Ryder Cup 2014: What Did the United States Learn?

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Phil Mickelson Ryder Cup PressCan anyone explain to me what the heck happened during the United States team press conference shortly after the conclusion of the 2014 Ryder Cup? It might not be the most memorable press conference in the history of sports, but what happened on Sunday ranks right up there with Allen Iverson’s “Practice?!” presser or the “Playoffs?!” incident featuring ex-Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Mora.

The not-so-subtle exchange between Phil Mickelson and U.S. team captain Tom Watson has been called everything from disrespectful, immature all the way to a flat-out mutiny. It was clear from watching Mickelson – and later Jim Furyk, who needs to add a quarter to the swear jar – that frustrations had reached a boiling point among the team members following another embarrassing loss to the European Team.

Why did Mickelson have to be the one to speak up? Only he and his 11 teammates know for sure; perhaps it was another subtle shot at what a “leader” should do in a situation like that.

What is even more evident, however, is that there is a level of dissention among the ranks within the greater United States Ryder Cup team. Losing has a funny way of doing that to a team. People start pointing fingers. Feelings are bound to get hurt. Even worse, a sense of helplessness creeps in.

Maybe that’s why golf is an individual game?

Say what you may about Tom Watson as the captain for this year’s squad. In his defense – and looking at this from a very high level – the players still have to hit the shots and make the putts. There is no guarantee that had Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson played on Saturday instead of sitting out – a point of contention under the critical public microscope – that they would have won any points for the U.S.

We see this type of armchair head coaching in any sport, and usually after the fact. It’s really easy to point out all the “bad things” that Tom Watson did or didn’t do now that the dust has settled. If the score was flipped, people would be campaigning to have him lead the team for the next 10 years.

Such is the fickle nature of a sport that rests its laurels on individual achievement and history. Golf has a legacy issue, and that should have become abundantly clear to everyone following this year’s matches.

For example, why in the world do U.S. team captains have to be former Ryder Cup players? Do those people suddenly have a new genetic code that makes them good captains? To me, it feels like protecting the integrity and “good ol’ boy” mentality of American golf is more important than putting a captain out there with some sense of coaching a team.

Here’s an idea: reinstitute the player-captain approach that players like Sam Snead and Ben Hogan once used years ago. Would you have trusted Tom Freakin’ Watson on a Scottish golf course? You’re damn right you would have.

Better yet, why do captains have to be golfers at all? Is it really too much to ask to have legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson or NFL coach Bill Belichick lead the team? Talk about two men who have done wonders with teams consisting of strong personalities and egos.

The next Ryder Cup is set to tee off at Hazeltine in 2016. Unless the United States team wants to suffer the same result as they have the last two matches, they will have to think outside of their comfort zone.