CHASKA, Minn. — Davis Love III tells the story of returning home in 1997 when the Ryder Cup matches were somewhat out of the mainstream and encountering a neighbor. “He asked me what the Ryder Cup was,” said Davis. “Then he wanted to know how we lost it.”
Most people know the answers to both these days. The Ryder Cup is a biennial competition between teams of professional golfers from the United States and Europe, and America loses it because for most of the past two decades it has been outplayed, Europe winning the last three matches and 10 of the last 12.
“Losing is the great American sin,” wrote John Tunis, who among his work did sports novels. The PGA of America, which manages the U.S. Ryder Cup team, agreed with Tunis, and created a “task force” to prepare for the 41st Ryder Cup, which begins Friday at Hazeltine National Golf Club on the rolling prairieland some 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis.
“We had a franchise that was losing all its games,” said Love, the U.S. captain for a second time, “so we changed the front office and started over. Europe was a little bit more organized than us, a little bit more thinking long term, so we decided to change our game plan.”
Which was to include veteran players, such as the outspoken Phil Mickelson, in preparations, particularly for foursomes, when two teammates play one ball, and four-balls, when two teammates each play a separate ball.
Mickelson berated Tom Watson, captain of the 2014 U.S. team that lost in Scotland, for Watson’s decisions. The first two days, a round of foursomes and four-balls each day, only eight of the 12 golfers compete in each match.
That understood, it basically gets down to who makes the four-foot putt under pressure. In the last three Ryder Cups players such as Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer have made those putts. All three are on this European team, the one golf commentator Johnny Miller a week ago said, because six of the 12 Euros are rookies, “is the worst they’ve had in many years.”
That contrasts with Love’s boast this U.S. squad is “The best golf team ever assembled,” with the added comment, “ . . . If we just go play our game.”
The U.S. team does have U.S. Open champ Dustin Johnson, Mickelson and Jordan Spieth, who in response to a question about why the Americans are in a losing streak said, “We’re tired of being told we haven’t won in a while. I’ve only played on one.”
Mickelson, 46, has played in 11 Ryder Cups, and although his overall record is 16-19-6, the experience — and his personality — have made him the unofficial spokesman for what was wrong and how to make it right. The task force grew from his ideas.
“Phil always has a theory,” said Love.
“Phil being Phil,” summarized Brandt Snedeker.
Will Phil’s theory prove correct? We’ll know Sunday evening.
There are 28 total points available in Ryder Cup play. As defending champion, the European team needs 14 points to retain the Cup. The U.S. needs 14 1/2 points to win the Cup:
n Fourballs: Two-man teams, each player playing his own ball. Each team counts the lowest of its two scores on each hole, and low score wins the hole. If low scores are tied, the hole is halved. Schedule: Four matches Friday, four matches Saturday.
n Foursomes: Two-man teams, each team playing one ball per hole. Players alternate shots until a putt is made. Players also alternate tee shots, with one teeing off on odd-numbered holes, and the other hitting first on even-numbered holes. The team with the low score wins the hole. If their scores are tied, the hole is halved. Schedule: Four matches Friday, four matches Saturday.
n Singles: Each match features one player from each team. The player with the lower score on each hole wins that hole. If their scores are tied, the hole is halved. Schedule: Twelve matches Sunday.