Tour Confidential: Can Team USA Pull Off a Ryder Cup Upset? Plus, All-Male Clubs and Tiger's Next Coach

Tuesday September 23rd, 2014
No one has played in more Ryder Cup matches for Team USA than Phil Mickelson.
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Every Sunday night, Golf.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. After wild-card selection TV shows and uniform unveilings, it’s finally Ryder Cup week. Which side is your pick to win and why? And what will be the margin of victory?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): U.S. 14.5-13.5. It's a risk-reward course and the U.S. side collectively is significantly longer and in better form. I think Watson will out-captain McGinley. And playing at home as heavy favorites adds another layer of pressure for Europe.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): The U.S is going to pull off the upset, thanks to a long, roomy, American-style course that plays into U.S. hands and also due to the law of averages. The U.S. would have won on a similar-type course at Medinah in 2012 if Europe hadn't drained a series of the most improbable putts in Ryder Cup history. I don't think Poulter or Rose will putt as well this time, and I think with the pressure off the U.S., being that they're the decided underdogs, they will come through. A "changed," charged-up Bubba Watson will make the difference in the 14.5 to 13.5 victory.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): The U.S is set up as a scrappy underdog, which could galvanize the group. But the Euros just have more proven strength at the top of their lineup (Rory, Sergio, GMac, Rose, Poulter). My patriotic heart would love to call the U.S. upset, but this pick comes straight from my wallet, and the billfold sees a football Sunday filled with Oles! Europe by a touchdown, 17-11.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): You have to like Europe's top five -- Rory, Rose, Kaymer, Stenson and McDowell -- over America's top five. Who is America's top five? I'm not even sure. That said, the Ryder Cup is effectively a putting contest, and if Webb Simpson and Phil Mickelson and two other players arrive with their A Games, the U.S. could win. Forced to pick, I'll take Europe, 15.5-12.5.

Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@eamonlynch): Of the nine Cups played since Tom Watson was last captain in 1993, Europe has won seven. With a lot of its players in form this year, call it eight of 10, but not by a wide margin, 15-13.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): The U.S. If you look closely, they're not badly overmatched on paper. But Vegas has Europe as two-to-one favorites and the underdog narrative has swelled to such a point that it can only help the American side. U.S. wins 14.5-13.5.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): Europe wins, 15–13. The home team is just stronger at the top. It will be tight going into singles, but McGinley will front-load his lineup and the Oles! will begin early.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I think the U.S. is somehow going to pull this out, but the more I'm asked to restate this prediction, the less sense it makes. I don't know if it's Europe looking strong as much as Team USA looking slightly bereft, i.e. no Horschel, no Tiger, no D.J., no A.K., no Dufner. Fowler and Spieth and Reed are intriguing, though, in that they seem young and fearless. And there's no telling what Jimmy Walker is likely to make of this event. I'll say the U.S. wins 15-13.

David DeNunzio, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@daviddenunzio): It was going to be tough from the get-go for the American side, what with the Europeans fielding the No. 1 (McIlroy), No. 3 (Sergio), No. 4 (Stenson) and No. 6 (Rose) ranked players in the world. And that was before losing Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson, as well as failing to sign the second-hottest golfer on the planet, Billy Horschel, to team Stars and Stripes. And don’t discount the home-field advantage. It’s over early Sunday. The other guys win.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: U.S. in a landslide. Any other prediction is un-American.

2. Which player on each team has the most to prove?

MORFIT: Captain's pick Hunter Mahan has a lot to prove for the U.S. side, not just for how the 2010 Cup at Celtic Manor ended but also for how he played those last three FedEx Cup tournaments. Yes, Mahan proved his mettle in match play in winning the WGC-Accenture in 2012, but because of those vivid memories of Celtic Manor, and because he still hasn't won a major, he's going to have to do it all over again at Gleneagles. Lee Westwood, another captain's pick, will have to prove himself a worthy addition to the European side after a less than great season.

BAMBERGER: For Team USA, Patrick Reed. He's been a great talker, but now he needs to show something on the world's stage. For the Euros, I suppose Rory -- to put a meaningful exclamation mark on an all-time year.

