The PGA of America thinks a task force can revitalize the United States Ryder Cup team. Fred Couples, who recently has emerged as a favorite of players to captain the 2016 team, thinks all the players need is “some love.” Following the U.S. defeat at Gleneagles in September, which triggered an icy exchange between Captain Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson over Watson’s management style, the PGA formed a task force to examine all aspects of the Ryder Cup process. Some observers, including Jack Nicklaus, think the task force is an overreaction; Europe simply had a stronger team. Nevertheless, the task force offers a rare opportunity to openly evaluate a system that was created in 1927 and has been tinkered with over the years.
Here are some observations concerning potential focal points for the task force:
(1) Selection of Captains. Consider adopting the European approach, where there is a planned succession from vice-captain to captain over several competitions. This might create more consistency. Open up the selection process to input from the players and the PGA Tour. The domination of the process by the PGA (which represents club pros, not touring pros) is antiquated.
(2) Point System for Determining Team Composition. Revise the system to emphasize performance closer to the competition. The current system employs a 2-year look-back, where players in 2014 could accumulate points for performances in major tournaments in 2013. In addition, a PGA Tour win in October 2013 (part of the 2014 season) counted as much as a win in August 2014. FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel was excluded from the team because his last wins came after the close of the Ryder Cup points system and Watson’s cut-off for making captain’s picks. The system should better allow for participation by the hottest players. Should there be an automatic spot for the FedEx Cup champion?
(3) Captain’s Picks. Whether there should be fewer or more than three captain’s picks is a perennial subject of debate. An argument for more captain’s picks is that performance closer to the competition could be rewarded. Perhaps the biggest problem is the timing; Watson had to make his picks in early September, before the FedEx Cup concluded. There is a tension between obtaining the hottest players and promoting team continuity.
(4) Format of Competition. Consider adopting the President’s Cup format, where all twelve players play in each portion of the matches. At Gleneagles, Watson was criticized for benching Mickelson and Keegan Bradley on Saturday. You’ve presumably selected your country’s best players; let them play. (This would favor the team with the most depth, and Europe would have to approve such a change.)
(5) Course Selection. When the competition is in the U.S., choose courses that are most familiar to PGA Tour players. This should be about winning, not innovation.
Jack Ross witnessed the devastating defeat of the U.S. team at Medinah in 2012.