Bishop admits Ryder Cup changes could be coming

Tom Watson (left) and Ted Bishop speak during the Ryder Cup captain's picks news conference in early September. (Getty)

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Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, Ted Bishop gathered with a group of PGA of America executives to talk about the 2016 Ryder Cup.

Less than 24 hours after the U.S. team’s eighth defeat in its last 10 tries at the biennial matches, Bishop knows there will be more discussions in the coming weeks, but following the 16 1/2 to 11 1/2  rout at Gleneagles the captivity of the transatlantic chartered flight seemed as good a time as any to start looking for answers.

“We had philosophical conversations on the plane home yesterday, ‘Where do we go next?’” said Bishop, the PGA of America’s president who was back at work at his Legends Golf Club in Indiana on Tuesday morning. “We understand what we have to do and we are not on a serious timeline. We are going to take some time and figure out the best way going forward.”

The good news for Bishop and the PGA is they have time on their side, unlike in 2012 when the association was in the process of selecting Tom Watson as this year’s captain during the build up to the matches at Medinah.

The decision to delay any moves on future captains was intentional.

“We have all collectively said we are going to see where 2014 goes and I think that was prudent,” Bishop told GolfChannel.com.

In the aftermath of another U.S. loss, it makes even more sense for the PGA to move slowly. The criticism reached a crescendo on Monday when many, including your scribe, questioned why the association doesn’t copy the European model when selecting captains.

European captain Paul McGinley, for example, was selected by the European Tour’s tournament committee which is a group that consists of former captains and players, some of whom (like Thomas Bjorn) participated on this year’s team.

Bishop explains, however, that while he and the other officers on the PGA’s executive committee make the final decision on potential captains, there was no shortage of input during that process.

After initially meeting with Watson in Kansas City two weeks after the U.S. loss at Medinah in 2012, the entire PGA delegation returned to Watson’s home in November to make the final decision.

Before that, Bishop said he spoke with many former captains, including Davis Love III, Corey Pavin and Lanny Wadkins. He even reached out to Paul Azinger, the last winning American captain in 2008, but “never heard back from him.”

There was even an interesting conversation with Curtis Strange, who actively lobbied for Larry Nelson to have his turn as captain.

“In that plea he said what this American team needs is someone they look up to and respect. ‘I’m talking about guys like (Arnold) Palmer, (Jack) Nicklaus and Watson,’” Bishop recalled.

While the process, he explained, is not as structured as the European system, Bishop contends it was more inclusive than some may think.

“It’s not like we don’t ask former Ryder Cup captains their opinions. We definitely value their opinions,” he said.

Bishop also explained that he valued current player input throughout the process leading up to last week’s matches.

On Sunday night at Gleneagles, Phil Mickelson seemed to suggest that the current Ryder Cup system is broken and that the U.S. needs to return to the format Azinger used in 2008 at Valhalla.

“There were two things that allowed us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger did,” Mickelson said. “One was he got everybody invested in the process . . . The other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us.

“We use that same process in the Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula.”

It was the same take Mickelson had in July when he was paired with Bishop during the pro-am at the Scottish Open. When Bishop suggested Lefty share his thoughts with Watson, Mickelson declined.

“He said it wasn’t his place and I said, ‘Phil, that would be a mistake,’” Bishop said. “(Watson) wasn’t as stubborn or bullheaded as people thought he could be. There is a patient side. Unfortunately, Phil didn’t do that. If Phil is going to be a leader on that team or future teams he should take it upon himself to have that conversation with the captain.”

The silver lining for the PGA of America is that the move to make Watson – who didn’t fall into the traditional mold of U.S. captains – this year’s skipper, has opened the door for a new philosophy when it comes to picking captains.

“We are going to be talking going forward about the selection process for captains and the selection of players,” Bishop said.

In 2016, for example, Bishop points out that the PGA Championship, the traditional cutoff date to name the team’s automatic qualifiers, will probably have to be changed. The ’16 PGA is being played July 28-31 instead of early August due to scheduling constraints caused by the Olympics.

“There is no way, in my opinion, you can announce the automatic qualifiers two months before the Ryder Cup,” said Bishop, who suggested a scenario where the automatic qualifiers are named after the Deutsche Bank Championship and the captain’s picks after the Tour Championship.

Finally, Bishop addressed the current elephant in the American team room. In the days since the U.S. loss there has been a chorus of support to bring back Azinger to captain the ’16 team. On Sunday night Azinger told GolfChannel.com’s John Hawkins that he “can’t rule it out.”

Nor does it seem the PGA would be averse to the idea.

“That decision will be made by someone other than me, but at this point the slate is totally clear. Why wouldn’t you consider him?” Bishop said. “A Ryder Cup captain doesn’t have to be a major champion. We have to get over that. We have to look for guys who are not afraid to roll their sleeves up and take a blue collar approach like McGinley did and Azinger did.”

Before Bishop went back to work on Tuesday afternoon, he offered one final thought that seemed apropos considering the criticism Watson and the PGA has received in the aftermath of last week’s blowout.

“I think the PGA of America is willing to change from a certain stand point,” he said. “We are willing to try to put all the appropriate pieces into place to collectively make a good decision going forward.”

Criticism was sure to come, it’s part of the process and Bishop knew that. But never doubt that the PGA wants a winning U.S. team every bit as badly as anyone else.