In 4th grade I won my school’s spelling bee. For the ensuing district round, our teacher offered three of my classmates the opportunity to come watch me live. To do this, he asked for voluntary letters from anyone in the class who wanted to go, and picked what I assume were the three most impassioned pleas and strongest claims of friendship/fandom. Watching me misspell “stylistic” in the Ballsz School auditorium that day were not the 2-3-4 finishers from our school’s bee, or the 3 highest aggregate spelling test takers of the past 2 years, or even my 3 best friends. But they wanted to be there, and that meant something.
Starting in 2014, American golfers should have to write letters to get in the Ryder Cup. Because after Sunday’s catatonic meltdown, I’m not convinced that any of them really wanted to be there. Whether worn out from running through a fat stack of cash (Brandt Snedeker), openly rooting for Justin Rose (Phil Mickelson) or on the team because Davis Love didn’t watch golf at all in 2012 (Jim Furyk), the American team looked as disinterested with the whole concept of this event as ever.
Take Jason Dufner. He played about as well as any American over the weekend, but watching him Sunday made me think his interior monologue was going something like:
waggle waggle hit.
“Aw shucks, I have to do some golf again.”
waggle waggle hit.
“If this goes on too long I’m gonna miss The Good Wife again. Bummer. I love The Good Wife.”
drain 30 footer. half-heartedly pump fist.
“I just remembered I set my DVR for The Good Wife!”
beat Peter Hanson, secure crucial American point amid run of Euro domination.
“No not a Jimmy Roberts interview! How can I best come across as a guy who really just wants to get home to watch The Good Wife right now?”
So what to do? It’s not a matter of more yelling or awkward high-fives. The U.S. had plenty of both, especially in the uncharacteristically successful team stage on Friday and Saturday. I don’t think America will ever have camaraderie on the level of the Europeans – it’s a different culture of sport over there (game ended in a tie? We’ll drink to that). But they could come close, if only they had the opportunity to do the one thing Americans do better than Euros: play up their underdog status. On paper, Team USA has had a superior roster for every Cup this century, save 2008′s winning team. If we learned any lesson from that ’08 team, we should be able to address the attitude problem by asking one simple question:
“Hey Tiger Woods, you wanna sit this one out?”
Team USA wouldn’t miss him if he said yes. Sure, he’d be skewered for it nationally, but Tiger has only wanted to emulate Jack Nicklaus’ major record, not his passion for international team golf competitions. A 100% committed to the cause Tiger Woods does not go off last in Sunday singles with a 10-6 lead. He wasn’t the closer – Davis Love was assuming his match wouldn’t matter. A guy who would just as soon get his knee scoped again as he would revel in a shared victory with 11 other players is not ever going to be a model of team spirit.
That Tiger-free 2008 team rolled with Ben Curtis, Chad Campbell, J.B. Holmes and the most important player in recent Ryder Cup history, Boo Weekley. Do you remember Boo’s record in ’08? He only played in two matches all weekend. Now do you remember Boo riding his driver like a horsey down the fairway? That’s passion – weird, freaky passion – and even though Tiger went 3-1 as a controversial captain’s pick in 2010, his presence cast a weird, freaky pall over the rest of the squad. Plus, apparently he can only be paired with Steve Stricker (ask Hal Sutton), and Strick just went 0-4 in possibly his last Ryder Cup.
A buddy of mine who loves the Ryder Cup more than anyone I know and is probably still hate-watching Golf Channel’s post-game coverage proposed another interesting fix: 12 captain’s picks. I like this idea a lot, but we’d have to find a captain with the stones to not just pick Americans 1-12 in the world rankings (Johnny Miller and Colin Montgomerie for perma-captains).
Maybe we could reserve a wild card Weekley Spot for a career mini-tour player on a late-season hot streak that refreshes the whole event with his can-do attitude and golfy name. I would have loved to have seen what Bo Van Pelt or Robert Garrigus would have brought to this year’s squad (in Garrigus’ case, probably weed). The more Ryder Cup rookies the better, I say. We know what pressure did to Jim Furyk this year, it couldn’t have been worse seeing what it did to Nick Watney. In short: Keegan Bradley is the man.
The 2012 American team was stacked. The 8 players who qualified on points all had terrific individual seasons. Martin Kaymer qualified on points for Team Europe even though he is literally terrible at golf right now. Didn’t matter. He got his game in shape with a singular focus on the Ryder Cup, then made the clinching putt before waxing on how much bigger the team event was to him than his individual major. I have a hard time imagining Tiger Woods would have said something similar if his halve with Francesco Molinari won America the Cup.
Nothing’s going to change in the team-building process in the foreseeable future. We’re not going to change the attitude with which Americans approach these competitions versus their European counterparts anytime soon. I can’t help but wonder though what kind of team America would end up with if the top 50 players, each with games essentially indistinguishable from the others, all wrote anonymous letters to the team captain like my fourth grade classmates. May the man with the biggest crayon-drawn American flag win.