Players need to buy in for U.S. to have Ryder Cup success

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GLENEAGLES, Scotland – This ain't your grandfather's Ryder Cup anymore.

Unless your grandfather is 65-year-old Tom Watson, that's not a knock on the recently outclassed United States captain. It's a realization that the times have changed – and the U.S. team has failed to change along with them.

Gone are the days when a captain only needed to ensure there were enough sweaters for three days and enough bubbly for the celebration. If we've learned anything in the 15 years with just two American victories, it's that superior talent can win and superior talent can lose.

The deciding variable isn't which team has the better players or more experience or proper motivation.

No, there's only been one constant throughout this generation's Ryder Cup champions: The team which is most prepared to win always does. Every single time.

This was the crux of Phil Mickelson's controversial comments immediately after Sunday's final session had resulted in another drubbing at the hands of Europe, this one by a 16 1/2 to 11 1/2 score. He didn't imply that Paul Azinger was a successful captain because the team won; he insisted that the team won because Azinger was a successful captain.

Those who paid close attention to the two most recent captains understood the wide dichotomy between their approaches.

Watson is an eight-time major champion who presumed that his intuition would guide the team to victory. His main tactic for getting his team members to play better was to tell them to play better. And if that didn't work, well, the captain would throw his hands in the air and maintain the team was outplayed, not outcoached.


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Compare that with Paul McGinley, who treated his role with the deft precision of a Fortune 500 CEO. He planned, he prepared, he delegated. McGinley's vision for the week went far beyond putting a team together and hoping they played well. Instead, he built a successful business model and developed it. He measured each step of the process as if he was working directly off a flow chart.

There are plenty of stories which speak to McGinley's attention to detail, but none highlight his preparation as well as this: During the 2012 Ryder Cup, noting Graeme McDowell's innate leadership, he decided that if he ever became captain, McDowell would lead off his team's singles session.

This past week, he relayed that story to his player on Wednesday. As if scripted perfectly, McDowell trailed early to Jordan Spieth, but displayed that leadership in a late rally that not only earned the team a full point, it galvanized his other teammates on the course.

In searching for its next Ryder Cup captain, the PGA of America must find a person who will not only erase the arrogant stigma emboldened by Watson that he could simply show up with a dozen great players and win. The organization needs to find someone who will strip the blueprint from Europe's playbook and put his own stamp on it.

That's exactly what Azinger did a half-dozen years ago. His players weren't on the team for one week; they were on the team for two years. He didn't rule with an iron fist; he got players personally invested in the team and let them make their own decisions for its well-being.

When the Americans' most recent Ryder Cup disappointment ended without any of this taking place, Mickelson – and, trust this, many of his quieter teammates – remained flummoxed as to why a proven winning strategy could be so casually dismissed.

When asked whether he had been trusted with personal investment into the team prior to last week, the 10-time team member answered, "Uh, no."

That needs to change. If the PGA of America and the next captain and the potential players want to return to the days of celebrating with bubbly on Sunday night, if they want to treat this event as more than a glorified exhibition, they need to change with the times.

While the press room might not have seemed like the right time to air that dirty laundry, Mickelson understands how to be a catalyst for these changes. This couldn't be done under cover of secrecy within the PGA's sheltered walls.

By speaking publicly, the team's most veteran player invariably placed the ball back onto the tee for its governing body.

Now it's their turn to swing away. The last few shots have been fired with varying degrees of failure, but as any golfer understands, the next one can always be better. Simply realizing that notion is the first step in the right direction.