LYNCH: Expectations inevitably fall on high-profile captain's picks who didn't earn their berth. Step forward Poulter and Westwood, neither of whom has shown much pedigree this season. On Team USA, the man with most on the line is Tom Watson. Yes, he won't hit a shot, but his surprise captaincy at age 65 is a break with tradition that will be second-guessed if his team loses. Players won't warm to a captain just because he's a legend with multiple major wins -- see: Faldo, Nick. Since Watson was announced as skipper there have been murmurings about how well he can relate to younger team members, a hum not quieted by his selection of Ray Floyd and Andy North as vice-captains (along with the semi-retired Steve Stricker). If Watson hoists the Cup on Sunday, his selection will look like genius. If he doesn't, expect cracks about how America's team leadership looked like a Cocoon reunion.

DENUNZIO: Europe: Rory. It’ll be his team for the next seven Ryder Cups. He needs to secure his seat at the head of the Ryder Cup table now. For the American side, it’s a tie between Phil and Furyk. Phil has a history of succeeding when Tiger’s looming shadow is out of the picture. Furyk must play like the highest-ranked player on the American squad, which he is. If Phil and Jim go flat, it could get ugly, especially considering the rest of the team has logged a combined total of 12 Ryder Cups.

SENS: On the U.S., Webb Simpson, a captain's pick who seems to be the consensus soft spot among to both the pundits and the public. Stephen Gallacher on the European team because he put up a stinker recently in the Wales Open. Throw in the fact that he's the lone Scotsman on the team, and he's going to feel all the more pressure to rise to the moment.

GODICH: I believe you have to look at the captain's picks, since they didn't play their way onto the team. Whichever captain loses will most likely be second-guessed on his three choices. I'll take Webb Simpson on the U.S. side. I thought the selection was a bit of a reach, because Simpson hasn't exactly been lighting it up, and Gleneagles is a track that favors bombers. For Europe, I'm taking the captain. McGinley can't win here. The Euros are a prohibitive favorite, so if things get tight, Watson will be praised and McGinley's every move will get scrutinized. And with five vice-captains -- count 'em, five! -- he may have too many voices in his ear.

PASSOV: For Europe, I believe Lee Westwood needs to show vestiges that he was a World Top 3 player not long ago and that he deserved the captain's pick ahead of Luke Donald, who, by every account, is the superior chipper and putter, helpful attributes at Ryder Cup time. Webb Simpson might seem the obvious choice for the U.S. team, considering he was the most controversial pick, but for me, it's Keegan Bradley. The emotional center of the 2012 squad seems to have R-Y-D-E-R C-U-P flashing in neon on his forehead, almost using his unbridled enthusiasm for making the team as an excuse as to why he didn't win in 2014. Okay, now that you're here, prove that passion equals results.

VAN SICKLE: Stephen Gallacher, as the hometown Scot and a Ryder Cup rookie at 39, will probably feel the most pressure to perform. Other than that, I don't think any other Europeans have anything to prove. For the U.S., well, half the team has something to prove. Furyk, who hasn't been able to close wins; Fowler, for the same reason; Simpson and Bradley because they were picks; Patrick Reed, a kind of outsider in a way. The list goes on.

RITTER: The captain’s picks on both sides (Poulter excluded). Can Mahan erase the bitter memory of 2010? Can Keegan team with Phil again to become the toughest U.S. pairing? Can Webb Simpson make us all stop pining for Billy Horschel? On the Euro side, Westwood hasn't done much this season to warrant the pick, and Gallacher is unproven. Those guys could be under the microscope in the early sessions.

SHIPNUCK: Phil and Westy. This should be Mickelson's team, and it will be if he can summon the passionate play from the PGA. But if he looks like the Phil of every other week this year, he will be a lead ball around Uncle Sam's ankle. Westwood is the most second-guessable of the captain's picks, and if he lays an egg Luke Donald loyalists will be rioting in the streets.

3. Pick the U.S. player most likely to get the most points. And the player most likely to get blanked.

SENS: In the Ryder Cup, points aren't necessarily an indication of how well you have played individually. But I'll go with Zach Johnson because he's the most cold-blooded of the Americans in match play. And Webb Simpson to get the least, partly because he'll sit in at least one of the team matches and because he'll lose his singles match.

SHIPNUCK: Patrick Reed for both. I think he'll be amazing or a total dud, with nothing in between. He is a hyper-aggressive birdie machine with a great lifetime record in match play, but can this lone wolf find comfort in the team play?

