Hawk's Nest: Nicklaus speaks the truth on task force


Old guys never throw each other under the Conestoga wagon, so it should surprise no one that Jack Nicklaus recently defended Tom Watson’s rocky Ryder Cup captaincy.

This wasn’t a bouquet of roses, mind you, but a tepid endorsement of the U.S. system and the dispiriting notion that Watson and his staff “probably did a pretty good job” in piloting the Yanks to a five-point loss at Gleneagles.

If you’re an American golf fan, golly gee, you’ve gotta be feeling totally stoked about 2016.

I don’t know about that “pretty good job” stuff, but otherwise, Nicklaus couldn’t have been more perceptive in his post-rout assessment. Anybody who thought this U.S. team was going to win in Scotland was either delusional or drunk on the Kool-Aid. Watson’s mismanagement obviously didn’t help matters, but it’s not the reason the Yanks lost.

The subsequent formation of an 11-man task force, as Nicklaus noted, amounts to a dangerous case of overkill. How many chefs do we need standing over the broth? Most sports-related task forces are born out of tragedy or scandal, not because a bunch of guys in Ralph Lauren sweaters couldn’t make a putt.

Dangerous? You betcha. The pressure on the 2016 U.S. team to win at Hazeltine will be unlike anything previous Ryder Cup squads have ever faced. Factor in golf’s debut in the Summer Olympics that August, and the process of fielding the best possible roster will only become more complex.

For all the hand-wringing and idea-floating to be done between now and then, it’s worth noting that the U.S. has lost with two captain’s picks (2002-06), four captain’s picks (2010-12) and now three captain’s picks. It has continued to lose despite a reduction of the off-course social functions the players found so distracting.

It has lost with mild-mannered, player-oriented skippers (Davis Love III) and intense types (Watson, Corey Pavin). It has won without Tiger Woods when he was the No. 1 player in the world, but lost when it had the top three players in the World Ranking.

We can drive around in circles, getting nowhere all night long. The best way to prepare for 2016 is to act like 2014 never happened, but then, that’s not gonna happen, either.

AS HIS 16-FOOTER for birdie tumbled into the hole on Augusta National’s 18th green, Mark O’Meara raised his arms triumphantly. After 17 full seasons and 218 career starts, his first major title had occurred at the 1998 Masters, certainly one of the most thrilling of the modern era.

There was just one little problem. After holing the putt and accepting a congratulatory handshake from fellow competitor Fred Couples, O’Meara went to fetch his ball — and found a green cap lying on the ground maybe two feet below the hole.

The hat belonged to O’Meara’s caddie, Jerry Higginbotham, who had hurled it into the air in celebratory fashion, which wouldn’t have mattered if it hadn’t landed on Couples’ line. Freddie still had a short putt for par, making it a humorous and awkward moment, although O’Meara wasn’t exactly giggling as he retrieved the cap himself and walked away.

Having gotten to know Mark O. quite well over the years, I’m thinking last week’s World Golf Hall of Fame induction spurred a similar split reaction — overjoyed by the selection, then perturbed by comments that he’s not Hall-worthy. As good as he was, as long as he was consistently good, O’Meara always carried himself like a man who had something to prove.

So if those logoed shirts could never quite hide the chip on his shoulder, O’Meara was one of the most approachable and likeable tour pros I’ve ever known, a man utterly incapable of snobbish behavior. It’s no wonder he won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am five times. A course full of hacks and the six-hour rounds weren’t going to bother O’Meara even a little bit.

But does he belong in the Hall? My perspective tells me that if a majorless Colin Montgomerie got in without having ever won a tour event in America, O’Meara should have made it years ago. His 16 tour victories and two majors trump Couples’ 15 and one, and besides, fellow 2015 inductee David Graham got in with eight Ws.

All that said, I reiterate my belief that the WGHOF standards have gotten too low, and this year’s alterations to the selection process aren’t likely to change that anytime soon. We’re talking about a self-serving enterprise in which those already elected to the Hall decide on who’s next, which leads to cronyism and the occasional popularity contest, which isn’t what such enshrinements are supposed to be about.

SPEAKING OF CRONIES, Ian Poulter and Sir Nick Faldo used to be pretty good buds, but now we’ve got another Ryder Cup-related squabble breaking out and IJP is hopping mad. Psssst: Old Tom Watson was nowhere near this one.

It basically started on the first day of last month’s competition at Gleneagles. Faldo was working the Golf Channel telecast with Terry Gannon and referred to Sergio Garcia as “useless” at the 2008 Ryder Cup — the last time the U.S. defeated Europe. Faldo was the captain of that losing squad, and while numerous whispers of Sir Nick’s inadequacies as skipper have surfaced in the years since, an appointment of British royalty must absolve one of anything that smells like blame.

“Half a point, bad attitude,” Faldo said of Garcia that morning. “Anyway, we move on, six years later.”

Not so fast, Nicholas.

“It makes me laugh,” Poulter writes in his upcoming autobiography, “No Limits.” Faldo is talking about someone being useless ... and the European team suffered a heavy defeat [when] he was captain. So who’s useless?”

Time to yank out the pitchfork.

“There were plenty of things a lot of the players were unhappy with at Valhalla, but none of us criticized [Faldo],” Poulter adds. “He may find that begins to change now.”

First of all, IJP is as good at selling books as he is making putts. Secondly, not even a month has passed since the “useless” comment and Poulter already has his memoirs in manuscript form? Talk about having a publisher running the no-huddle offense ... .

Thirdly, and most notably, Sir Nick has made a nice second career out of saying little on television. He talks about nerves and swing planes, but doesn't seem to know much about today's players.

In recent years, however, Faldo has been particularly critical of Garcia — one of the few players who has been good enough and around long enough to attract Sir Nick’s attention. This time, his negativity bit him on the cheek, and Poulter, regardless of whether he should have gotten involved, has the teeth of a piranha.

Shall we appoint a task force on the matter?