Next U.S. Ryder Cup captain faces huge challenge
September 29, 2014
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Paul Azinger was the last captain to lead the Americans to a Ryder Cup win in 2008. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
GLENEAGLES, Scotland -- The next U.S. Ryder Cup captain certainly faces a massive challenge: How to stop the losing streak to the Europeans.
The U.S. has lost the last three, and eight of the last 10, including Sunday's decisive defeat at Gleneagles.
Unlike the previous two Ryder Cup losses, in which the Americans won seven of nine sessions but were blown out in the two others, 2014 was more of a complete victory for Europe. The Europeans dominated at Foursomes, winning both sessions with 3 wins and a draw, and then won the Singles matches by one point for their third session win.
It was the fifth consecutive loss on foreign soil by the Americans, whose last road win was in 1993 when Tom Watson made his first appearance as captain.
Watson was recalled to duty for 2014 in hopes of repeating that performance but there was no magic formula this time, only the bitter sting of a defeat in which the separation between the Europeans and Americans seems to be growing.
The loss did not go down easy. Phil Mickelson, the senior player on the U.S. squad in his 10th Ryder Cup, wondered why the Americans had deviated from the 2008 winning formula that Paul Azinger devised. Watson defended his management style. Jim Furyk, making his ninth Ryder Cup appearance, was dragged into the middle but deftly avoided taking either side.
“Five of you have already asked me tonight what's the winning formula and what's the difference year-in, year-out,” Furyk said in the Sunday night news conference. “If I could put my finger on it, I would have changed this (stuff) a long time ago but we haven't and we are going to keep searching.”
The Americans were not happy campers as they shuffled out of the media center following their defeat, especially since they were within earshot of the boisterous Europeans celebrating at high volume.
So who does the PGA of America turn to now for its next captain? It won't be Watson, as no U.S. captain has made consecutive appearances since Walter Hagen in 1937.
If the U.S. takes a similar approach as the PGA TOUR, which elevated assistant Jay Haas to Presidents Cup captain for 2015 after he served under Fred Couples for three consecutive U.S. wins, or the European Tour, which elevated Paul McGinley to captain for 2014 after he served as vice-captain for the previous two European wins, then three names immediately come to mind: current vice captains Raymond Floyd, Andy North and Steve Stricker.
Floyd is 72 and North is 64, so it's doubtful either one would be selected after the PGA of America made Watson (age 65) the oldest Ryder Cup captain.
Stricker, then, is a likely candidate. He'll be 49 at the next Ryder Cup and is well-respected among his PGA TOUR peers. He cut back on his playing schedule the last two years in order to spend more time with his family, so he may need to decide if he wants to commit the time to being a Ryder Cup captain.
If the PGA of America wants to use Azinger's winning formula, perhaps they'll knock on Azinger's door again. Jason Dufner, who was unable to play in this year's Ryder Cup due to injury, already tweeted out Azinger's name for 2016.
Watson was the seventh captain to serve multiple terms, so it wouldn't be unprecedented for Azinger to step back into the fire.
In an interview that was published last week in one of the English newspapers, Azinger explained his philosophy.
"Europe has bonded in small groups whereas we have come in as 12 separate guys asked to bond in three days. It’s not enough time," he said. "“I broke them into small groups and they bonded in small groups. My approach to team building was unique to anything our players had seen before and it got them engaged very early. Davis (Love, 2012 captain) broke them into small groups and they bonded the same.
“Gone are the days when the U.S. are superior to Europe in talent. The talent levels are very similar between the teams now and the captain’s role is identifying the strength within the group. Also figure out the tangible reason why Europe continued to win and I think that is because the small groups trump the favorite role every time.”
If the PGA wanted a captain with a proven track record, then Couples is sitting out there after three Presidents Cup wins. But he has already committed to being an assistant captain for Haas and may not have the time.
On Sunday night, both Mickelson and Furyk were asked if their goals moving forward included a Ryder Cup captaincy.
Said Mickelson: "That's way off in the future. Look, I intend to keep making this team as a player, and I intend to do my best to get on the Hazeltine team; again, for 20 years, not requiring a pick, I'm going to make that team on my own and I'm going to play my heart out to win only my third Ryder Cup victory to make my record an astounding 18 percent or whatever."
Said Furyk: "I would -- when the time is right, I would love to do that some day. It would be an honor."
Whoever gets the nod, the one advantage he will have is that the 2016 Ryder Cup will be played on home soil in Minnesota.
Other than that, there's little reason to think the Americans will enter that event as favorites. The Europeans have the upper-hand now and the U.S. is back on its heels, scrambling for a solution that Gleneagles did not provide.
Join the discussion below and let us know whom you think should be the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain.