For the past ten years the U.S.Ryder Cup team has been pretty awful. Actually the U.S. team has been bad since 1997. Save a miracle in 1999 the U.S. has won only one other time, 2006 at Valhalla. Seven to two since 1997 and one needed at the time the greatest comeback in history to get the win. One could argue that the miracle was matched by the European team in 2012, but still seven to two borders on domination.
For 2014 the U.S. PGA has tried to switch up the momentum and brought on Tom Watson who was a previous captain to try and change the tied. I am a big fan of trying something different. Going with Tom is a bit against the grain and the U.S. team certainly needs a jolt. It is an interesting situation because the U.S. team is so dominate in the other team event, the Presidents Cup. Nearly undefeated in fact, add to that Freddie Couples excellent captain's picks for this year and I don't expect the International team will be able to beat the U.S. team. So it is not just that the U.S. is bad in team events, because if that were true the U.S. would have lost at least one of the Presidents Cups. So what is the reason the U.S. is so bad in the Ryder Cup.
In my opinion it's just that the Europeans want it more. I don't mean that they have some sort of will power that allows them to play better and make the U.S. players play worse, although it may seem that way. No, I think the European team breeds very good match play golfers through a process of playing in more match play team events. It starts with the Seve Cup. This event matches Great Britain and Ireland versus continental Europe. It is typically played at the same time as the Presidents Cup and is usually made up of players who will likely play in the Ryder Cup the following year. This event is much better for breeding new match play golfers than the Presidents Cup because more European golfers get the chance to play in the event and learn match play skills than American players get to play in the Presidents Cup. So golfers like Robert Rock who has not yet qualified for the Ryder Cup for some reason plays his way onto the Ryder Cup or get picked has already played in a full slate of matches and is ready to play at a moment's notice. He is now a veteran match player but has never played in a Ryder Cup, but he is seasoned.
The Europeans also play in a little known event called the Royal Trophy where the Europeans play Asia in a Ryder Cup style event. For this event the current European Cup Captain plays as a playing captain and the team is typically set up for players who are "on the bubble" for Ryder Cup selection and can again gain valuable match play experience. This event does not have all the television coverage or media attention as in the Ryder Cup, but there is team golf and an additional opportunity to play in match play event.
In the Americans case the top six or seven guys are the same top six or seven that play in the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup. So only a few guys get match play golf experience outside of the regular golfers like Tiger and Phil. So the team is not very deep. Take Brandt Snedeker, I believe if he had had a chance to play in an event like the Seve Cup with the pressure of his fellow players and country it would have helped him immensely in the Ryder Cup, Webb Simpson also. Brandt struggled with the pressure of a Ryder Cup and it showed.
The Americans just don't get the reps necessary to play well in the match play type events. Especially the rookies, because in the U.S. if you are a Ryder Cup rookie it may well be your first match play with teammates event ever. For the Europeans it may be their third or fourth time playing in this type of event. The U.S. is at a HUGE disadvantage. Match play is a different animal. Team match play, foursomes especially, is even farther from standard golf. Experience plays a big role in who has the advantage and it shows in the results in recent years.
My proposal is the change things up by creating an event call "The Civil War". The current Ryder Cup captain should play and be captain of his team. The teams can be split by East and West with the Mississippi being a decent boundary, or North and South. The players should not be the big names but players who are on the bubble or players the captain thinks gives him the best chance. The teams can be completely picked by the captains of each respective team. The Golf Channel televise it and it can become a great event set in the shadow of the Ryder Cup format. It can be set up to give money to charity decided by the winning team, and be a great event to watch. This will give valuable experience to rookies before the Ryder Cup, and some of the senior golfers can relieve their glory days by playing the event.
I know it will never happen, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't. The U.S. is going to continue to struggle in my opinion unless we prepare as much as the European team is preparing.
Photo credits: © Andy Lyons.