Love holds knowledge to rectify ’12 Ryder Cup loss

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – It’s important to get one thing straight in this Ryder Cup business: the captain matters.

For two years, Davis Love III was the proverbial scapegoat for the U.S. team’s inability to close out a Ryder Cup victory at Medinah in 2012, when the Americans squandered a record lead on the final day.

The criticism was fair. Love was the captain of a U.S. juggernaut through the first two days that turned into the Titanic on the last.

Love conceded that he made mistakes, but as Paul McGinley said last week in his first U.S. appearance since a resounding European win at Gleneagles last year, “(The) captaincy is an imperfect science.”

Golf Channel reporter Tim Rosaforte, citing multiple sources, reported Feb. 16 that Love again will captain the Americans in 2016, when the matches go to Minnesota’s Hazeltine National Golf Club. A source close to the U.S. Ryder Cup task force told Golfweek that the report was true. The announcement is expected to be made Feb. 24 during the Honda Classic. Europe could select its captain – Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez are the leading candidates – as soon as Feb. 18.

Last year, Ireland’s McGinley was the prototypical captain for the modern Ryder Cup, calculating every move and contingency plan down to the tiniest details. Victory at Gleneagles was no fluke; it was the product of a solid plan and textbook execution.

Love’s captaincy at Medinah seemed flawless in its own right, at least for two days. A thorough post-game examination revealed flaws that singularly may not have been enough to expose a four-point lead, but taken together eroded it and eventually allowed the Europeans to overcome the largest lead the U.S. has taken into Sunday singles in the past 16 Ryder Cups.

Just 48 hours after the 2012 Ryder Cup concluded, Love knew the mistakes he made. He fixated on them during his flight from Chicago to Las Vegas, where he teed it up in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open just four days later.

For one, Love knew he erred in putting rookies Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson out in the first two matches. Though they played well as a team during the first two days, they still were rookies.

When Love got the call that the two were struggling, he knew he needed to get out to them for moral support. As part of tradition, however, Love was back at the first tee, taking pictures with each paring.

By the time the last group had teed off, Watson’s and Simpson’s matches were too far gone. Luke Donald defeated Watson, 2 and 1, and Poulter took down Simpson, 2 up.

“Should have done something different Sunday when we got started,” Love said at the recent Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, in discussing a second chance at a Ryder Cup captaincy. “I should have been on the golf course with them. All these little things you start thinking I could have done better if I had been thinking more about leadership.”

Love was the perfect leader when it came to building an advantage. Once he had it, he lost his edge.

The discussion that Saturday night in the U.S. team room was more about popping champagne corks 24 hours later than acknowledging that the Europeans remained a viable force.

When the scoreboard turned to a sea of blue in Sunday’s singles matches, neither Love nor the U.S. team was prepared for the European onslaught.

One former U.S. captain called that team meeting a kumbaya moment, and one of the worst decisions made by a captain.

McGinley faced a similar situation in Scotland. After two successful days of matches put the Europeans up 10-6, the Irishman told his players Saturday night that they no longer were paired together. McGinley wanted each man to revert to the mindset for how he plays the other 50 weeks a year, caring only about himself and his game. No high fives to teammates. Instead, buckle down and get the job done.

McGinley knew that the U.S. side would come out swinging and that the board could easily see a red wave early, but he explained to his players that they would need to be strong enough to overcome the initial onslaught.

Most of the photos, sayings and displays in the European team room had been designed with that Saturday team meeting in mind.

Sunday was close to what McGinley predicted. The U.S. surged, but McGinley’s team stopped the initial onslaught and the U.S. had nothing after that. The Europeans won, 16 1/2 – 11 1/2. After last year’s European victory, the U.S. leads the series, 25-13-2, though the Americans have lost eight of the past 10 in the biennial series.

“We were a very strong unit,” McGinley said of his 2012 team. “You can talk all you want about whatever happened with the American team. He said this and he did this. Whatever you want to do there. The big picture – the big, big picture – is Europe was a very formidable force.”

In the Ryder Cup task-force meeting, a discussion of past experiences from others in the room helped Love learn how he mishandled Saturday night.

“We were just a little bit off at Medinah, and I learned – I don’t want to tell you what’s going on with the task force, but what I learned in there was all the things that I didn’t do right,” Love said. “Like, Holy cow, that makes sense. Why didn’t I talk to that guy? Why didn’t I have that guy in the room? Why didn’t I have this guy in the room? Why wasn’t I surrounded with former captains?

Love knows what he did wrong, which makes him the perfect pick to rectify the situation at Hazeltine National Golf Club in 2016.

“I think this next team is going to have to be an attitude shift,” Love said. “We’re going to have to be a little bit more into the process and not think about the results, past or present, future. So it’s going to be a tough job, I think, for whoever, the 14 or 15 guys, players and captains the next time, just trying to block everything out.”

Even McGinley, if he were to captain the European side again, would handle Hazeltine differently then Gleneagles.

“If I was captain again in Minnesota, examination paper would be completely different and I would be looking at things in a different perspective,” McGinley said. “But I was basing my captaincy around the examination paper that we were going to face: weather conditions, pin positions, all the things that we have statistical analysis on over the last 10 years.”

The captaincy is an imperfect science, but when Love is named as the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain next week, he will have a much better handle on the job than when he was named the captain at Medinah.

Now let’s see what he does with that knowledge.

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