Four of Europe’s Ryder Cup winning team are playing in the Dunhill Links and at dutched odds of about 5/2 they must be layed in combination. Celebrations went long in to the night and playing golf competitively is probably the last thing on the mind of Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Victor Dubuisson and Stephen Gallacher.
Phil Mickelson could have been more diplomatic and discreet but his barbs were clearly aimed at Tom Watson. The US captain seemed detached and lacking passion. The impression from the outside was that he tried to inspire his players by merely being Tom Watson and not a supportive leader of the team.
Europe have now won eight of the last ten Ryder Cups and the last three. On world rankings the US had the stronger team but at no point other than at lunchtime on Saturday did they look like winning. The Europeans to a man praised Paul McGinley while none of the Americans seemed to have a good word to say about Watson.
The art of captaincy and leadership in the Ryder Cup was again proved to be more than about player reputation. In terms of titles and ability McGinley could not tie Watson’s golf shoes laces. However, he proved to be a much better captain and leader of 12 golfers from different countries and backgrounds.
Mickelson publicly questioned Watson’s captaincy and though it was the wrong time and place his observations were valid. He has every right as a ten time Ryder Cup player to express his opinions but his comments should have been made in private. However, there is no doubt Watson made some poor decisions and his body language and demeanour was not positive.
Even before play began Watson’s selection of Webb Simpson over Chris Kirk was a bad call. He compounded that error by not having enough vice-captains on the course and only one namely Steve Stricker is still playing on the PGA Tour. He could have redeemed himself by letting Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed build on their start on Friday but rested them in the afternoon when a tired Mickelson and Keegan Bradley were selected.
In contrast McGinley thought of everything in terms of pairings and playing schedules and also in the minor details in the locker room and team room. Even the fish in the tank were yellow and blue. Europe have had some great captains in recent times but McGinley might just be the best. He developed camaraderie and a bond between players from an individual sport into a team context and this was something Watson could not or would not grasp.
Darren Clarke looks the most likely European captain for the next Ryder Cup in 2016. McGinley will not have a role as he believes he has made the natural progression from player to vice-captain to captain. Watson is unlikely to be part of the US team. Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo both failed as Ryder Cup captains which shows playing ability does not count for everything in the context of the role.
When the States always won the Ryder Cup there was very little interest. It only got interesting when players from continental Europe were added to the mix. Severiano Ballesteros inspired a continent to take on and beat the Yanks. There is now a danger that interest will wane in America as they cannot win it. That is why Mickelson’s views though made in the wrong environment are perfectly valid. Paul Azinger may be called back into the fold as Mickelson clearly liked his approach to captaining the United States in the Ryder Cup.
McIlroy ultimately had a great Ryder Cup setting the tone in the singles by beating Rickie Fowler 5 and 4. Fowler is the great new hope of US golf but knows McIlroy is a better player and looks destined to be a contender but not the winner of too many majors. The US starlet finished in the top five of all four majors this year but McIlroy won two and became the first multiple major champion and Ryder Cup winner in the same year since ironically Tom Watson in 1977.
The world number one likes the format of the Dunhill Links as he gets to partner his Dad in the pro-am. This is a complex tournament played over three courses in the east of Scotland and the only pro-am on the European Tour. Teams of one pro and one amateur play each course in rotation over the first three days. A cut is then made after which the top 60 players and the top 20 amateurs progress to play the final round at St Andrews.
St Andrews has wide open fairways and is the easiest course. The 17th, the road hole, is a legendary tough par 4. There are only two par 3s and par 5s on the par 72 course. Carnoustie is on the Open rota and is a demanding par 72 track especially when the wind blows. Kingsbarns is a highly regarded course that is exposed to the elements with the conventional number of short and long holes in a par of 72.
Inevitably luck can play a big part in this tournament as a player can get the worst of the weather on one day and then find his rivals face the same course in benign conditions just 24 hours later. It is advantageous to play St Andrews on Saturday in round three so that a player can carry forward his feel for the course into the final round, though it is not necessary for victory. The best combination seems to be play Kingsbarns first and then Carnoustie before heading to the Home of Golf for the weekend.
The winning score over the last three years has been 22 under twice and 23 under the other time. That suggests the weather was settled and the tournament developed into a putting contest. However, as with most links courses with wide fairways and tricky greens driving distance and greens in regulation are also key skills. Another factor is the temperament of the individual as rounds can take more than six hours and the amateurs can prove to be a distraction.
The fans would love to see one of the Ryder Cup players win the tournament. However, mental letdown will be a handicap so one of the lesser lights of the European Tour can enjoy some time in the spotlight and the healthy winner’s cheque. Meanwhile McIlroy may spend some time in the bar with his Dad.