If we’ve learned anything from the 2014 Ryder Cup it is that from inflated expectations can come colossal disappointment.
The Tom Watson experiment was supposed to stem the American slide, which has now been extended to eight losses in the last 10 matches. To put that in context, this year’s most successful U.S. Ryder Cup players – Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed – were still in diapers the last time the American team won back-to-back matches (1991 and ’93).
In retrospect, the expectations for Watson and an admittedly depleted U.S. team were decidedly unrealistic. In the rush to win at all costs the PGA of America and president Ted Bishop dusted off an aging legend and hoped for the best.
In the wake of another loss, the association will now turn to a blue-ribbon task force for answers in 2016, when the matches will be played at Hazeltine National, with an idea pinched from Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling: “The best way to have a great idea is to have a lot of ideas.”
But that optimism, however misplaced, comes with a built-in set of pitfalls. Following the U.S. team’s loss at Gleneagles the vitriol has reached an all-time high, a reality that will only be compounded by two years of king building.
Video: Azinger discusses possible 2016 Ryder Cup captaincy
However extensive the nip/tuck of the current Ryder Cup process may be, the crescendo leading up to the ’16 matches will only set the stage for even more handwringing if the United States can’t wrest itself from the trash heap of pedestrian play.
Paul Azinger knows all too well the heights the Ryder Cup road will travel the next two years and the danger of arriving at a cliff as opposed to a catapult in 2016. It at least partially explains why he chose to pass on the opportunity to sit on the 11-member task force, instead taking his ideas to the PGA powers in a more private setting.
Azinger already has a plan sketched out – “it’s ready to go,” he said – and will meet with the PGA of America early next month to discuss his ideas.
“It’s more than just how you pick the captain. I want to have my discussion with them in private. I don’t want to have an ultimatum with the PGA of America; I want to work with them,” he told the “Morning Drive” crew on Wednesday.
’Zinger, more than anyone, knows that the American Ryder Cup problem goes well beyond the need for pods and more timely captain’s picks. The margin between victory and defeat goes much deeper than a timely putt here or a fortunate bounce there.
The 2008 captain also realizes the inherent dangers of a quick fix and the red, white and blue elephant in the room – where does the U.S. side go if the result is another defeat in two years?
“If the two teams are perfectly even, the European team still has an advantage,” he explained. “Just look at the way they pick their captains. At Gleneagles I saw lots of past captains on the fairway, a lot of future captains. We don’t have a contingency plan. We don’t have the same continuity that they have.”
Although Azinger was reluctant to give specifics of the plan he will present to the PGA next month, it is clear his ideas go well beyond a Band-Aid. Forget potential pairings and horrid foursomes play, for the former captain, America’s issues start with the concept of a lack of ownership.
“I want to look at this Ryder Cup from 360 degrees; (Europe) may have a bigger advantage because right now they are a little bit better,” Azinger said. “They are invested in the Ryder Cup because it is owned by the European Tour and that makes a difference as well.”
In 2008 ’Zinger was a task force of one, creating a winning atmosphere, but it didn’t translate to a winning legacy. Just ask Phil Mickelson.
In fact, four years later it led to what appears to be the reactionary decision to pull Watson out of retirement and now a high-profile roundtable with the ultimate mandate – make the matches matter again.
The alternative is a continued march to irrelevancy. While Rory McIlroy dismissed the notion that a lopsided Ryder Cup is a bad Ryder Cup, falling back on a historical advantage the U.S. side enjoys (25-13-2), that must seem like ancient history to the current crop of American players.
Video: Azinger discusses Ryder Cup relevancy
But asked if he could envision a time when arguably the game’s greatest event could lapse into a predictably anticlimactic cycle, Azinger’s answer was telling.
“It could, yeah. America needs to win one,” he told your scribe. “It’s really interesting irony that you can’t focus on winning and you certainly can’t focus on losing. You want to focus on process. It’s razor thin and the future is bright for the Ryder Cup and the American team can still play well and win these matches.”
Just don’t try to tell that to the Europeans, who have become the Harlem Globetrotters to the U.S. side’s Washington Generals.
With tongue firmly planted in check, it is a measure of Europe’s confidence that Ian Poulter tweeted this week that the secret password for the newly minted task force was “0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0” – the U.S. team’s Ryder Cup record the last 10 matches.
The PGA of America answered with a task force and a blank canvas, but the problem is that such drastic measures leave nowhere to go if it turns out the emergency button doesn’t work.