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Original Issue

It's Just Golf, Guys!

Try as it might to fix Team USA's Ryder Cup woes, the PGA of America got it all wrong by empaneling an 11-member task force. Here's the simple solution: Scrap the marketing hype, and go back to treating the event as what it is


CEO, PGA of America

Re: RC16-RC24

DEAR PETE: Everyone in golf knows you're an able guy. Some thought you might succeed Tim Finchem as PGA Tour commissioner. (Looks like the next guy will come from within.) But this 11-man task force, Pete. I wish I had beaten Nicklaus to this assessment: "It's overkill."

Task force. It's another military phrase redeployed for civilian service. Some of your fellow task forcers have admirable ties to the military, including Phil Mickelson, with his Birdies for the Brave charity, and Tiger Woods, with his special interest in special ops.

But the fundamental problem with the Ryder Cup is that on our side of the ocean, we are not treating it like golf. We are treating it like an expertly marketed war. And the Ryder Cup is not war. It just pretends to be one on TV. Your task force is bringing in more troops and at the wrong time. That's why the word Nicklaus used is so telling.

The Ryder Cup is a unique event that somehow turns professional golf into something it is not: a team competition with no purse. Instead, you play for pride of country. You, and the press in all its many forms, have been selling this message for so long and so hard it's in the heads of every player, captain, vice captain and caddie. You're taking them out of their comfort zones.

Over the past 25 years, your organization has become addicted to Ryder Cup money. The more you up the stakes of the competition, the more money you make. But that has blinded the PGA from seeing what the Ryder Cup really should be. In this hysterical environment, it's hard for people to be themselves. At his first press conference as Ryder Cup captain, on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building, Tom Watson said, "My relationship with Tiger is fine. Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge. No issues." And that was not even remotely true. So you hired (for no pay) a tell-it-like-it-is guy who was so out of his element that from the start he was toeing the company line.

You never really had Tom Watson as your captain. From the start, he was pretending to be the man he thought you thought he needed to be. Yes, really. Compare that to how Jack Nicklaus captained his Presidents Cup teams.

The process actually made Watson strange. At Augusta, he got in mild-mannered Jimmy Walker's face and said, "Do you think you can win?!" All Walker was trying to do was get to the 1st tee of his first Masters. But Watson was playing the role of cranky-old-man Ryder Cup captain for the overhyped TV show.

You guys really to have to take it down a notch or two, even if you have to fake your chill. What do you think made Joe Torre and Jim Leyland such great managers? They filled out their lineup cards and sat back and sucked their tobacco products.

In 20 years of not knowing Tiger Woods he has asked me one question: "Do you know Jack Nicklaus's Ryder Cup record?" I had no idea. Woods had made his point. The Ryder Cup is just not as important as the PGA of America thinks it is.

As for Phil, and his second-guessing on live TV: Don't take it personally. There are few events in all of sports that are more conducive to MMQBing than Ryder Cup golf, and Phil was getting a head start. (He was also making a mighty contribution to the show!) You have to be really tough in the face of a loss. Phil was just doing what losers do. He was venting.

The truth is, this year, your personnel could have been good but really wasn't and Watson, despite all his hard work, was hard to hang with. In other words, it just didn't work out. Once, trying to egg Bernhard Langer on in an interview, I goofed on Hal Sutton for his ridiculous pairing of Mickelson and Woods at the 2004 Ryder Cup. Bernhard said (and you know the accent), "You are only saying that because it did not work out." So true. Let's all learn a lesson from Herr Langer here.

Yes, your club is 2--8 in the last 10 RCs, with no road wins since '93. And the Brookline Sunday comeback win in '99 was freakish. And the Valhalla win in '08 was against an aloof European captain, Nick Faldo. So, yes, something is broken and something must be done. But your task force implies more intensity, more brainpower, more man-hours. Success is going to come—and this is counterintuitive—by doing less.

You want to field better teams? Close off the final roster spots on the Monday before the Ryder Cup. You want the players to play harder? No you don't. If anything, they try too hard. You want to devise some perfect formula to come up with a captain and a vice captain? There is no perfect formula. Besides, Mickelson already told you, in that Gleneagles press conference, exactly what you should be looking for in your next captain, and he is in position to know.

Here's what Mickelson was really saying at Gleneagles: Give us a captain we want to hang with. Will that make a difference between winning and losing? Probably not. The problem this year is that the Europeans had Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson, and the U.S. did not have Tiger, Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner and Billy Horschel.

I know you're going to have your task force. I'm sure the food will be good. If this helps, have at it:

• Roster: Put more emphasis on winning and past match-play success.

• Hype machine: If you can't unplug it, at least turn it way down.

• Next captain: Fred Couples in '16 and '18, with Mickelson as his deputy and signed on as captain for '20 and '22, with Woods as his deputy and successor, meaning he's your captain in '24 and '26. One vice captain. You can have assistants, but one vice captain, in training for a two-team deal. You're saying, Oh, no—nobody can make that kind of time commitment. Well, listen to Fred.

"I keep hearing that, 'Well, we need a guy that gives it his all for two years,'" Fred said on his new radio show the other day. "For two years? There's no two years for any of this." He nailed it.

Earl Weaver, the great Orioles manager, used to say, "We do this every day." Professional golfers do it every day. They know how to play golf. What the Americans need to do is make the Ryder Cup seem more like what it is, three days of golf in a different format. Don't worry so much. When the Ryder Cup is competitive again, the money will be there.

Pete, your task force implies more intensity, more brainpower, more man-hours. Success is going to come by doing less.


Photo Illustration by Darrow for Sports Illustrated

PYRAMID OF SUCCESS? The Ryder Cup task force features three PGA of America officials, three former captains (0-2-1 record) and five players, who are a combined 42-66-19 in the competition.


Photo Illustration by Darrow for Sports Illustrated