Blame who you want; U.S. loss was a group effort

By Jason SobelOctober 5, 2014, 12:38 am

As far as entertainment value is concerned, the aftermath of the Ryder Cup has easily eclipsed the lopsided Ryder Cup itself. While the victorious European team has focused on sobering up, the vanquished American squad has offered sobering thoughts of varied proportions, eliciting a passive-aggressive maelstrom of finger pointing in every direction, including directly at the finger pointers’ own chests.

First there was the post-competition news conference, during which the U.S. team awkwardly sat at the dais while Phil Mickelson insisted the players had no personal investment, captain Tom Watson insisted that wasn’t the only way to win and every other team member uncomfortably squirmed in his seat. Then there was the report, which cited numerous sources maintaining that Watson’s team room speech on Saturday night was less fire and more brimstone, as he singled out players for not playing better. And finally – for now, at least  there was Watson’s open letter, which attempted to save face and mend fences by taking responsibility for the loss six days after the fact.

In his 1986 book "The Politics of Blame Avoidance,” author R. Kent Weaver writes: “Politicians are motivated primarily by the desire to avoid blame for unpopular actions rather than by seeking to claim credit for unpopular ones. … Incentives to avoid blame lead politicians to adopt a distinctive set of political strategies, including agenda limitation, scapegoating, ‘passing the buck’ and defection (‘jumping on the bandwagon’) that are different than those they would follow if they were primarily interested in pursuing good policy or maximizing credit-claiming opportunities.”

Watson, Mickelson and the other (mostly) silent team members aren’t politicians, but each often plays one on TV.

In six days since the red, white and blue was outclassed by blue and gold, the blame avoidance has come full circle, especially from the captain. It started with finger pointing toward others and has transformed into taking full responsibility, which in turn has already resulted in many observers reassigning that responsibility.

To (sort of) keep the political theme, this is like the modern-day golf version of the George Washington cherry tree fable. Rather than redirect blame, the story goes, the young Washington accepted responsibility for chopping down the tree. (“I cannot tell a lie,” he says in the story. “I did it with my little hatchet.”) Rather than persecuted for the offense, the boy is praised for candor. Moral of the story? Honesty is the best policy.

In the current tale, Watson essentially chopped down the tree that is the American team, waited six days, then offered his own interpretation of, “I cannot tell a lie.” Essentially, he’s hoping the candor will transcend the offense. He’s hoping that by turning the mirror on himself, others will redirect the blame for him.

Not that he is fully responsible, nor should he take full responsibility. In his open letter, Watson admitted, “I take complete and full responsibility for my communication, and I regret that my words may have made the players feel that I didn’t appreciate their commitment and dedication to winning the Ryder Cup.”

That’s noble of him – again, six days after the fact – but communication is a two-way street. If the captain didn’t communicate his message properly, then it was up to his veteran team members – nine of whom had competed in previous Ryder Cups – to communicate their reaction in response.

And therein lies the gist of this very public, very awkward blame game. Losing the competition wasn’t fully Watson’s fault, nor was it fully the players’ fault. Nobody can - or should - be singled out for failing to come together as a team better at Gleneagles, and as a result, failing to win.

There still hasn’t been anyone to publicly make this point. It didn’t happen in Mickelson’s agenda-tinged post-tournament diatribe about better strategies and a lack of personal investment; it didn’t happen in Watson’s open letter nearly a week after the loss.

Nowhere has anyone said these words: “We traveled to Scotland as a team. We practiced as a team. We meshed as a team. We miscommunicated as a team. We played poorly as a team. We blamed each other as a team. And yes, we lost as a team.”

In the entertaining aftermath of a lopsided Ryder Cup, it’s this part of the blame game which has gone noticeably missing so far. Everyone involved has pointed their finger either at each other or themselves – or both alternately.

What hasn’t happened is anyone speaking with definitive candor about responsibility. What hasn’t happened is anyone admitting, "I cannot tell a lie: We all chopped down the cherry tree. Together.”

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Descending into golf's depths, and trying to dig out

By Brandel ChambleeApril 23, 2018, 3:05 pm

Watching Alvaro Quiros finish second this past week in Morocco, I was reminded of just how rare it is for player to come back from the depths of golf hell.

Quiros, a player of immense ability, hype and length, won the Dubai World Championship – his sixth win in four years – to close out 2011 and then went down the rabbit hole of trying to change his golf swing. He would miss 11 cuts in 2012 and either miss the cut or withdraw in another 41 European Tour events over the next four years. Because he hadn’t won a major championship, his epic backwards slide in the world rankings (435th prior to this past week) mostly went unnoticed – but it was far from unusual.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship, but just three years later, when he played 20 events on the PGA Tour and missed 14 cuts, he no longer looked anything like a recent major champion. In 1995, he played in 18 events and either missed the cut, withdrew or was disqualified from every one of them. In 1996, he missed the cut in all 11 events he entered on the PGA Tour; and in 1997, he shot 92 in the first round of The Open, withdrew from the championship and stopped playing professional golf.

