Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
NAME YOUR U.S. MULLIGAN
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: With apologies to SI’s Peter King, welcome to Monday Afternoon Quarterback, Ryder Cup style. We’ve proven that we can bring our A game when it comes to second-guessing, so let’s get right to it. It’s easy to beat up Hunter Mahan for the way he played the 17th, but winning the final two holes against a player the caliber of Graeme McDowell was a tall task. As Phil Mickelson said, “We could look anywhere in those 28 matches to find that half-point.” So find it for me. Name the match, the hole, the approach shot, the putt, whatever, that the Americans would like to have a mulligan on.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Cink had a few down the stretch. Definitely at 17. If he pulls out that match, which McIlroy seemed to be trying to lose on 18, it’s all different. That’s the first one that jumps out at me.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Stewart Cink, 17th hole, four-foot birdie putt. He missed it, and halved his match with McIlroy.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: Cink’s missed putt on 18 that swapped a half-point for a full point against Rory McIlroy, especially after Rory dumped his approach to 18 in the bunker, hurt.
Morfit: On the other hand, it’s worth pointing out that Cink was the only American player who went undefeated at 1-0-3, scoring 2.5 points. He is a very good Ryder Cupper.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Good point, Cam. Remember how everyone criticized Pavin for making Cink a captain’s pick? Experience counts.
Dusek: Jeff Overton didn’t have any experience coming into this Ryder Cup and he was great. Fowler also showed a lot of guts. I think players are either good in the Ryder Cup environment (Ian Poulter) or they aren’t (Phil Mickelson).
Morfit: Overton was a revelation. I’ll never forget that reaction to his hole-out. “Boom, baby!” And it was nice to see him rout Fisher, who it must be said didn’t play particularly well.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: The Molinaris stole a big half point from Kuchar and Cink in that four-ball match. Also, any one of Phil’s matches.
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: It was the spanking that the U.S. Team took on Sunday. They lost all but half a point. That was the deciding day.
Gorant: Farrell is right. Dropping five-and-a-half out of six points in the third session was a total team failure that turned the entire event. Taking it a step further, you could say that it was won on Saturday, since the Euros jumped to big leads in almost every match before play was suspended.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phil’s 0-3 start was my biggest surprise. I figured he and Dustin would be all but invulnerable.
Morfit: I give a lot of credit to Phil and Dustin for bouncing back with singles wins. And while I’m at it, I’d like to say hi to U.S. assistant captain Paul Goydos, a devout PGA Tour Confidential reader who just gave me grief for saying the U.S. had absolutely no shot. Hi, Paul!
Dusek: After getting waxed on Sunday in Foursomes, I had a feeling that Tiger and Stricker were going to come out swinging in singles. Both of their wins were impressive. And it seems like Mickelson — who was none too happy with Johnny Miller about some of his on-air comments — had a little extra fire on Monday.
Gorant: I think Fowler’s performance will stand out, too.
Morfit: Jim Furyk stuck a wedge to four feet on 18 to steal a half point when he was playing with Rickie Fowler in the second session, but, needing to duplicate the feat against Luke Donald on Monday, he dumped his wedge in the right bunker.
Dusek: If Dustin Johnson makes any number of putts on Friday or Saturday you could argue that he makes a positive impact on the overall match. What American fans wanted, what they expected, is what they saw when he crushed Martin Kaymer (who basically rolled over).
Godich: The half-point that the Molinari brothers stole in the last match on the 18th hole on Saturday was huge as well. Huge psychological difference being two points down instead of three.
Hack: More than any shot, I’ll remember how shattered Hunter Mahan was during his presser. He could hardly speak. Felt for him.
Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Golf.com: Like Gary said in his column, that chip was a Hail Mary anyway. He didn’t even get the pass past the line of scrimmage, but his chances of scoring there were very slim. Hopefully he can take some solace in that.
Dusek: I thought it was wonderful how Mickelson swooped in to protect Mahan, who was overcome with emotion. And Cink’s comments of support were also great to hear. I’m not sure if only 10% of the players on Tour would mean it if they said they’d want to be in Mahan’s position, but the fact that everyone circled the wagons around Mahan was good to see.