VAN SICKLE: I think Jimmy Walker has the game, the distance off the tee and the putting, to be a match-play killer. And we've already seen Fowler do it. Blanked? That could be whoever shows up off his game and for that reason plays only two matches during the week. No telling who that might be.

PASSOV: Bubba Watson has the length, the talent, the flair for the big stage and the Ryder Cup zeal to dominate if he's playing well. He's the U.S. player most likely to get the most points. His likely partner, Webb Simpson, is most likely to get blanked. He really hasn't played all that well in 2014, and his shaky shanks at crucial times, even when he was playing great, foreshadows issues to come in Scotland.

RITTER: Patrick Reed's swagger and enthusiasm could make him the U.S star this week, while Jim Furyk's troubling pattern of late-round meltdowns and lousy history in this event are huge red flags.

LYNCH: Most: Fowler and Furyk. Least: Patrick Reed.

MORFIT: I'll take Rickie Fowler as the player most likely to get the most points. The U.S. player most likely to get blanked is an impossible question because there are so many candidates, starting with the veteran leadership. Phil Mickelson has had a stinker of a season and looked gassed at the FedEx Cup. Human ATM machine Jim Furyk has nonetheless had too many near-misses and not enough wins since 2010. That's also a cause for concern.

GODICH: Patrick Reed. He's just too streaky. Look at what happened at the Deutsche Bank. Reed went from top 10 to missing the secondary cut after a third-round 82. It's been months since that win at Doral. I'm betting Watson has Reed penciled in for one match a day.

BAMBERGER: Phil for both!

4. The long-range weather forecast for Ryder Cup weekend says highs of 60-62 degrees, 40 percent chance of rain, winds between 10-15 mph. Do these conditions favor the U.S., Europe, or neither?

LYNCH: If Watson was playing, I'd say foul conditions favor the USA. Since he isn't, it doesn't matter. Though worth noting that the Cups played in Ireland ('06) and Wales ('10) both saw horrendous weather, and Europe prevailed in both.

PASSOV: Conditions like that favor superior ball-strikers. Very close call, but Europe plays in this stuff more, and names like McDowell, Westwood, Garcia, Rose, Stenson and Kaymer are stars in this arena. And while we haven't put to rest yet Rory McIlroy's seeming discomfort in adverse conditions, there's no one in the game puring it like he is, so lump him in with that group. I just think it's finally time for putts to drop for the United States and for Europe to lip out a few.

MORFIT: Neither. Players on both sides have played, and won, in lousy weather. I seem to recall both Matt Kuchar and Mahan wearing ski hats at Dove Mountain, and winning a lot of matches.

BAMBERGER: U.S. Team. The Euros have too many thin-blooded Floridians.

VAN SICKLE: Probably neither. The Americans apparently don't like playing in rain gear and they continue using rain gear that is inferior in quality to the Euros. Rain has been the European team's friend.

GODICH: Who does the weather favor? Whichever team holes the most putts.

RITTER: Neither. All pros are used to playing in wind and rain, and the Gleneagles setup is about as American as you'll find in Scotland. The course and weather impact feels neutral this week.

SENS: These guys are pampered, sure, but they're not orchids. They have all got pretty deep-rooted experience in all kinds of conditions, and the forecast doesn't call for anything nearly severe enough to make a difference one way or the other. But don't let me get in the way of an imaginary storyline.

DENUNZIO: Neither. Most of the European side spends the majority of their playing time in the States. It’s a non-issue.

SHIPNUCK: All I know is that it won't be good for Dubuission's hair.

5. Two years after Augusta National admitted its first women members, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews voted overwhelmingly last week to admit women members. Are all-male golf clubs still socially acceptable?

BAMBERGER: They're not, but they don't care.

SHIPNUCK: It's important to distinguish between truly private clubs like, say, Burning Tree, and the R&A/Augusta National, which are ruling bodies (officially and de facto, respectively) and every year handle tens of millions of dollars of the public's money by hosting tournaments. Given their standing in an international sport, the R&A and Augusta couldn't have such exclusionary membership practices. For a place like Burning Tree, it's silly and retrograde but ultimately not that big a deal.