Like Quiros, Baker-Finch’s downfall came after his biggest win, when he finally thought he had the time, because of the 10-year exemption he received, to change his golf swing.

David Duval won the 2001 Open Championship and just two years later he shot 83-78 in the same event and missed the cut, which was one 16 events he either missed the cut or withdrew from that year. In 2005, he missed 18 cuts in 19 starts. Duval’s competitive demise may well have been precipitated by injuries and an existential malaise after winning golf’s oldest championship, but it was accompanied by queries far and wide as to how to correct his swing and thinking, just like Baker-Finch before him and Quiros thereafter.

These desperate searches for help, like the indelible ink stains on dyer’s hands, are the one common thread amongst those who suffer from the absolute negation of their technical and then creative abilities. Those who take as indisputable the theories of others are, in the deepest sense, wounding their own intuition. They are controverting the evidence of their own senses in such a way that is comforting to the insecure player, but tragic to the artist. To quote Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

As I write this, PGA Tour winners Steven Bowditch (1,885th in the world) and Smylie Kaufman (337th) are in similar downward spirals in their careers and no doubt are desperate for, and susceptible to any suggestion.

One player they can look to who made it back from the frantic madness that accompanies losing one’s game, is Henrik Stenson. He put his trust in one man, Pete Cowen, even though while working with Pete he missed 14 cuts in 2002, followed by 15 missed cuts in 2003, and 11 in 2004. What Stenson did not do was panic and run from teacher to teacher, from shrink to shrink, as the missed cuts piled up.

Stenson, with Cowen’s help, slowly built one of the most reliable swings in the history of the game. A swing that regularly leads events in fairways found and greens hit in regulation. A swing that authored the lowest score ever shot in major championship history. A swing that is a far cry from the OB-launching swipes he was taking in late-2001 and 2002.

Given the soul-eating depths of where he came from, a place from which few have dug themselves out of, I watch Stenson play golf with a far great admiration than I otherwise would, and similarly was pulling for Quiros in Morocco. The same way I am pulling for Bowditch and Kaufman to find their games again.

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Langer skipping Senior PGA for son's HS graduation

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 2:53 pm

Defending champion Bernhard Langer will miss this year’s Senior PGA Championship to attend his son’s high school graduation.

Langer made the announcement Monday, during Senior PGA media day at Harbor Shores in Michigan. The event will be held May 24-27.

“I won’t be able to defend my title this year because my son graduates from high school that very same weekend,” he said. “Family comes first in my life, so I have to be there to celebrate.”

Langer said that his son, Jason, will play golf for the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Langer and his family live in South Florida.

Langer won last year’s event at Trump National outside Washington, D.C. The 60-year-old has no wins but three runners-up in eight senior starts this season.  

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Landry reaches OWGR career high after Valero win

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:40 pm

After notching his first career PGA Tour win at the Valero Texas Open, Andrew Landry also reached unprecedented heights in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Landry shot a final-round 68 at TPC San Antonio to win by two shots, and in the process he cracked the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time at age 30. Landry started the week ranked No. 114, but he's now up to 66th. The move puts him within reach of a possible U.S. Open exemption, given that the top 60 in the May 21 rankings will automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills.

Trey Mullinax went from No. 306 to No. 169 with his T-2 finish in San Antonio, while fellow runner-up Sean O Hair jumped 29 spots to No. 83 in the world. Jimmy Walker, who finished alone in fourth, went from No. 88 to No. 81 while fifth-place Zach Johnson moved up five spots to No. 53.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Alexander Levy took home the title at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II, allowing the Frenchman to move from No. 66 to No. 47. With no OWGR points available at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Levy is guaranteed to stay inside the top 50 next week, thereby earning a spot in The Players.

Idle since an MDF result at the Houston Open, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood dropped two spots to No. 100 this week. It marks the first time Westwood has been ranked 100th or worse in nearly 15 years, ending a streak of consistency that dates back to September 2003.

The top 10 in the rankings remained the same, with Dustin Johnson leading off at No. 1 followed by Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose. Rickie Fowler remains No. 6 with Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia rounding out the top 10.

With no starts announced until the U.S. Open in June, Tiger Woods dropped two more spots to No. 91 in the latest rankings.

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What's in the bag: Valero Texas Open winner Landry

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 12:34 pm

Andrew Landry won his first PGA Tour event at the Valero Texas Open. Here's a look inside the winners' bag.

Driver: Ping G30 (9 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 65X shaft

Fairway woods: Ping G (14.5 degrees adjusted to 15.5), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 75X shaft; (17.5 degrees), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 85X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (3-PW), with Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 105 S shafts

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 (52, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD ZB-S

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x