Stillwater News Press

Sports Columns

October 1, 2012

Elmquist: Americans missing the mark in Ryder Cup

STILLWATER, Okla. — Sunday witnessed one of the worse collapses in all of sports — and THE worst of its sport with the United States team succumbing to the Europeans in the Ryder Cup in Medinah, Ill., just outside of Chicago.

While it was a collective team collapse, the title of worst collapse would have to go to Jim Furyk, captain’s pick. Making the choke, er collapse, worse was the fact that it wasn’t that his opponent had anything to do with it — it was all Furyk, and his mental stability, or lack there of.

Backing off a putt once is nature, but when you’ve stepped back a fourth time — drawing heckles from the opposing fans — you have gone in your own head and psyched yourself out. While he didn’t do it another laughable four times on 18, Furyk backed off his par putt attempt twice. At which point, I knew there truly was no hope. I said out loud, “He’s going to miss this. He’s too nervous. It’s over.” And just like his putt on the 17th green, he played for too much break and sent it right of the hole.

There’s no knowing if guys like Hunter Mahan or Rickie Fowler would have done better. Two years ago, put in the unfair position as the closer, Mahan struggled to a 3-and-1 loss — which ultimately gave the Ryder Cup victory to the Europeans — in his rookie try.

But in the two years since that heartbreaking singles experience — which came after a respectable 1-1 record in the foursomes — Mahan has shown moxie. It was in this calendar year that Mahan went toe-to-toe with the World’s No. 1 golfer, Rory McIlroy, and beat him for the Accenture Match Play Championship. He followed that up with his fifth career PGA Tour victory at the Shell Houston Open.

While arguments were made for his “struggles” late in the golf season — missing the cut at the PGA Championship, the season’s fourth major — the same could have been said about Furyk, who was chosen by U.S. captain Davis Love III over the likes of Mahan. In the final round of the Tour Championship — sometimes considered golf’s fifth major — Furyk crumbled more than grandma’s homemade cookies.

Adversely, Mahan proved that Love made a massive mistake that quite possibly led to the colossal collapse in Chicago. In Mahan’s final round of the Tour Championship, he tied for the best round of the day with a 4-under to shoot up the leaderboard into the top 10.

The choke (so many people are thinking it, but avoid using the word) performance of Furyk just a week prior in the Tour Championship proved to be a two-week occurrence And for the U.S. team, proved to be costly.

Yes, Furyk could say he earned one point for the Americans this year — though it came in foursome play with his teammate being Brandt Snedeker, who beat Furyk at the Tour Championship. And yes, he wasn’t the only captain’s pick to prove to be pointless for the Americans — Steve Stricker, the oldest golfer in the event went 0-4-0 for the weekend.

But with the U.S. team needing him to clinch his match against Sergio Garcia — who doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being the most mentally stable golfer at times — Furyk blew a 1-up lead needing to only halve one of his last two holes to give U.S. a chance.

At a certain point, the U.S. is going to have to realize the Ryder Cup isn’t for the good ol’ boys. It seems every time the event roles around the U.S. captain is picking a buddy to join the team — instead of looking to better the team. The Europeans are out for blood, not the buddy system. The Americans have no chance of reclaiming the cup and equaling the dominance of the Euros until the good ol’ boys make way for the talented up-and-comers who are just as determined to prove themselves as the European counterparts.

Perhaps the U.S. team, which still boasts just one Ryder Cup win in the last six events, needs to a take a page out of NASCAR’s Chase to the Cup. The “coach’s picks” being similar to the wild card spots — going to the competitors with the most wins in the season.

While it wouldn’t be an exact science, at least it would give the U.S. team a better shot having golfers on the team whom have been good in the current year — instead of the past, as is the case with Furyk and Stricker. After all, the European team boasted four of the top five golfers in the World Golf Rankings. It’s hard to beat a behemoth with a marshmallow (Furyk) shooter.

Sports editor Jason Elmquist can be reached at jelmquist@stwnewspress.com.

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