Everyone second-guesses a losing Ryder Cup captain. Even the captain has to wonder, 'Is there one thing I could have done differently?' If U.S. captain Davis Love III has asked himself that question, the GolfChannel.com team has some answers.
By JAY COFFIN
Difficult to pick just one.
The mistake Davis Love III made that sticks out most is posting Tiger Woods 12th in the Sunday singles lineup. I get it, the dude isn’t known for adapting well to the team atmosphere, and he slapped it around suburban Chicago for two days like a man who wasn’t engaged. Steve Stricker wasn’t much help to Woods but 0-3 was 0-3.
Singles, however, is a different animal, it’s where Woods shines brightest. To put him 12th, in a position that was virtually guaranteed to not matter, is reckless. Many believed Woods’ match would be irrelevant because the Ryder Cup would be clinched much earlier by the Americans. Turned out it was clinched by the Europeans in the 11th match when Martin Kaymer defeated Stricker.
This generation’s best player doesn’t play well in team events, but he’s still the best match-play competitor of this generation, too. Love said that everyone on his team got what they wanted in singles. So that means Woods wanted the last position? Even if it was true, Love should’ve known better. Woods needed to be a factor. Sadly for the Americans, and the crazed Chicago fans, he wasn’t.
By RANDALL MELL
Phil Mickelson can be a golfing genius, but sometimes he outsmarts himself. He won with two drivers in his bag at the 2006 Masters, but he struggled miserably in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines after deciding not to put a driver in his bag on what was then the longest layout in the championship’s history.
It’s difficult in this corner to overly scrutinize Davis Love III’s Ryder Cup decisions, because his strategies put his players in good position to win on Sunday. Sometimes, in sport, you lose because your field-goal kicker misses a point-blank chance from 25 yards. Love watched something akin to nine kickers missing Sunday at Medinah. In the end, if Jim Furyk doesn’t bogey the final two holes, if Steve Stricker makes a putt at the 17th, if Tiger Woods makes more than one birdie in the final round to take some early doubt out of his match, the Americans probably win. This writer will remember the American players beating themselves on Sunday more than the captain bungling anything. Yeah, the Euros were great, but the Americans winning just three of 12 singles matches? It's the lousiest Sunday in American Ryder Cup history.
Still, we’re second-guessing here, which is a sport within a sport in the Ryder Cup. If there’s one decision Love made that could be undone to try to win that Ryder Cup, it’s resting Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the Saturday afternoon fourballs. They were 3-0 and looked unbeatable as a tandem crushing Luke Donald and Lee Westwood in a record-tying rout in foursomes.
Yeah, Mickelson was insistent with Love that he rest, even citing stats showing that players who competed in all five matches did not historically fare well in Sunday singles. By the way, Americans who play five matches are 17-11-7 since 1979. Mickelson told Love that winning one more point on Saturday was not worth losing two on Sunday, but Love should have persuaded Mickelson otherwise, even though Love liked the idea of resting every player for at least one match. With the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, we can say Love should have scrapped that plan. Mickelson was wrong. One more point on Saturday would have been worth the risk of losing two on Sunday.
By RYAN LAVNER
OK, so Phil Mickelson duped the captain. U.S. Ryder Cuppers who play all five sessions don’t actually have a poor singles record. The two Europeans who played all five sessions at Medinah, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, won their singles matches, too.
If there was one player on the U.S. side who could break the trend and play all five, who had boundless enthusiasm and could go another 18 (if not 36), who could resuscitate a lifeless teammate and pull out a victory . . . then it was rookie Keegan Bradley.
Lefty wanted to rest and not play five, and that’s his choice. (Though, really, shouldn’t it have been the captain’s?) Bradley, however, was so explosive in the team format and playing so well, how could Love afford not to trot him out again on Saturday afternoon? He’s 26 years old. He played only 12 holes in the morning and, really, cut that total in half – they played alternate shot.
