Now that the champagne haze has cleared and the patriotic chants have begun subsiding, it’s time to take a break from the celebration and bask in the pleasures of something just as sweet.
Ahhh, relief. Let it sink in.
With their rollicking run to victory at Hazeltine this weekend, the Americans not only wrested a coveted gold trophy from European control, they also freed themselves—and their fans—from the weight of expectations, not to mention two more years of agonizing questions, most of which would have boiled down to this:
So, what’s next, fellas? Any brilliant plans left in your playbook, aside from funding research into cloning Patrick Reed?
Desperate times bring desperate measures, and in the recent stretch of United States Ryder Cup frustration, no one seemed more frenzied in their search for answers than American golf’s powers-that-be.
First, they tacked on an additional captain’s pick, while stretching out the deadline for their selection. Then they established a Ryder Cup task force, an illustrious body whose prime purpose often appeared to be to serve as a lightning rod for ridicule. When, this summer, that same task force hired a team of Moneyball-style quants to help U.S. captain Davis Love formulate a strategy, the truth seemed plain and painful: not since the Soviets spooked us with Sputnik had this country been so freaked out by an overseas’ success.
Snatching the Cup back from the Europeans had taken on the urgency of beating the Ruskies to the moon.
As if the matches themselves weren’t pressure enough.
In the wake of Sunday’s win, that pressure has been lifted (like we said: phew!), and the once-mocked task force is now being talked about in lofty terms, elevated by the American players and the press into something of a Ryder Cup star. That’s understandable.
It’s a redemptive narrative, easy to latch on to. And it dovetails nicely with the kind of can-do stories we Americans like to tell about ourselves: dag-gummit, when the chips were down, we rolled up our sleeves and put our heads together to thwart the opposition through good old-fashioned hard work and ingenuity.
A realist might note here that the Ryder Cup brain trust didn’t beat the Europeans. A better team did, a team whose roster looked stronger on paper and turned out to be just that once play began. Though its task-force sanctioned captain’s picks performed nicely enough, they were not the heart and soul of the U.S. squad.
If you’re looking for a lesson from this year’s competition, it’s not that stats and back-room meetings matter. Not in the match-play cauldron of the Ryder Cup. What counts is timely putting. It also helps to have a psyche built for match-play, and to have a home crowd making lots of noise behind you, all the more so when they’re rooting for alphas on their A-games like Phil Mickelson and that bulldog Reed.
Davis Love himself distilled the matter nicely. A task force member, he’d done plenty of number -crunching, and had sat in on a zillion strategic planning sessions. But when asked what he’d gleaned along the way, his answer wasn’t wonky or coldly analytic. The key, he said, was “having fun.”
All we need to know about the Ryder Cup, we learned in kindergarten. We didn’t need a task force to tell us that.
Love’s European counterpart, Darren Clarke, was similarly folksy in his Sunday night philosophizing. Though he confessed to being “bitterly disappointed” at the loss, he looked and sounded far from shattered. His team, he said, had played quite well. They had given it their all, and that was all, he added, that he could have asked of them.
On the flip side, there are questions that they might ask of him.
As with Monday morning quarterbacking, everybody loves to be a Monday morning caddy. And the European captain is already up against a slew of second-guessing across the pond. Was it wise for Clarke to sit four of his six Ryder Cup rookies in the Friday morning session, the golf equivalent of freezing your own kickers? Did he make the right move by breaking up the Spanish duo of Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello? And what about Lee Westwood? Did friendship cloud Clarke’s better judgment when he chose the struggling veteran as one of his captain’s picks?
We could go on. And rest assured, Clarke’s critics will. Not that anyone is apt to lose much sleep. When it comes down to it, the European contingent seems less inclined than the Americans to engage in anguished Ryder Cup reflection.
It’s just one loss. They’re a long way from the brink of desperation. Then again, time flies, and momentum changes quickly. The 2018 Ryder Cup will be upon us in an eye-blink, at Le Golf National, outside Paris. The Americans will be there, loaded with young talent, and relieved of a most unpleasant burden. The Europeans better be ready.
How do you say “task force” en Francais?