Evans: Mahan is being too hard on himself. I think he’s more embarrassed about that flubbed chip shot than he is that he got beaten by the U.S. Open winner who played well all day and made a bunch of putts.
THE FUTURE OF THE U.S. TEAM
Godich: And what does this Ryder Cup portend for the U.S.?
Hanger: I think the future is bright for the U.S. That was great experience for our rookies, who played very well. Get a healthy Anthony Kim back in the mix, and they could be a force.
Gorant: Chicago in October is no guarantee for nice weather either. But there will be big crowds, lots of chanting and Davis Love with the ear piece and golf cart. Hard to say who’ll be playing well then, but it’s possible to see Phil and Tiger getting sentimental about the thing as they move into the back halves of their careers. U.S. Wins 16-12. Write it down.
Herre: I was impressed by a couple of the young guys on the U.S. Team — Fowler and Overton. We’re going to need to find a few more of them, as we’re getting kind of old.
Reiterman: Both teams have plenty to be excited about. Europe won without Casey, Rose, Karlsson, Stenson and Quiros to name a few. U.S. can counter with Kim, J.B., O’Hair, Glover, Watney and maybe another run from Justin Leonard.
Dusek: I think the United States is in better shape now than we gave it credit for a few weeks ago. Fowler, Kim, Dustin Johnson, Overton, the Chicago crowd … there’s reason for optimism at Medinah.
Evans: Of course there is reason for optimism. The U.S has more than enough good players to field a competitive team for the next five Ryder Cups.
Godich: It’s no secret that the short game isn’t Hunter Mahan’s strength. He’s 118th on the PGA Tour in putting and 91st in scrambling. Who might have been better suited to slot there?
Morfit: Tiger Woods. Although there was absolutely no way to have known he would do what he did. Seven birdies and an eagle? Uh, that’ll do it.
Herre: Maybe Phil would have been a good choice to go last.
Dusek: Monty not only had the luxury of front-loading with Westwood, Donald and McIlroy, but he could save an ace for the final spot because he had the lead. I’m not sure Pavin had that luxury. Until today, Phil hadn’t shown anything.
Godich: Great point, Dave. I would’ve considered Furyk, but he didn’t exactly exude confidence with the way he played in his first two sessions.
Reiterman: Maybe Zach Johnson would have been a better choice, but Pavin didn’t have too many options. That’s what’s hard about coming from behind. You need the best guys out there early to give you any chance for a rally.
Gorant: The anchor position is tough, because if you put Tiger or Phil back there and the Cup is decided before their match concludes, everyone says, “How could you go down with your best bullets still in the chamber?” No easy answer.
John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I’ve always thought you should anchor with a player whose career can’t be defined by a Ryder Cup failure — i.e., a multiple major-championship winner or a previous Ryder Cup star. That would be someone like Mickelson or Harrington or Westwood, even if they’re not on top of their games. Put the load on somebody who can handle it.
Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: You need a Rivera in the closing spot (and the opening spot). Experienced and clutch.
Hack: But that’s the exactly point. The U.S. didn’t have a Rivera.
Dusek: And Monty had more Riveras at his disposal than Pavin did. You want to put Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champ, in the 12-spot, fine. But do I have more faith in Zach winning against Graeme McDowell? Not really.
WHO REALLY WANTS THE PRESSURE?
Godich: Moving on, Stewart Cink said that every player talks about wanting to be in the anchor position, in Hunter Mahan’s shoes, with the chance to win the Ryder Cup, but that only a few guys really mean it. Agree?
Gorant: I think so. It’s like saying “we really wanted to win for our captain” and saying that the fans were really knowledgeable and fair. You say it because it’s one of those things that you’re supposed to say, it’s expected, but it doesn’t mean you really believe it.
Hanger: I think the guy who truly wants to have the last shot to win the Cup, and wouldn’t rather quietly knock off the 10th or 11th point on the way to a team victory, is rarer than rare. That’s Michael Jordan or Wayne Gretzky or Joe Montana or Tiger Woods. Ain’t many people who would truly ask for that given the choice. Not to say many couldn’t pull off the shot, but who’d volunteer?