In Saturday afternoon fourballs, Love should have paired Keegan with Tiger, left Stricker (who clearly had lost his putting stroke) on the bench, and watched to see if it worked, to see if it created a spark, to see if Bradley and Tiger chest-bumped and backside-slapped, to see if Bradley’s exuberance and Tiger’s stoicism created an mesmerizing duo.
The Europeans were buoyed by the fact that they split fourballs, that they trailed only 10-6 heading into Sunday. In hindsight, the Americans probably wished they had that extra point Saturday night – and their dynamo, Bradley, on the course in each session.
By REX HOGGARD
Let the nitpicking begin, although these types of postmortems always seem to ignore the fact that neither Davis Love III nor Jose Maria Olazabal hit a putt that mattered last week. But if we must identify a goat it’s best to begin, and end, our search with the captain’s picks – specifically Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker.
With Furyk and Stricker, Love opted for known commodities, let’s call them comfort picks. In Stricker the American side had the yin to Tiger Woods’ yang, a partner who he enjoyed a 2-1-0 Ryder Cup record with, while Furyk was viewed in team circles as the U.S. quarterback.
Neither, however, produced. Furyk was 1-2-0 and bogeyed his final two holes on Sunday to cough up a 1-up advantage to Sergio Garcia and swing the momentum back in the Europeans favor.
Stricker was no better, posting a 0-4-0 week and finishing bogey-par to drop the decisive point to Martin Kaymer, who didn’t exactly set Medinah ablaze on Sunday. The German was 1 over par on Sunday yet clenched the cup for Europe with his 1-up victory.
Love's biggest mistake may have come a month before the matches. Hindsight being 20/20 and all, it’s natural to wonder if Hunter Mahan, who was ahead of Furyk and Stricker on the U.S. points list yet was passed over for a pick, could have delivered on Sunday? One thing is for certain, he couldn’t have performed any worse.
By JASON SOBEL
I don't have a problem with many of the decisions made by Davis Love III. If just one player had turned his L into a W on Sunday, the captain would be hailed as a conquering hero and we'd instead be second-guessing his European counterpart right now.
The truth is, I thought Love did a very good job from a tactical and managerial standpoint. The only major issue I had relates to advice.
One by one Sunday afternoon, players approached the 17th and 18th holes for either the first time or one of the first times all week. And one by one, they went long and/or left approaching each green.
In a regular PGA Tour event, competitors are limited to advice only from their own caddies. At the Ryder Cup, the captains are free to dole out warnings anytime they wish.
Love should have taken advantage of that. By the time such decisive matches as the ones involving Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker reached the final hole, he should have been walking down the fairway with them saying, 'Everyone's gone long here all day. Keep in mind your adrenaline and take one club less.' Or once they were in such a predicament, Love could have offered, 'Yes, that putt from the back of the green is very quick, but it doesn't break nearly as much as you think.'
There is a difference between individual tournaments and team competition. Love had an opportunity to take advantage of that difference, but didn't.
Just think: His advice could have contributed to one more shot or one more putt being so much better. If he had, we might not be second-guessing him right now. We might be hailing him as a conquering hero.
By WILL GRAY
The writing was on the wall.
In a year full of top finishes and solid play, Jim Furyk’s season was highlighted by the ones that got away. Whether it was an errant tee shot on the 70th hole at Olympic or a double bogey on the final hole at Firestone to hand the trophy to Keegan Bradley, doubts ran rampant about the former U.S. Open champ and his ability to seal the deal.
When Furyk saw his singles match with Sergio Garcia slip away on Sunday – allowing the Spaniard to turn a 1-down deficit on the 17th tee into a 1-up victory with a pair of pars – those lingering doubts were confirmed in a way no American fan had hoped to see.
Even with the revised format for compiling the American squad, captain’s picks are a precious commodity. In using one on Furyk, captain Davis Love III chose a player whose career fourball record (still stuck at 1-8-1) essentially took him out of the mix during the afternoon sessions and whose ability to handle the pressure cooker of singles play was suspect at best. Weeks or months down the line, perhaps the question Love will ponder most is whether a player like Bo Van Pelt, a steady ball-striker with a penchant for birdies, could have been more useful – or productive – in the slot given to Furyk.