The Europeans were strong favourites to win the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, and they proved the bookmakers right by defeating the USA by 16.5 points to 11.5. No matter what some commentators, or senior U.S. players might say, the European team simply outplayed their American counterparts over the three days of competition.
In a press conference following the conclusion of play, 10-time Ryder Cupper Phil Mickelson was openly critical of U.S Captain Tom Watson’s tactics. “Unfortunately we have strayed from a winning formula,” Mickelson said. “We need to consider getting back to that formula.”
Clearly Mickelson was smarting after the defeat and he was disappointed at being left out of Saturday’s play. But, he should have had the professionalism to speak to Tom Watson personally rather than slate his Captain in front of a worldwide audience.
And, when it comes down to it, the buck has to stop with the U.S players rather than their Captain. The Captain organises the team and makes decisions about pairings and ordering. If the team wins, his decisions are viewed as strategic genius, if they lose his tactical choices will inevitably come under scrutiny. But, the Captain can’t go out there and hit the shots. All 12 guys on the U.S. team had the talent to beat anyone on the European team if they delivered their very best golf – they didn’t quite manage to do that.
Yes, Watson could have played rookies Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth in the Friday foursomes. But would they have fared any better than those U.S. pairings that did go out? Had Reed and Spieth been out first or second, would they have overcome Jamie Donaldson and Lee Westwood or Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson? Both those European pairings played superbly and were four-under-par when they won their matches.
OK, Mickelson and Bradley might have played on Saturday. But they lost to Dubuisson and McDowell on Friday afternoon and they might well have faced them again on Saturday afternoon had they been picked in the second foursomes. The Northern Irish player and the Frenchman were five-under through 14 holes when they won against Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. Could Bradley and Mickelson have lived with that?
Mickelson clearly felt Tom Watson had not done enough to engender a good team spirit amongst the U.S. players. But surely the players are equally, if not more, responsible for that. The Europeans clearly play for each other and the camaraderie stems from the friendships between them rather than some enforced fellowship coming from the Captain. Perhaps Mickelson should be taking a look at his own relationships with the U.S. players rather than blaming Tom Watson for the lack of unity.
All of the European players displayed passionate determination and a clear desire not to let their team down. When you pit 12 talented golfers who care that much against a side of comparable ability in which only one or two show similar levels of resolve, there will only ever be one outcome. And so it proved at Gleneagles – A single-minded Team Europe were just too much for an irresolute Team USA to live with.