LYNCH: I don't have a problem with all-male golf clubs. I do have a problem with all-male governing bodies (actual, in the case of the R&A, and quasi, in the case of Augusta National). But the R&A will still face fire on this issue since three courses on the Open rota still won't admit women members. Unless Royal Troon ends its ban before the '16 Open, expect this issue to fester.

DENUNZIO: Allowing all-male clubs is akin to allowing the general purchase of automatic weapons. I just don’t see the sense. Plus, golf is hardly gender-specific. It’s a game for everyone.

RITTER: Sure, an all-male membership is fine for many places. But if the club wants to play a prominent, influential role in the game, as most clubs that host majors do, then an all-male membership is a bad look.

SENS: All-male clubs are like one of those bizarre prehistoric fish anglers pull every now and then from the bottom of some brackish estuary. There are still environments for them, but their habitat is shrinking, and when one of them comes gasping, bug-eyed, to the surface you think, ‘Geez, that thing is prehistoric-looking. What is it still doing around?’

PASSOV: Apparently not. Even if there is a legitimate legal foundation for all-male clubs to exist, we're at a critical juncture in golf's growth/survival such that inclusion, not exclusion should be the norm, not the exception.

MORFIT: All-male clubs that wield so much power over the game are not acceptable. This was a change that had to happen for golf to move forward and address all of the other, more intractable problems that plague the game.

VAN SICKLE: All-male clubs will remain alive, I suppose, as long as they keep a low profile, don't try to host any significant tournaments and keep their mouths shut. They're a dying species, somewhat like regular golf clubs.

GODICH: I'd say the R&A answered that question for you.

6. Tiger Woods said this week that he has not made a decision on his next swing coach and might decide to coach himself. Would that be a good move? Why or why not?

SHIPNUCK: Oh, heck yeah he should go solo. And he should skip the driving range for the next year, too, only playing practice rounds but never beating balls. His gift was always shooting the lowest score possible, not playing swing. He needs to rediscover that gift.

MORFIT: Nah, he should just find someone he likes who lives nearby, just to give him one or two things to work on. That's not too hard to do. Before he started working with Butch Harmon last December, Rickie Fowler had the pro at the Medalist, Buddy Antonopoulos, look at his swing. He who would coach himself has a fool for a client.

RITTER: It's tempting to support the no-coach idea as a way for him to get out of his own head and just play golf. But Tiger's had a coach his entire career, and by most accounts, he's a guy who covets constant feedback and needs to know every little thing going on with his swing. Feels like the habit of having a trusted coach on hand would be tough to break.

BAMBERGER: Every elite golfer essentially coaches himself. Tiger needs another set of eyes, as they all do. I'd be looking at Trevino, if I were Tiger. Or somebody who doesn't need the job.

SENS: Assuming he gets healthy, I'd love to see the most physically gifted player of his era put a halt to the all-Urkel, all-the-time analysis and play more by feel. The coach he should hire first is a shrink to help regain the alpha attitude he had before the scandal.

PASSOV: What was it your ex would have said to you when she dumped you: "I need to find out who I am and be on my own for awhile." Hey, it's not the worst thing. Roger Federer went years without a coach. I'm not smart enough to know this answer, but I will say it can't be a bad thing for the guy many call the best player ever to get back in touch with the "feel" part of his swing and just go out and play golf again without talking about it being a "process."

DENUNZIO: If I was Tiger, I wouldn’t address this issue until, say, after Thanksgiving. He’s hurt. He’s in pain. Get healthy, then think about hiring a new coach. He may not need one. A healthy Tiger/Foley swing combo won five times in 2013. If it was indeed the swing that forced the injury, then, sure, Tiger has huge decisions. But he might just need a tweak, and that’s something he can do with minimal or zero outside coaching.

GODICH: It's time for Tiger to go it alone. He's got so many swing thoughts running through his head, it has to be spinning.

VAN SICKLE: Hank Haney's book showed us that we know less about Tiger Woods and how he thinks than we thought. To guess what is best for him is impossible for us. It's up to him. If his body holds up, he's got plenty of good years left. Golf would love to have him back.

LYNCH: He knows his own swing and physical limits better than anyone. Whether at this stage he can still remember his own swing -- and not the one he's been using for four years -- is another matter.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.

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