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Ryder Cup meltdown

What went wrong and what did the U.S. team learn?

by Thomas BonkPublished: November, 2012

In the late afternoon, as the Medinah Country Club shadows grew long over Europe’s stunning Ryder Cup last-day upset of the U.S., Ian Poulter was asked how long it would take for him to get over the thrill.

Sergio Garcia answered for him. “Two years.”

That’s when the next Ryder Cup will be played, at Gleneagles, Scotland.

Chances are the U.S. team will get over it a lot quicker. In fact, the teammates probably already have cleared space in their heads. OK, that’s one disappointing weekend to chuck. Next.

So the biggest last-day comeback defeat of a U.S. team in Ryder Cup history is in the books. Here’s believing that the U.S. players are a resilient bunch and that the memory of such a crushing blow won’t bother them … except for constantly being reminded about it for the next two years.

There are takeaways, though.

Captain Davis Love III didn’t use either Masters champ Bubba Watson or U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson in Friday morning’s alternate shot. He sat the hottest team of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for a session. He even rested Tiger Woods-Steve Stricker.

Love is probably still hearing about those decisions.

Even though he said he wouldn’t have done anything differently, he also said, “I’m going to second-guess myself for a long time.”

That’s the way it is as a captain. If you win it’s because of the players. If you lose, it’s because you screwed up.

That doesn’t seem the case this time, because everybody who sat knew it was going to happen and was OK with it.

Harsher critics are saying Love got outcoached by Jose Maria Olazabal, but that doesn’t ring true. The Europeans simply played better. (Think 1999 at Brookline.)

Woods played well—he had a boatload of birdies. He simply must get more points: One-half of a point in four matches won’t cut it, especially in a close match. Woods and Stricker were a combined 0-7-1. Tiger’s Ryder Cup record now stands at 13-17-3.

There was a report about a week after the matches that Woods sat down the Ryder Cup rookies – Brandt Snedeker, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner – and apologized for not winning more points. Woods rarely blames himself for anything, so that would have been a rare moment and a classy one at that.

Six of the 12 matches Sunday on the final day went to the 18th hole. The U.S. won one of them. That is not clutch.

Three of Love’s captain’s picks (Snedeker, Jim Furyk, Stricker) were a combined 2-8-0. The fourth, Dustin Johnson, was 3-0. Captain’s picks are supposed to be hot, which Snedeker was. Furyk bogeyed the last two holes of his singles match to lose, continuing a season-long trend of failing at the end. Stricker was chosen so Woods could play in his Comfort Zone. So much for that.

Olazabal front-loaded his singles lineup with Luke Donald, Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. They all won, establishing momentum that the U.S. could not stop. Love did not front-load his lineup, and there was no stopping the European players once they started rolling. Said Poulter: “Ryder Cup is not for the faint of heart.” Europe has won seven of the last nine Ryder Cups and has not lost on its home soil since 1993.

The choice of the next U.S. captain is anything but clear. David Toms is a possibility, but he’s only 45. Mark Brooks was been passed over for Love. Justin Leonard and Lee Janzen will probably come up.

Olazabal has zero interest in returning as captain. Top replacement names seem to be Darren Clarke or Paul McGinley, possibly Thomas Bjorn or Paul Lawrie.

For the European team, the party continues. They’ve earned the right to say anything they want. And they have a lot to talk about.

The U.S. players had their chance. Now they can’t say anything except congratulations.


Thomas Bonk is a former president of the Golf Writers of America and has covered golf for the Los Angeles Times and Golf Digital.


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