Lipsey: By trying to help his pal, Cink added fuel to the fire for Mahan, adding more spotlight to the gaffe. The fact is, the Cup was down to one match and Mahan choked with the flubbed chip. Had he holed the chip, maybe the U.S. would’ve won and everybody would be calling Mahan a hero. In the Super Bowl, if somebody drops a pass in the last minute to lose the game, they look at that pass as the cause, not what happened for the previous 59 minutes.
Hanger: If he’d have holed his chip, it would have been Larry Mize chipping in to win the Masters. Missing as bad as he did showed nerves, no question, but it would have been a miracle.
Godich: I have a bigger problem with Mahan’s tee shot. He’s got to put the ball on the green, give himself a chance to make birdie. When he came up short, the match was essentially over.
Gorant: Yep, once he came up short you knew he was cooked. His strength is iron play, and if he was too tight to hit a solid one off the tee, he had no chance on the chip.
Hack: Agree with the sentiment, but not the percentage. Ten percent seems a little low for a professional golfer. But, then again, maybe he knows something we don’t.
Herre: Agree. That’s why I think Mickelson might have been a good choice to go last — he would’ve embraced and relished the opportunity.
Hanger: Ok, I hate it when people make war analogies in sports, but it’s a little like charging onto the beach out of that landing craft in the No. 1 position. Most would rather be in the middle of the pack and get the glory later. Most times, the guy in front didn’t choose to be there. It just worked out that way.
CAPTAIN PAVIN: FIT FOR DUTY?
Godich: What do we think about the job of U.S. captain Corey Pavin, and how much influence do we think captains really have on the outcome of the Ryder Cup?
Hanger: You can’t put this on the captains, win or lose. No matter who they paired or when they put them off, you can find nits to pick. Twenty-eight matches, thousands of shots, and the U.S. lost by a point to a team that everyone thought was a massive favorite. That sounds like good coaching to me.
Morfit: I’d go with a whole lot of actual shots before I looked at Pavin.
Lipsey: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. The Americans lost. The captain led a losing team.
Herre: In the final analysis, this Ryder Cup will be remembered for two things: Sunday’s big day by the Euros and Monty out-captaining Corey Pavin. As they say, players win the Ryder Cup and captains lose it.
Hanger: They should stop saying that. Also, I think American fans will remember it for the comeback that nearly was.
Garrity: I agree with Jim’s point about players winning the Ryder Cup, but not the part about captains losing it. If you believe the latter, it means that Corey is a far better captain than Monty on weekdays, but Colin is unbeatable on weekends. The big shifts in momentum support my long-held contention that the captains are not the story.
Herre: But the captain always gets blamed for the loss, with the possible exception of 1991, when everyone blamed Bernhard Langer.
Hanger: But that doesn’t mean they should get blamed.
Garrity: The fact that the captain always gets blamed for the loss actually supports my position that it’s just knee-jerk scapegoating. The losing captain is ALWAYS portrayed as a cluck, the winning captain is ALWAYS hailed as a genius. (Ian Woosnam?!!) When both captains are brilliant or when both captains suck, you still end up with one “fearless leader” and one dope.
Herre: Goes with the territory, and they know it.
Hanger: Jim’s right that they know it, and that it’s inevitable. I’m just saying it’s not right.
Dusek: Then for a U.S. captain, what’s the allure of the job? If you win, it’s because the players execute well. If you lose, then you were a bad captain.
Herre: Good question, David. I guess because it’s such a small fraternity. You always hear how when the past captains get together, the RC is all they talk about. It has to be a truly unique experience.
Hack: The allure is the status and the competition. They have gray hair. Their best playing days are behind them. It’s a feather. Or a dagger.
Gorant: As I recall, Azinger managed to make the ’08 win all about himself. Still riding it, too.
Dusek: Fair enough … but I still think it’s the horses in the race, not the jockey.
