EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 2, 2012

Five musts for USA to win the Ryder Cup

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — It was riveting. Better yet, it was six hours riveting.

The Ryder Cup might be the best competition in all of sports. I'm not joking.

Could you watch a Red Sox-Yankees game for six hours? No. Five? Maybe.

The point is golf loses its holier-than-thou persona for this one weekend out of every 104 weekends. The quintessential individual sport is the ultimate team sport for three incredible days.

There is one problem, at least from our perspective. Europe is the USA's daddy. And we, the USA, don't like losing.

I was wrong about this past weekend. I thought the USA had turned the corner and wanted to win as badly as the Europeans did. But as was evidenced by Sunday's results, 8.5 to 3-5, the other guys wanted it more. The European captain wanted it more, making tough decisions on a few golfers -- the guy who hit the eventual cup-clinching putt, Martin Kymer, and teammate Peter Hanson, played in only one match on Friday or Saturday, something that wouldn’t happen on the USA team.

Simply put, in the end, Europe wanted it more. Again.

Well, I have a remedy to fix that, because I believe the USA has more talent than Europe and should win the Ryder Cup three out of every four outings.

Here’s my remedy:

1. Pick a real captain

The USA Ryder Cup captain selection process has turned into a “It’s his turn” affair. If you’re winning it every other two years, that’s OK. That’s not the current situation.

While Davis Love III is one of the nicest and most respected people in the sport, his comment about “I put guys together with guys they were comfortable with” sort of let the cat out of the bag. The players rule the roost.

The captain, in these dire times for team USA, must be in charge and care less about making friends than making the right decision. This captain can not fear anybody, especially Tiger Woods. This has to be a person the players respect immensely, one who makes decisions out of strength. There are some tough, strategic decisions to make, sometimes on the spot. A true leader is needed here.

Personally, Jack Nicklaus would be my first and only choice. And then, if he was interested, I’d let him do it again two years later.

2. Tame Tiger

Tiger is not the golfer he used to be. Maybe he won’t be ever again, maybe he will.

Personally, I have never understood why Tiger doesn’t dominate this format even more so than he has done the previous decade. The crowds, even after his shenanigans and semi-slumping career, still adore him. Whatever the case, Tiger doesn’t get his way any more. He isn’t asked who he wants to play with. The captain makes decisions, with input from others if he wants, and Tiger either accepts it or doesn’t play.

Several times Davis Love III talked about “Tiger’s bubble,” referring to the crowds and increased pressure. Well, Tiger’s bubble has burst. While he had his moments, particularly on the back nine on Friday and Saturday, with five birdies each afternoon, he was a flat-liner. Anyway, Tiger plays by Ryder Cup rules, not his. Honestly, I want to see this guy carry the team rather than kill it.

3. Go young

The best of the USA’s top golfers on the PGA Tour is its strength ... its youth. Remember, these kids — Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson, Jason Dufner, Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane, Bill Haas, Keegan Bradley, etc. — have been brought up the last half-dozen years as not fearing anybody on the PGA Tour, especially Tiger Woods. It’s time to embrace these guys, who have an energy that this three-day event commands. Sure, some will wilt under the early pressure, but my guess is that when the cards are down on Sunday, more than half would answer the call. This is the future of USA golf. It’s time these guys, together, earn the much-needed Ryder Cup experience.

4. No buddies allowed

I felt for Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. They were in over their heads, pressure-wise. While both still can perform at a very high level — Furyk blew the 2012 US Open on the final two holes and Stricker is one of the best putters in the world — neither had the energy and nerves to compete the final day.

The fact that Stricker was winless, including his three matches on Tiger’s team, was not a shocker. And the fact that both crumbled on the final holes on Sunday was not a shocker. Both have had those issues this year. The point is the buddy system, which probably got Furyk and Stricker on the 2012 team, has to go. The best golfers, particularly those with proven track records under pressure (maybe it was in major, big tournaments or even when they were competing for junior championships), should be the No. 1 prerequisite.

5. Pay the players

Maybe this has nothing to do with the topic of this discussion, but I believe these players deserve $1 million, maybe even $2 million for their efforts. The pressure they have to deal with is extraordinary. And we can’t thank them enough for the entertainment value. Is it really the right that Stricker or Furyk have to live with the moniker as “chokers,” without being compensated for that possibility. This event is like a Super Bowl and has to generate at least $100 million in profits to the two tours. These guys really deserve it for what they have to contend with.