If for some reason you doubt what the Ryder Cup can do, consider what happened Tuesday night in the United States’ team room.
After dinner, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were in a group sitting around a table telling stories. Eventually, the storytelling came around to Woods and Mickelson’s infamous pairing on Friday of the 2004 Ryder Cup matches at Oakland Hills.
To say it did not go well is like saying the Titanic was late arriving.
Woods and Mickelson got smoked – twice in the same day – and the body language between the two came to symbolize their relationship.
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Yet, there they were, sharing their story Tuesday night like they’ve shared phone calls on a daily basis for a few weeks, prepping for this week, Woods a vice captain, Mickelson in his traditional role of team chatterbox.
“Just good stuff,” said Jordan Spieth, who sat and listened.
“They bring the stories that you wish everybody could experience but, at the same time, makes you feel like it’s even more of a special place to be able to hear these stories, from the words of the players that were involved in them and the greats of the game.”
This, to hear captain Davis Love III and everyone outfitted in red, white and blue this week at Hazeltine, is the start of a new era in American Ryder Cup history, an age of Aquarius of sorts.
Having lost eight of the past 10 Ryder Cup competitions, the Americans had nothing to lose when they created a task force nearly two years ago to fix what was badly broken. The result, at least until the competition begins, is more control has been given to the captain and the players while creating an organizational blueprint for the future.
As Mickelson, who brought the frustration forward in the aftermath of the Americans’ loss at Gleneagles two years ago with his sharp criticism of captain Tom Watson, put it, “When players are put in a position to succeed, more times than not, they tend to succeed; and when they are put in positions to fail, most of the time they fail.
“This is a year where we feel as though captain Love has been putting us in a position to succeed. He’s taken input from all parties.”
There are no guarantees, obviously. Four years ago, the U.S. took a four-point lead into the 12 Sunday singles matches at Medinah, needing just solid day to win the cup. Instead, Europe rallied brilliantly to win on Sunday and, two years later after another loss in Scotland, enough was enough.
But is it enough?
Ultimately, it’s about the golf more than the meetings or the planning or the bonding. Four years ago at Medinah, the Europeans made the putts that mattered, as they’ve so often done. At Gleneagles, the drama drained away as the sense of inevitability grew as Europe stalked another win.
This U.S. team is led by Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson. There are only two U.S. Ryder Cup rookies, Brooks Koepka and Ryan Moore, compared with the six first-timers on Darren Clarke’s European team.
Love created a flash point when he said on a radio show this week that this may be the best American team ever assembled. Rory McIlroy joked that the U.S. “certainly has the best task force ever created.”
The point Love was trying to make, he said, was how he would encourage his team, likening his approach to that of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who wants to convince his players they’re better than everyone else.
Meanwhile, Pete Willett, brother of Masters champion Danny Willett, posted a bitter online screed directed at the U.S. side, calling them, among other things, “fat, stupid, greedy, (and) classless,” forcing the Europeans to deal with their own distraction.
Still golf to be played
In the early fall chill Friday morning, the golf will start. Europe has the Masters champion as well as Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson, Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose and FedEx Cup champion McIlroy.
Still, the Americans are favored, though that hasn’t meant much lately.
Asked to paint a picture of what it feels like on the first tee of the Ryder Cup, Spieth said he literally commissioned a painting of himself hitting his first tee shot at Gleneagles two years ago.
He talked about hearing the cheers echoing through the Scottish hills and the pride he took in the shot he hit in that moment. The painting hangs in his Dallas home, the only image of himself in the house.
“I try and look at it every day,” Spieth said.
The Americans lost at Gleneagles like they lost at Medinah and in Wales before that.
“Honestly,” Spieth said, “I think we’re just tired of being told we haven’t won in a while. …We want this one.”
Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.