Love selection is the ‘Mulligan in Minnesota’
LOS ANGELES (AP) — For the Americans in the Ryder Cup, one step forward means two steps back.
It’s still progress.
Davis Love III is to be introduced next week as captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, which should sound familiar. He was captain in 2012 when the ship struck an iceberg named Ian Poulter, who sparked Europe to the biggest comeback by a visiting team in the 85-year history of the event.
That was either the “Meltdown at Medinah” or the “Miracle of Medinah” depending on the colors of the flag.
Now we have the “Mulligan in Minnesota.”
The decision to bring back a captain is not unprecedented, and it’s not a bad one.
Love pushed all the right buttons in 2012 at Medinah as the Americans took a 10-6 lead into the final day. He was criticized for not playing Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a Saturday afternoon match when they were undefeated, but that was Ryder Cup hindsight at its best. More on that later.
Love will be the eighth American to be Ryder Cup captain more than once, though it hasn’t happened in nearly three decades. The previous one was Jack Nicklaus, and the circumstances were entirely different.
For one thing, Nicklaus was a winning captain his first time in 1983. He was the obvious choice in 1987 because the Ryder Cup was held at Muirfield Village, the golf course he built.
On the surface, Love’s selection smacks of redemption, which would be the second straight time the Americans were using Medinah as a rallying cry. Tom Watson made that his theme at Gleneagles last year, and it didn’t work.
This is more than that, or it should be.
If anything, Love should have been given another shot in 2014 at Gleneagles. Instead, PGA of America president Ted Bishop wanted to leave his own mark on the matches by selecting Watson, who at 65 was the oldest captain in Ryder Cup history. Watson was the last American captain to win on European soil, and that’s still the case. He made curious choices for his picks and for his lineups, and he brought old-school thinking to a new era of players.
It turned out to be a fiasco, right down to the closing news conference.
The only thing that came out of that debacle at Gleneagles was a Ryder Cup Task Force, and there’s no way to measure if that did any good except to provide Europe with a few punch lines.
Late last year, after Love was named to that 11-member task force, he said he was asked if he was off the list as a potential captain.
“I would hope so,” Love said.
His idea was to stay involved in other ways. He liked the idea of having Ryder Cup people involved — Steve Stricker, Tom Lehman, Scott Verplank — to build some continuity. He’s right about that.
Somewhere along the way, he became the choice.
Fred Couples was the only other candidate who made it clear he wanted a shot, and he was a favorite among the players, particularly Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Couples was 3-0 as captain of the Presidents Cup, though that’s not a good comparison. Europe is strong. And the International team in the Presidents Cup might be even more dysfunctional than the American team in the Ryder Cup.
Paul Azinger was another name that was mentioned prominently, mainly because he’s the only winning U.S. captain over the past 15 years. Mickelson cited the successful strategy of Azinger as a subtle dig at Watson’s failures during the closing news conference at Gleneagles.
Azinger never wanted the job for 2016. He didn’t even want to be on the task force, instead meeting privately with the PGA of America brass three times with what he described as productive sessions. Azinger said Tuesday he told the PGA of America that Love was the right choice, though he doesn’t believe the PGA took his word only.
“There’s no magical formula,” Azinger said. “The captain creates the right environment to get everyone invested.”
That’s what Love did in 2012.
He never broke up a partnership, and it produced a lead that should have been insurmountable. Mickelson and Bradley poured every ounce of emotion into their third and final team match Saturday morning. They were spent. Mickelson said last year that Love’s option was to play either them or the Webb Simpson-Bubba Watson team Saturday afternoon. Simpson and Watson won their match, anyway.
Where would America be if Poulter had not picked up a momentum-changing point Saturday afternoon by closing with five straight birdies? Or if Justin Rose had not rolled in a 45-foot birdie putt across the 17th green?
Love would not be captain at Hazeltine. There would be no such thing as a task force.
In some respects, this is a chance to start over — not just for Love, but for the American team.