Morfit: That does it, I’m blaming Bernhard Langer for today’s loss by the U.S.
Evans: Pavin did a good job. He was under a lot of pressure after Zinger’s performance in ’08 to be a commanding leader with great tactical skills. And it’s not like Monty was Patton. He just let his guys play.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: If Monty was Patton, we’d all be speaking German. Seriously, Monty was a good captain but so was Pavin. His captain’s picks played well and his players showed a lot of resiliency. Even his Overton/Bubba gamble paid off.
Hack: The Ryder Cup captain is the least consequential “coach” in sports. He doesn’t call for a squeeze bunt or tell his players to play man-to-man or zone or nickel or dime. Monty didn’t help Graeme make that putt on 16 anymore than Corey caused Hunter to flub that chip on 17. At the end of the day, it’s about the players and the putts.
Dusek: Athletes who execute well make their coaches look brilliant.
Gorant: I think with the format change, the captains played a smaller role than ever. After the first session, there wasn’t much to it. Other than, you know, buying rain gear that was actually waterproof.
Morfit: Even the rain gear story was stupid and overblown. It just showed what an inferiority complex the U.S. has developed over the last 15 years.
Herre: The U.S. should feel inferior. One win in Europe in almost 30 years? C’mon.
Morfit: One more thought on Pavin. We have absolutely no idea what he was like in the team room. He has a very odd relationship with the press, once bringing his own tape recorder to an interview, which might be one reason why he turned into robo-captain on the dais.
Dusek: Cameron makes a good point. Pavin was stern in front of the cameras all week, but we’ve got no idea what he was like in the team room. And if he doesn’t present himself as genuine (whatever that is) in front of the team, they won’t accept his message as well. Pavin had to be Pavin just like Monty had to be Monty. And since Colin is more quotable, he won the media battle.
Lipsey: The Euros all said how badly they wanted to win for Monty. He rallied them in the months leading up to Wales and during the event. Say what you want about Monty and Ryder Cup captains, but Monty had his charges fired up.
Hanger: It’s a chicken-or-egg argument, Rick. Were they fired up because they cleaned house Saturday evening and Sunday, or did they clean house because they were fired up? Sure, I think Monty was great and inspirational, but I think Pavin inspired a lot of loyalty in his troops as well.
Garrity: If it’s a chicken-or-egg argument, I choose chicken. You don’t win because you’re more fired up than your opponent. You simply look more passionate because you get to pump your arm like crazy and bare your teeth when your chip shot rattles in.
Gorant: Yeah, and they wanted to win for Seve, and for Sergio and for a million other “reasons.” That “we wanted it for our captain” blather is mostly lip service.
THE NEXT CAPTAINS
Godich: Since the captains were such a hot topic, who leads the two teams at Medinah in 2012?
Hanger: I want Jimenez as the Euros’ playing captain.
Lipsey: Davis Love has to be the favorite to be captain.
Reiterman: Love for the U.S., Clarke or Olazabal for Europe.
Lipsey: Clarke. Ollie is too reserved, uncomfortable in the public eye and with the media. SI once sent a writer to Ollie’s home in Spain, and he refused to open his front door.
Godich: Ollie would do it in a heartbeat.
Hanger: Maybe we could get someone totally unqualified for both captains’ jobs so we could once and for all figure out if the captains matter. I’m thinking John Daly for the U.S.
Herre: Charlie, are you sleep-deprived?
Hanger: Little bit.
Lipsey: Daly does have two majors, twice as many as Pavin
Evans: Golf Magazine’s Top 100 Teachers overwhelmingly pick Davis Love III for the U.S. Job. Olazabal has to be the guy for the Europeans. His playing days are done.
Herre: I’d take Zinger in a heartbeat but think the PGA will probably go with Love.
Reiterman: I know it won’t happen, but I would love to see Zinger and Monty go at it for the next two or three Ryder Cups.
Dusek: Love and Olazabal makes a lot of sense. It just doesn’t seem like Mark O’Meara is going to get a captaincy and I think the Europeans would be wise to save Darren Clarke for their next home match.