Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Ryder Cup Post Mortem

Let's pick this up where I left off at the end of last week's Ryder Cup Preview with arguably my most important golf match of the year.* My partner and I had won four matches and advanced to the semifinals of a sixty-four team tournament that began in May. Up to that point, the closest one had gone to 18 with us one up but we got it done without much drama. On this day, however, it became clear early that we were in for a dogfight because neither team was giving anything away and we made the turn all square.

Fast forward to the 17th hole (because frankly 15 and 16 are too painful to recount). We were two down after losing the last two and my partner stuck it tight on a par-3 for a birdie to get us back to one down. We crushed our drives on 18 and I was absolutely convinced that we were going to win in extra holes. Then we both hit our second shots inside eight feet. Our opponents both hit the green and subsequently burned the edges with their birdie putts leaving us with two VERY makeable chances to extend the match. Then my partner missed his putt. Then I missed my putt. And it was over. Thanks for playing but get the hell off the stage.

I appreciate the effort . . . but I just
can't stop thinking about that putt.
The walk from our 18th green to the clubhouse is ridiculously long, probably about 400 yards. That day it felt like miles. I'll never forget the agonizing silence as neither one of us could speak and, out of respect, our opponents chose not to. Some people will tell you that a loss like that builds character. The problem is that at my age, the construction of my character is pretty much finished and it is what it is.** The only thing a loss like that is good for is if you ever find yourself needing an image to suppress a random boner.

So with that experience fresh in my past, I'm having a hard time piling-on guys like Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk for their performances at the Ryder Cup because I can't begin to imagine what they must be feeling. (I hope they took all of the laces out of Furyk's golf shoes). So instead let's focus on some of the decisions made by the man with the title fit for a 70's disc jockey or a really unimaginative porn star, Captain Love.

From the day he announced his captain's picks, this had the potential to be a less egregious repeat of the 1995 fiasco when Lanny Wadkins picked Curtis Strange and then watched him go 0-3 including a devastating loss to Nick Faldo in the singles where Strange bogeyed the last three holes to lose one down. (Strange was six years removed from his last win on tour and was 49th on the money list that year). Furyk was by no means as big a stretch as Strange based on his credentials and current playing ability but, in light of his having given away the U.S. Open and Bridgestone Invitational within the past few months, I'm not sure he's the guy we wanted playing 17 and 18 with the Cup hanging in the balance. Captain Love's decision to put him on the team under those conditions was suspect enough by why would you have him in a position where his match would only matter if something had gone terribly wrong and the Cup was on the line? That would have been like the partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce sending Lane out to close an airline account knowing how close he had just come to ending it all when the Jaguar wouldn't start.***

"No pressure Jim but the
Cup is riding on this."
About midway through Sunday when the horizon was beginning to tilt but before the deck chairs started sliding, Captain Love was interviewed and said that when he set the line-up, he figured that Jason Dufner (9th in the order) would probably be the guy to get the winning point. This plan was contingent on the U.S. team splitting half the points in the first eight matches. The problem with that logic was that everyone knew that Europe was going to front-load with the match-play Murderers Row of Donald, Poulter, McIlroy and Rose because they had no other choice.

So knowing that, why would Captain Love try to match strength against strength? His hottest players coming into Sunday were Bradley, Mickelson, Simpson, Dufner and the two Johnsons.**** He wasted three of those guys against McIlroy, Poulter and Rose. Why not lead with Stricker who was 0-3 at that point, Furyk (see above) and Snedeker (Ryder Cup rookie) and see if you can steal a couple of half points? Then if things start poorly, leave icemen like Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley to clean-up the mess. I actually think he had Tiger in the 12th spot to catch that last point if necessary (and there is no doubt in my mind that he would have won 18) but by then it was too late.

- "You got him?"
- "Yeah, I got him."
- "Take him."
And don't get me started on sitting Bradley for the Saturday afternoon matches while putting out golf's version of a flat soda in Woods and Stricker. I get that Mickelson didn't want to play but then shake things up and put Bradley with Woods. There is no way that (a) Bradley wanted to sit out that match or (b) he and Woods wouldn't have found a way to beat or halve Donald and Garcia in front of a wired and wasted crowd. At that point, Bradley was the surest thing in Chicago since George Stone.

So Europe has won four of the last five including this year's heartbreaker and two 18.5 to 9.5 blowouts in 2004 and 2006. What do we do now? Hey I've got an idea, let's take a look at our roster from the last time we won in 2008 and see what we can learn from it. That team had six guys who had never played in the Ryder Cup (Anthony Kim, Boo Weekley, J.B. Holmes, Hunter Mahan, Ben Curtis and Steve Stricker). Kim, Weekley, Holmes, Mahan and Curtis combined to win 12.5 points and went 4-1 in their singles matches. (Steve Stricker halved his singles match for his only half point . . . hmmm). Two of the five players this year who managed to win 3 points for the U.S. were rookies - Bradley and Dufner. To put it bluntly, what that tells me is that "Ryder Cup experience" don't mean shit so stop using it as a criteria for the captain's picks.

"That sure sounds like fortune
cookie wisdom to me FGR."
And stop picking "steady" guys because "steady" in match-play leaves you one down and telling Jimmy Roberts that you played well but it wasn't enough. Besides, Dufner, Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar qualified for the team so we already had plenty of "steady" guys. We needed more birdie machines like Bo Van Pelt and Robert Garrigus who are currently 7th and 10th on tour in birdie average (Jim Furyk is 134th). It's basically the Moneyball argument applied to golf. Where runs = wins in baseball . . . birdies = wins in the Ryder Cup. Let's hope captain David Toms figures that out in 2014 because I don't know about you America . . . but I'm sick of losing.

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Endnotes

* You've got to love the use of "arguably" there. As if I'm expecting someone to email me and say, "but what about that nine hole member-guest match you played in South Carolina back in June?" Though that emailer would make a good point because there was a lot riding on that match too.

** Some would say it's about the equivalent of a three bedroom split level with a detached carport, an above-ground pool and a leaky basement.

*** My prediction that Lane Pryce would end last season either dead or in prison was one of the only ones I've gotten right this year.

**** Captain Love and the Two Johnsons . . . now we might be on to something.