryder Cup since the Clinton administration, and there remains plenty of blame to be shared. Miller believes that in recent years, the players most at fault are the ones with the most experience.
“Unfortunately, our veterans including Phil and Tiger, [Jim] Furyk, [Steve] Stricker and all these guys, they have just played very poorly in the Ryder Cup,” Miller said. “Those guys are barely batting .500. If they would have played better, there would have been more wins by the U.S.”
Much of the criticism surrounding Watson’s tenure focused on his three captain’s picks, which he used on Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson – all with previous Ryder Cup experience – while leaving potential rookies like Chris Kirk, Bill Haas and Billy Horschel on the sideline.
The three picks combined for a 2-5-2 record, and Miller believes the selections would have been better spent on some of the game’s rising stars.
“If I was captain, my three captain’s picks would have been young players,” he said. “I figure the veterans have had their chance, they haven’t delivered, so give the young guys a chance.”
In the wake of the American loss, PGA of America president Ted Bishop announced this week that a task force will be organized to take a look at the entire U.S. Ryder Cup process, including how the captain's are selected. While Miller downplayed the value of the captain – “It’s up to the players, I think, to go out and win,” – he feels the best man for the job might be the only successful American captain this century.
“’Zinger probably should get another shot at it, possibly, if they really are that desperate for a win,” he said. “At least they think maybe what he did creates a win, so if I was the PGA of America, I would probably give it back to ’Zinger.”