Column by Ken Cohen
With the Ryder Cup starting today, it’s a good bet some of my ignorant colleagues in the golf media will blame Davis Love III or Jose Olazabal for losing the matches because of their pairings or lineups. Such a narrow-minded criticism simply reveals how little they know about playing high-level, competitive golf (because they never have).
The writers and commentators have done it in the past with Curtis Strange and Tom Lehman as they have for Patty Sheehan’s during the Solheim Cup. They hone in on won-loss records of players and think they are reliable statistics. They’re not. To be honest, they are meaningless when it comes to match play, especially fourball and foursome matches. As anyone knows who has competed in a match-play event, the draw can mean everything. All you have to do is look at some of the winners of the Match Play Championship guys like journeymen Jeff Maggert and Kevin Sutherland. In an 18-hole match against a designated opponent, anything can and usually does happen. You can run into a hot player and be gone after 15 holes. That doesn’t happen in 72-hole stroke play tournaments.
When you factor in partners in foursome and fourball matches, again how you play might not determine who wins or loses. You can play well and lose or play lousy and win. It depends on your partner and whom you’re playing. There’s a reason Tiger Woods has a mediocre won-loss record in the Ryder and President’s Cups. It’s not because he doesn’t care or is not a team player that’s stupid. He’s simply had some bad days, bad draws or bad partners. Does that mean you wouldn’t play Tiger Woods? Of course not. So let’s put an end to any talk about won-loss records in the Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup. They are baseless and misleading.
On to the singles lineup. To me it shouldn’t matter who plays when or against whom. Again, it’s the draw and how players play that dictate the results. So what if a captain stacks the top of his lineup with his best players as has become custom in recent years. They still have to play well or at least better than their opponent. And that’s what it ultimately comes down to, as does any competition. The media seems to think that sending certain players out early or late can change the results. I don’t get that. Yes, there are huge momentum swings in the Ryder Cup and early victories in the singles can carry over to other matches. But truthfully, these are world-class players who should be able to stay in the moment and check their emotions.
What I would like to see changed is the singles format. Specifically the way the matches are sent out. My ultimate suggestion is to send all 12 matches out at once in a shotgun format. That way every match counts equally and none are influenced by previous results. If that is not feasible, then at least send six matches off the front and six matches off the back, thus eliminating the two-hour time difference between the first and last match. There’s no reason a match should not “count” because it goes off last. The matches should come down to the players, not the order the matches are played. This would also avert the possibility of one person having the whole Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup come down on his or her shoulders as it did with Bernhard Langer at Kiawah Island in 1991. That’s not the spirit of the “Cups” and no person should endure that kind of pressure. It could literally ruin a career.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.