SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.
Jim Furyk didn’t pinch the famous line from Mike Tyson to sum up his week France, but the heavyweight’s words were no less apropos.
Let the second-guessing and arm-chair captaining begin, the seven-point rout is complete and the floor open for those who have nitpicked Furyk’s every move.
It was always going to be this way, it’s part of the gig. Captains captain, players play and when the whole thing comes unraveled the guy with the monogramed golf cart is left to tend to the mess.
Furyk will now be questioned for his picks and his pairings. The experts on social media and beyond will point to his decision to split up the uber duo of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed and his curious choice to send Phil Mickelson out with Bryson DeChambeau in Friday’s alternate-shot frame.
To put the latter issue in context, sending the guy ranked 192nd (out of 193 players) in driving accuracy this season on the PGA Tour in a format and on a course that demands accuracy is akin to letting the town drunk drive the school bus.
Of all the things that could have happened on Sunday at Le Golf National there were only two certainties. In victory or defeat, Furyk’s players would close ranks around their captain, just as they did when the U.S. team lost the 2012 Ryder Cup with then-captain Davis Love III, and Mickelson was not going to turn the press postmortem into a soap box.
There was never going to be a mutiny like the one in 2014 when Lefty took Tom Watson and the Ryder Cup leadership to task for well, a lack of leadership. The current Ryder Cup process was designed for and caters to the players, win or lose this is what they wanted.
“This is an awesome team and we had phenomenal leadership. We had great vice captains and we were put as players in a position to succeed,” said Mickelson, who was the most vocal of Furyk’s advocates. “If you put these players in a position to succeed, they most often will. Unfortunately, it didn't happen this week.”
But if the players had no interest in indulging in hindsight hijinks, this captain predictably pulled no punches.
“Thomas [Bjorn] was a better captain, and their team out-played us,” Furyk said. “He put his guys in good position. When a team is successful, as they were, and as well as they played that shows me they had great leadership.”
Furyk was a players’ captain, and all 12 Americans will tell anyone who will listen that it was the players, not the captain, who failed to perform.
Captains, like coaches, always tend to get far too much blame in defeat and too much credit in victory, but that won’t make the next few weeks any easier for Furyk.
The instant, and often uneducated, analysis will note that Furyk’s decision to pair Tiger Woods with Reed was an utter failure, with Captain America and the American giant getting blanked (0-2-0) by the Continent’s newest power couple of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari.
Critics will keenly note that the U.S. won exactly two out of a possible eight points in the foursome sessions and Furyk’s captain’s picks contributed a grand total of 2 points, compared to Europe’s picks who produced more than half (9 ½ points) of the Continent’s winning total.
And they will point out that Spieth and Reed had been a combined 7-1-3 in team play at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup and yet never got within a locker of each other all week.
Reed’s wife, Justine, seemed to suggest on Twitter early Sunday that the split was Spieth’s doing, “Patrick never said that he didn’t want to play with Jordan. Maybe you should ask Jordan why he didn’t want to play with Patrick,” she mused.
“It was totally my decision and my call,” Furyk insisted when asked about the curious choice of splitting the previously unstoppable duo.
This is precisely the kind of outside noise and distractions that winning captains find a way to manage and on this front he failed, either by design or indifference.
Furyk will naturally suffer by comparison to Bjorn, the erudite European front-man who appears to have pushed all the buttons. His team room was hardly drama-free. He had to find a partner for Jon Rahm, which wasn’t easy according to various sources, and half his team were rookies, and yet when Molinari closed out Mickelson, who made a mess of what will be his final road game Ryder Cup with an 0-2-0 record, to secure the winning point the Parisians rushed the field like it was Bastille Day. The Italian and the vast majority of Bjorn’s team was swallowed by the masses, lost in song in celebration. It was an endearing snapshot of how the Dane transformed a team of all-stars into an all-star team.
For the U.S. side, the enduring image of this Ryder Cup will be Americans trying hopelessly to dig a golf ball out of ankle-high rough and the ubiquitous slumped shoulders after another missed putt.
“Our captain is one of the best people in golf, and somebody that I've always looked up to and cherished our friendship,” Mickelson said. “I thought that the way he brought everybody in together on decisions; some of you might question some of the decisions, but everything was done with reason, input, thought through, and then it's up to us to execute, and we didn't execute.”
U.S. vice captain Zach Johnson reasoned that the turning point came early when the Europeans swept the Americans in Friday’s foursome session, 4-0. Perhaps, but then Furyk’s response was an oddly similar lineup for Saturday’s alternate-shot frame. You know what they say about doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, right?
Furyk had a plan that was detailed and calculated, but it never withstood that first punch in the face.