Nick Bonfield discusses the role of the USA's Task Force and the huge pressure on American shoulders for the 2016 Ryder Cup
Yesterday, Davis Love III was announced as the 2016 Ryder Cup captain as the much-discussed US ‘Task Force’ revealed its blueprint for future American success.
Its recommendations actually make a lot of sense, even if many can’t understand why it required such a high-profile process to reach them.
Surely a behind-closed-doors examination carried out by a small group would have arrived at the same conclusions?
But, all that aside, Davis Love III is a solid choice as captain. He’s tactically astute, he’s experienced, he commands respect and he’s popular with the players.
The four vice-captain structure – comprised of two former Ryder Cup captains and two others with ample experience in the biennial contest – also has a lot of merit.
Everyone could see the existing timings were wrong. The likes of FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel – who won two play-off events – and Chris Kirk, who claimed one of the others, were precluded from selection in 2014.
If Tom Watson had the option of Horschel, you’d like to think he wouldn’t have contemplated selecting a woefully out-of-form Webb Simpson after a grovelling phone call.
It remains to be seen what effect these changes will have, but I just can’t understand why the PGA of America felt a Task Force was necessary.
To me, it was a sign of panic – not something that’s going to instil fear into your opposition.
Tom Watson was a hopeless captain, of that there can be no doubt, but his failure clearly distorted recent history.
The Americans were only deprived in the 2012 Ryder Cup by one of greatest-ever comebacks in the history of sport, having gone into the singles in a commanding 10-6 lead.
And, at Celtic Manor, they required only a half point from Hunter Mahan’s singles match with Graeme McDowell to retain the trophy.
It wouldn’t have taken a vastly different set of circumstances for the Americans to have won three consecutive Ryder Cups from 2008.
I can’t help but feel the USA has overemphasised the role of leadership and off-course factors, and not given due credence to the other reasons why they’ve only won one Ryder Cup since 1999.
I’m not trying to suggest that a captain’s role isn’t important, or that having the right support network can’t be invaluable – you only have to look at the example of Paul McGinley last year to see that’s the case – but it’s not where all these recent Ryder Cups have been won or lost.
Americans have suffered from a real lack of heart and fight over the last decade or so. As good as players like Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furky undoubtedly are, they aren’t intimidating opposition and they don’t possess that inherent desire to win at all costs. That’s why someone like Patrick Reed is so valuable in the Ryder Cup.
In recent years, Europe has also had the stronger, more-experienced team more often than not, and the role of momentum, history and associated pressure must also be labelled as a significant factor.
Finally, Europe seems to have a more cohesive team spirit. I’m not entirely sure why that is – perhaps it’s due to the atmosphere on the European Tour, or even wider cultural differences between the two continents – but most would agree the bond holding team Europe together has been stronger than that joining the USA since the turn of the millennium.
Beware the added pressure
I’m concerned the advent of the Task Force and the incessant American admissions that 2016 is the most important Ryder Cup in modern history will ultimately prove detrimental.
In my mind, the creation of a Task Force was an overly exhibitionistic and unnecessarily pressure-inducing reaction to American’s poor run of recent form.
Could you imagine the outcry if the USA lost again in 2016, having made such wholesale changes? It would plunge them into yet more disarray. Defeat could be catastrophic for the Americans with victory in 2016 on such a high pedestal.
The choice of personnel on the distilled Task Force also seems somewhat odd to me.
The six-strong committee is comprised of the PGA of America President, Vice-President and CEO, Love III, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
So, that’s three people with non-playing experience and three players with overall losing records in the Ryder Cup, including two who won’t make it anywhere near the 2016 team on current form.
Amid all the positivity, I’m going to retain the same sceptical outlook I’ve had since the PGA of American announced plans for a Task Force in late 2014.