After two decades of European dominance in the Ryder Cup, the Americans have created a task force to figure out why they keep losing.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were among 11 players, captains and PGA of America officials who were appointed to the “Ryder Cup Task Force” that will look at everything from qualifications to captain’s picks and even practice schedules during the matches.
Europe has won the Ryder Cup eight of the last 10 times, including a comfortable victory last month at Gleneagles that was remembered as much for Mickelson indirectly criticizing U.S. captain Tom Watson’s leadership style in the closing press conference.
“This is a great step by the PGA to accomplish what we all want — to win the Ryder Cup,” Woods said in a statement issued Tuesday by the PGA of America.
Woods has played on only one winning team in his seven Ryder Cup appearances. Mickelson (10 appearances) and Jim Furyk (nine) have played on only two winning teams. The other players are Steve Stricker, an assistant captain at Gleneagles, and Rickie Fowler, who has yet to win a match in his two Ryder Cups.
The former captains are Davis Love III (2012), Tom Lehman (2006) and Raymond Floyd (1989). None captained a winning team.
The previous two Ryder Cups were decided by one point, including Medinah in 2012 when Europe rallied from a 10-6 deficit behind impeccable putting. Justin Rose sank a 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole in singles and Ian Poulter made five straight birdies in a momentum-turning fourballs match Saturday afternoon.
PGA President Ted Bishop, saying he was tired of losing, picked Watson to be captain for Gleneagles. Watson had not been to a Ryder Cup since he was captain of the last U.S. team that won in Europe in 1993, and at 65 he was the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history.
The move backfired. Watson appeared to be out of touch at Gleneagles. The Ryder Cup ended with an awkward news conference in which Mickelson — beside Watson — praised the success of Paul Azinger in 2008 in the most recent U.S. victory and suggested that Watson didn’t embrace that winning formula.
In the aftermath of the loss, various reports painted a picture of a heavy-handed leadership style in the U.S. team that brought even more attention to the loss.
The task force does not include Azinger, who said on Monday it was too soon after the Ryder Cup. Azinger said he has a private meeting already scheduled with the PGA of America within the next month.
The co-chairs are PGA chief executive Pete Bevacqua and Derek Sprague, next in line to be PGA president at its annual meeting next month. Paul Levy, the PGA secretary, was the third official appointed to the task force.
Sprague told The Associated Press in Bermuda the task force has people who represent all but two Ryder Cup teams from 1975.
“Back in those days, we were winning,” Sprague said. “The last 20 years have been a real challenge.”
Sprague said the task force would cover the way the captain is selected, how players qualify, how many captain’s picks, when they should be picked, even small details like when the team arrives and the schedule leading to it.
Watson asked the PGA Tour for a week off before Gleneagles. That led to four consecutive FedEx Cup playoff events.
“We heard feedback that wasn’t such a good idea,” Sprague said.
Overlooked in the reaction to the latest American loss was the strength of the European team, which had four of the top five players in the world when the teams were set. Europe had three of the four major champions in Rory McIlroy (British Open, PGA Championship) and Martin Kaymer (U.S. Open).
“I see the negative connotations to it taking away from our victory, but I see the positive side that they’ll have to really have an in-depth look to what they are doing wrong, and try to bring together a recipe that connects,” Graeme McDowell said from the Volvo World Match Play Championship in England.
The PGA of America did not reveal a timetable for when the task force would meet or even what would come out of it. The next captain, typically announced at the PGA annual meeting in November, will not be selected until next year.
“I think we’re naive to think we’re going to perfect a winning process in the next 24 months,” Sprague said. “I think this task force needs to be open to it. If we win in 2016, great. But even if we win, we shouldn’t say the process is perfect. It will be evolving.”