“We’re laying the foundation.”
It’s become a common refrain, with Davis Love III telling anyone who would listen that the Ryder Cup – this Ryder Cup – is only the beginning.
This is about the next four Ryder Cups, not four captain’s picks – that’s the mission statement, the marching orders dictated by last year’s task force.
Those who dissect these sorts of things will look at Love’s first three picks and will see a new team that looks a lot like the old team. Rickie Fowler, who was also a pick in 2010 when he went 0-1-2; J.B. Holmes, a ’08 pick (2-0-1); and Matt Kuchar received the nod on Monday.
If some have confused a new outlook for a new team, consider that only Brooks Koepka, who qualified for the U.S. squad on points, has never played in the biennial matches. The task force, which has evolved into a committee, gave Love a blank canvas; but Captain America’s initial picks had the look of a paint-by-numbers project.
There were no double-takes, no surprises on Monday at Hazeltine National. If not the status quo, Love at the least adhered to a familiar formula of taking players that mesh well in the team room and match up with the existing team.
The task force didn’t create an autocracy, and Love is no Bill Belichick, although the captain did spend some time recently with the aloof New England head coach. The U.S. side wanted a players’ coach and got Pete Carroll.
But Love is not just a golf cart driver. According to various sources, the U.S. captain made the final call on the first three of his four picks – you know, leadership stuff that transpired behind closed doors.
“There was not a consensus early,” Love said of Monday’s picks. “We went back and forth on a lot of great players and it was a tough decision.”
For the record, Love went with Nos. 9, 11 and 12 on the U.S. Ryder Cup point list, which ended on Aug. 21. Again, that’s not exactly the outside-the-box dynamic some had been anticipating. But then Love and company weren’t brought together to make headlines in September, they were charged with turning around the United States’ fortunes in the matches in 2016 and beyond.
The U.S. hasn’t won back-to-back Ryder Cups since 1991-93, and is in danger of dropping its fourth consecutive this year, which has never happened.
The 41st Ryder Cup is about changing the culture, not the narrative of a never-ending news cycle.
“We got a new ownership. We changed the front office and started over again,” Love said. “[The PGA of America] gave us a voice. They are listening to the players. Not just for this year, but for the future.”
Love’s vice captains are either former or future captains, not the normal eclectic collection of friends and family; and the focus has been on treating the matches like one would a major. The “next man up” concept has been designed to give every vice captain and player a detailed plan for every conceivable scenario for this year and onward.
“You don't want to get too tied up in the results, but certainly what we're looking at is, are we able to play our best golf,” said Phil Mickelson, who has become something of a de facto vice captain for the U.S. team.
If Love’s three picks don’t exactly have the look of change, know that the real differences this time around will be much more subtle, but if everything goes to plan no less dramatic.
Whether this new culture results in a victory this year isn’t as relevant as what the impact will be on future matches.
“We have a lot more arrows in our quiver than we’ve had,” Love said. “We just need to fix a couple things. Get everyone on the same page, have a little continuity and consistency. We gain an advantage in everything we’ve been doing the last year, year and a half.”
For now, the instant analysis and hot takes must be deferred until after this year’s matches, if not the next five matches. The point of the task force, Love has argued, is to build a winning legacy, not a big enough lead heading into Sunday’s single matches to avoid another meltdown like the one that cost the U.S. team at Medinah four years ago.
But after dropping eight of the last 10 matches to Europe, Love and the Americans should not count on an endless honeymoon.
Rebuilding years may work in places like San Diego – honestly, the Padres haven’t been relevant in October since George W. Bush resided in the White House – but the American golf fan is generally not the patient type.
While Love and his fellow task force members may be taking a 30,000-foot view of the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s transformation, nothing brings out the worst in fans than a loss, particularly a loss after all apparent options have been exhausted.
A member of last year’s U.S. Ryder Cup task force recently asked who should get the credit for the changes the group has initiated? While well intentioned, your scribe couldn’t help but wonder who would get the blame?
At this point, it’s all a matter of perspective. But in three short weeks that subjectivity will be supplanted by results. Judging the task force’s relative success or failure based on a single Ryder Cup will be utterly unfair, and absolutely unavoidable.
In sports, there’s no other way.