A Captain’s Win

Last week’s Ryder Cup was a sensational event. And it is the players who hit the shots and hole the putts. Yet for me the event was more the Captain’s win than maybe has been the case for quite a while.

Thomas Bjorn out thought, out strategized and out publicised his opposite number at virtually every turn. All in all it was a phenomenal performance.

It was very clear from the outset that the attention to detail was as spot on as it has been for pretty much every Ryder Cup European Captain since Jacklin and Ballesteros revitalised the event in 1983. For me it just went that little bit further.

The course is the place to start. There seems a lot of crying in spilt milk from some US commentators. Thomas clearly understood where his team’s advantage would lie, and influenced the production of a course that would emphasise that advantage. All the talk of unfair home advantage is just hogwash; would you set up a Ryder Cup on a venue to suit the opposition? We did it enough going year after year to the Belfry, so it certainly isn’t going to happen now. And the Yanks certainly won’t.

His choices of wild cards, despite in one case looking a bit controversial, turned out to be inspired. All made important contributions throughout the week. Clearly Sergio was an inspirational part of the team, going through the record to become the highest point scorer. And who’s to say he’s finished yet? I doubted him and I was utterly wrong; bravo!!!

Pairings were made in consultation with the players themselves. Let’s face it – he got everything right.

But this shouldn’t be a surprise. For how many years has Thomas been a player representative on Tour Committees? Many. He knows everyone, he understands their concerns, what makes them tick, who to motivate and how to do it, with whom to commiserate and again how to do that. All of that was pretty clear in the way the Captain communed with each of his pairings as games came to an end on each of the first two days.

Jim Furyk is one of the finest men in golf and was undoubtedly let down by his team, but decisions were interesting. Mickelson in foursomes is a gift point to Europe. I would be critical of his wildcard choices. There is an argument that he “had” to make those choices, but they were safe and took no regard of the course facing him. Bringing Tiger and Phil was just giving away the advantage. So Tiger had won the Tour Championship; big deal. He can’t drive it worth a damn and wins an average of only 4 Ryder Cup points out of 10. There is not, nor ever has been, any Tiger in Team, or vice versa for that matter.

Bryson is a wonderful golfer, but a streak player whose bolt was shot. Mickelson totally out of form. Finau did brilliantly, showing where Jim should have gone for his other choices. What would he have given for Kisner, Stanley and Xander Schauffle? I know what he’d have got – a much closer match.

As for the US team as a whole, I stand absolutely astonished at the performance and attitude of a group of professional athletes. Virtually none of them came across to play the tournament held on the same darn course earlier in the year. Kudos to Justin Thomas for coming and playing, doing so very well. Probably no coincidence he was the US top points scorer last week. And remember, the course was even harder for the French Open.

Beyond that it’s pretty clear to me they believed their own press releases. They seemed to feel they could just turn up as if it were just another week, play the same kind of tactic-less golf that serves them so well on the majority of Tour courses and everything would be fine. Now that up to a point I can understand.

What I can’t understand is the total inability of some of the allegedly best players in the world to adapt their strategy to what they found before them. Which since this was essentially an American style course heavily redolent of the Penal form of design is remarkable. Pete Dye would love it.

But I have a theory. Top level golf has become hugely statistically orientated. Through analysis and the application of Strokes Gained processes the guys are brain washed into what they need to do. And Strokes Gained says hit the thing as far as you can; massive driving distance is the biggest indicator of offering good scoring opportunity. Strokes Gained says the best putter of the best (longest) strikers wins.

But if you can’t hit the planet you have to rethink. The US Team couldn’t. So they lost.

And now the fallout. The Koepka/DJ contre temps which no one saw. Demonising Patrick Reed. Pathetic really.

It will be interesting to see what they learn. I suspect very little. You can guarantee the fairways at Whistling Straights are currently being widened to 80 yards with inch high rough up either side, and spectator ropes as close as possible so even that gets trodden down.

Shame really. But that is the way elite golf is currently going. It was a joy to watch an event where traditional qualities of good thinking, quality ball positioning and proper nerve and concentration were the priority. Sad we’ll have to wait four years for something similar.