Ryder Cup Captain Equals Great Leader: Are We Kidding Ourselves?
I read with immense sadness the blips on the rumor mill that Tom Watson would be named captain of the 2014 USA Ryder Cup side. Two days before the official announcement, the world knew that the PGA of America had taken “Reuse, Recycle” to another level. It reminds me of the time when my hometown Buffalo Bills brought Marv Levy back for a second go-round. The Bills thought that Marv could rework the magic that took the team to four consecutive Super Bowl championships (what is a Super Bowl anyway, a big soup tureen?) It didn’t work and I suspect that Captain Tom, Take Two won’t work, either.
The reason I suspect this is simple: no USA Ryder Cup captain has been trained to be a leader. Every single golfer named captain has been a superlative exponent of an ego-centric game. Since golf is an individual sport, its greatest purveyors have been women and men gifted with an ability to focus on the self and no one else. Professional golfers need to hold together for 72 holes, four days of competition, depending on no one beyond the face in the mirror.
Why would anyone suspect that a professional golfer could play successfully on a team, let alone lead one? For most professional golfers, their last attempt at team golf took place in college. Is there any golfer content to play #5 on a college team? Why, no! As a result, all college golfers strive to defeat their teammates, in order to climb the ladder. If your teammate is out to get you, how can you develop camaraderie?
So we name captains and expect them to lead their charges into the competitive arena. Our boys put on a smile and cheer for each other, but man do they look awkward doing it. We outfit them in our nation’s colors and they correctly show the pride they have in those reds, whites and blues. What they can’t do is fake an allegiance to a captain known for defeating others, not for supporting and carrying others.
The last guy to bring team USA together was Paul Azinger. While it’s true that Zinger was as competitive and selfish as any tour pro, he had two things going for him. The first was that he never backed down from a European arch rival, specifically the revered Severiano Ballesteros. Ballesteros was known for his gamesmanship and Azinger let it be known that, by god, he wasn’t having any part of it. Win or lose, Zinger stood his ground and his teammates had his back. The second thing was cancer. Azinger had fought, suffered and defeated cancer. That reality is one that most tour pros never contemplate, let alone experience. Zinger’s ability to battle something beyond a white ball and a golf course elevated him to a different level of competitor.
Currently there is one fellow who has yet to captain a USA Ryder Cup squad, with the credentials of Azinger. He is a Vietnam war veteran, one of the very few professional golfers since the Korean War to serve on the front lines. He won 3 major championships and played a vital role on multiple winning Ryder Cup sides. He continues to be ignored by the PGA of America, although it does see fit to pay him token lip service. He alone is trained to be a great leader. He alone is Larry Nelson.
The PGA of America would be wise to avoid the mistake of picking a captain based on past glory or trendy connection. It would be wise to pick a captain with the experience it takes to lead men into battle.
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