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U.S. team woes in Ryder Cup may be unsolvable problem

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

Now that the humiliation of the U.S. Ryder Cup team fiasco has settled in, maybe it's time to take a look at what went wrong and how to fix it.

The answer to that is: I'm not sure it can be fixed. The Ryder Cup is all about team effort - how many times did we have that drilled into our heads? - and it may be impossible to throw American golfers together and say, "OK, now be a TEAM."

Exactly how do you make a team anyway? Hold pep rallies? Go on long, jarring bus trips together?

You can make U.S. pro golfers wear the same shirts, but you can't make them buddy-buddy teammates.

European captain Bernard Langer watched his players like hawks when they practiced, noticing little things like who played well together, and who didn't. One of golf's many oddities is that the pros, like duffers, seem to play well with certain people.

That may be why he sent out two rookies, Paul Casey and David Howell, who beat Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell.

"A lot of people thought I was sacrificing them, but deep down I knew they would win," Langer told the media.

The Americans went their own way. Phil Mickelson didn't even practice two days before the match started, and practiced the day before on another course.

Langer also made occasional suggestions to his players on which clubs to hit.

Imagine American captain Hal Sutton telling Tiger Woods which club to hit. No, wait a minute, don't try to imagine that. It could be dangerous.

Sutton will probably never live this year down. He's getting tons of criticism, and he did make some decisions that turned out wrong.

But he was faced with an impossible task, being asked to mold a team out of people who are as much millionaire-celebrities as golfers. How do you make ego checks mandatory? How do you go up to Woods and say: "Now Tiger, I want you to like Phil."

Of course, Sutton didn't help matters with some of his public comments. He wasn't exactly watching his players backs, like a captain should.

After Mickelson's disastrous showing Saturday, Sutton issued a sarcastic: "It's not going to cause us any grief because he's going to be cheering instead of playing."

Before the match, Sutton said he told Chris Riley: "Look man, you're the star running back and I'm the best pulling guard you've ever seen. I'm going to run interference for you and I'm going to take care of you."

He took care of him by blasting him publicly after Riley said he was too emotionally drained to be of any use. What he should have done - admittedly, in hindsight - is made him play and never said anything about it publicly. Unless he won.

Sutton is celebrated as being a tough hombre, but when it came time to be tough, he blew the opportunity.

He made other mistakes. Langer's pairings reflected his knowledge of his players. After falling behind 11-5 after two days, Sutton simply lined them up in the order they qualified for the team.

"It was as good as any way I could think of," he explained.

Maybe, but a computer could have done that. A computer, however, wouldn't know that Woods and Mickelson don't really go together like scotch and water. Sutton does, or should have.

So how do you fix it? Jack Nicklaus' name is being thrown around as the next Ryder Cup captain. Nicklaus would probably have more influence on Woods, who seems to think of the Ryder Cup as more of a nuisance.

Still, even with Nicklaus at the helm, the Americans will never come together as a team like the Europeans, who are raised in team play.

What they have to do is play better golf because the Ryder Cup still boils down to making shots. And the way they do that is to deal with the pressure better. They obviously folded under the scrutiny, particularly Mickelson.

How do you calm nerves, aside from recreational drugs? Short of hiring a sports psychologist, hypnotist and massage therapist, there really isn't any way, other than to be the underdog when nobody expects you to win.

Yes, that is a prediction of an American victory in 2006.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Tiger, Mickelson, & Sutton

    Jan Barclay wrote on: Nov 8, 2004

    Just got around to reading you r article. Some thoughts... Phil practiced on a different course cause Hal asked him to try out Tigers ball and not let anyone know. Phil tried to play with Tiger...did Tiger try to make Phil comfortable.??......Phil is a type who plays better when loose and happy...Tiger must brood and glower to get in his best playing mode(leastways it seems so to me) so Phil played poorly..but so did Tiger!!....so what does Hal do..benches him but not Tiger....and is sarcastic about his players play......I think Phil deserves a great deal of credit for geting out there the next day and cheering and not sulkiing....would his teammates have done that...they certainly did not seem to be of much support to him...oh wait David Toms was during the press conference...Phil got a bumb wrap during the Cup...yes he played badly but I think it was because he was so tight from playing with Tiger...and when it did not work although he tried he was left out to dry by his captain..UNFAIR...


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