It’s been two years since the Press Conference Heard Round the Golf World. In 2014, after enduring another stinging loss to Europe, at Gleneagles, Phil Mickelson questioned Team USA’s Ryder Cup strategy. Phil claimed that no players were involved in any decision making that week, a statement that put Captain Tom Watson on the defensive. Many people lambasted Mickelson for publicly airing grievances, but I applauded his candor. The timing ensured that everyone was aware of the frustration affecting the team. And the result of Phil’s brutal honesty is the Ryder Cup task force, a group comprised of 11 past captains, players and PGA of America leadership figures. The goal? An overhaul of the entire Ryder Cup process—everything from qualification points and captain’s picks deadlines to the selection of the captains themselves. The task force just might be the most pivotal turning point in the event’s history since 1979, when continental Europe was admitted to the competition.
The big difference between Team Europe and Team USA over the last two decades has been the Euros’ vested interest in the outcome of the matches. Why? Because the European Tour is responsible for the proceedings. Thus, it (and its players) benefit from the profits. European players are involved in both selecting their captains and captain’s picks. American players aren’t, and many have even felt that the PGA of America was taking advantage of them. (It’s interesting to note that the Presidents Cup, run by the PGA Tour with player participation, has no such issues. Players are involved every step of the way, and Team USA’s winning record is a testament to the success of that strategy.)
Thankfully, with the task force now in place, the players have what they wanted: a voice. They’re part of the process. Look at how seriously Phil is taking this year’s Ryder Cup—he’s played his butt off to make the team! And Tiger Woods, who used to be a seemingly ambivalent participant, will be a vice captain this year. I sense a much more positive vibe heading into Hazeltine. The players got the involvement they sought. Now they have to justify it with better play.
Who has the edge? I think the U.S. will win, but not because we have better players. It’s because this is the first time in years we’ll have 12 players completely invested in the process. Captain Davis Love III and his team will make informed choices both before and throughout the competition. And that’s exactly how it should be.