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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Solution to U.S. Ryder Cup woes: Play better

Tom Watson walks up to the fourth tee

Tom Watson walks up to the fourth tee box during the first day of the British Open Golf championship at the Royal Liverpool golf club in Hoylake, England, Thursday July 17, 2014. Photo Credit: AP / Scott Heppell

Now that the floor apparently is open for suggestions, here is a task for that new American Ryder Cup Task Force: find a way to remind the players just who it was that missed all the putts, made all the bad shots, failed in the clutch and lost yet another match to the Europeans.

The caterwauling and hand-wringing after the latest drubbing at Gleneagles in Scotland led this week to the PGA of America naming a blue-ribbon panel to study why the U.S. has lost eight of the past 10 Ryder Cups. The 11-member group would be doing a great public service if it meets, deliberates and calls it a day after offering this solution: Play better.

That would be a dramatic change. Amazingly, the golfers are the only ones who have not been blamed for the latest Ryder Cup disaster. As far as the golf world is concerned, the defeat last month was all the fault of captain Tom Watson and the PGA of America officials who chose him.

Fred Couples, a victorious Presidents Cup captain, said on his SiriusXM radio show Tuesday night that the players need to have faith in the captain and "they didn't really have that with Watson." Paul Azinger, who might have let slip once or twice that he is the last American captain to have won the Ryder Cup, said on Golf Channel Wednesday "there is a disconnect" between the PGA of America and the players. Two guesses as to whom he blames for that.

None of the golf cognoscenti point out that the real disconnect at the Ryder Cup is the one between the American golfers and their skills.

That is because Phil Mickelson created the debate and instantly won it. At a humility-less losers' news conference at Gleaneagles, Mickelson put the dunce cap and villain's horns completely on Watson.

Mickelson questioned why the U.S. has not continued the "pod" system-tightly knit units within the team-that succeeded for Azinger in 2008 and for Couples at Presidents Cups. And he bemoaned that the players had no voice in decisions this year. He insisted he was just trying to be helpful.

He sold it. Aside from Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee, who ripped Mickelson's selfishness, pretty much everyone who did a Ryder Cup postmortem sided with Lefty. Even the PGA of America bought it, and named Mickelson to the task force. From this peanut stand, though, his words sounded like the rant of someone who was miffed at being benched Saturday. Notice that he never waxed nostalgic about pods in 2010 and 2012, after losses under Corey Pavin and Mickelson's buddy Davis Love III.

Nor were his comments consistent with the sportsmanship that sustains the Ryder Cup and golf in general. Hal Sutton did not throw Mickelson under the bus in 2004 for undermining his captaincy by deciding the Ryder Cup would be a nice time to try entirely new equipment.

Anyway, Mickelson's argument is flawed. Citing the Presidents Cup was a canard. Comparing the Presidents Cup to the Ryder Cup is like comparing the Maui Invitational to the Final Four.

Laughably ironic was Mickelson's complaint about not having input with Watson. The reason Watson got the job was because the players -- Mickelson in particular -- had too much input at Medinah in 2012. Remember how the U.S. had the Cup all but wrapped up on Saturday, before Mickelson insisted that he and red-hot Keegan Bradley sit out the afternoon session so they could rest for the Sunday singles. Against his better judgment, Love agreed. Mickelson and Bradley both lost their singles matches and the U.S. committed one of the great collapses in Ryder Cup history.

So the PGA switched from Davis Love to tough love. It didn't work. Watson was not a good captain. But his players were the ones who lost.

If these millionaires say the only way they can win is to be made to feel like cozy peas in a pod -- while being treated like royalty at the Ryder Cup -- it doesn't say much for them. Still, if anyone insists the greatest need is a strong, respected leader, I've got just the answer. Make Tiger Woods the player/captain.

It would be a fresh challenge for Woods, who needs challenges (notwithstanding his membership on the task force). It would help restore his image with the American public. It would appeal to the patriotism of a Green Beret's son. It would finally solve Woods' Ryder Cup dilemma of trying to be one of the guys. Truth is, he isn't just one of the guys. He is among them but above them, a sports icon.

Woods would get Azinger's and Couples' support. He is the man who finally could hold the players accountable. One in particular.


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