Sep 30

Three radical suggestions to improve America’s Ryder Cup chances

You can pin the blame on whoever or whatever you want, but the fact remains the American Ryder Cup team lost its third-straight biennial match against Europe on Sunday in Scotland. That ties the longest American losing streak, matching the stretch from 2002-06 when the Europeans twice beat the U.S. by record, embarrassing 18.5-9.5 counts.

Tom Watson didn't work, with the complete picture why still to be revealed.

Three captain's picks didn't work, as two (Webb Simpson and Hunter Mahan) contributed very little to the overall effort.

Something has to change, and it seems toggling the captain and the number of guys he can hand-pick for the team may not be the answer. Let's try something else. Try on these three suggestions for size.

1. Shorten the qualifying period to just eight months: Americans qualify for the Ryder Cup team over a two-year period, earning points weighted toward events in the second year of the cycle (a smart change made by Paul Azinger). However, this approach still doesn't identify the hot hands, so to speak. Throw out the two-year cycle and shorten it from Jan. 1 the year of the competition through the end of the PGA Championship. This way, only players who have stood out when it matters most make the team on points.

2. Name a player in his late 30s captain: Until 65-year-old Tom Watson got the call, the PGA of Amerca's formula for picking Ryder Cup captains sided with modest major winners in their late 40s (Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Corey Pavin, etc.). The PGA wants guys with an impressive-enough CV that are still somewhat in touch with their younger peers. The PGA has it wrong. Majors don't matter and don't decide if a captain will be any good at the job. Ask Paul McGinley, Colin Montgomerie or Bernard Gallacher. Instead, identify a driven, smart player who sees their best days behind them and the opportunity to mastermind a U.S. victory as their career highlight.

3. Let the players pick the captain: The European Tour has this one right. They've architected a system whereby the equiavlent of their commissioner and the last three European captains, plus one more player, pick future Ryder Cup leaders. It's a form of succession planning that carries through in who is named a vice-captain for each team. Rather than ushering in a new administration with each successive American captain, name a cabinet of guys that will work together to get this thing figured out. They can all take turns as ceremonial captain, but this group would ultimately be one unit dedicated to turning the tide. 

What would you recommend the U.S. and PGA of America do to make a stronger Ryder Cup team?


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Sep 30

Handicapping the contenders to be 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup captain

Tom Watson didn't get the job done. The Americans lost their third-consecutive Ryder Cup on Sunday in Scotland, and the defeat had many fans, including PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner and FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel, demanding 2008 captain Paul Azinger get the job again.

Azinger was the last man to guide the U.S. to a Ryder Cup win, using what he termed the Pod system to group players, build camaraderie and make matchups that ultimately took down the Nick Faldo-led European side after consecutive 18.5-9.5 embarrassments in '04 and '06.

While Azinger would probably do a splendid, if not successful, job in the role again, there are others patiently waiting in line to captain the sinking American ship. Without making another Titanic reference, let's assess the other contenders.

Steve Stricker: When Tom Watson named the Wisconsin native as an assistant captain, it originally seemed maybe Watson was extending an olive branch to Tiger Woods by putting his good buddy (and occasional putting coach) on the team in a non-playing capacity. However, maybe Watson saw something in Stricker that suggested he might make a great captain sooner than later.

David Toms: Before Tom Watson was revealed as 2014 captain, the conventional wisdom had the 2001 PGA champion slotted for the job sooner than later. Watson may have delayed that opportunity by two years, maybe four. Toms should get his day, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The LSU product wouldn't be drastic enough of a change to spur much reaction from fans or Toms' peers.

Fred Couples: Boom-Boom wouldn't be a shocking pick in one regard: He's guided the U.S. to three consecutive victories in the Presidents Cup. His tenure was a complete success, and the players love to play for him. However, the Presidents Cup is the PGA Tour's event, and, while the PGA Tour and PGA of America are getting along better than ever, a cross-pollinating captain seems unlikely.

Larry Nelson: Nelson is a three-time major champion and has been snubbed for the captain's job for two decades. However, the failure of the Watson experiment makes it all the tougher to see the PGA of America finally giving Nelson, who went 5-0-0 in the 1979 Ryder Cup, his due. 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Sep 29

High schooler sinks two holes-in-one in a single round

Samantha Staudt hit a hole-in-one on the fifth hole of her debut round with her high school's varsity golf team. It was one of those moments she'll remember forever, something she figured she'd never repeat.

So after hitting a clean shot off the 8th hole tee at the Inniscrone Golf Club in Avondale, Pa., Staudt was confused that she didn't see the ball on the green. The thought that she'd hit a second hole-in-one never even crossed her mind, she told Philly.com. Staudt and her opponent, Avon Grove, apparently walked around looking for the ball for a bit before Grove eventually found it in the hole. A second hole-in-one, only eight holes into her varsity career. Both of the holes were par-3s.

Sep 29

17-year-old wins pro-junior at Pebble Beach with walk-off albatross

Christopher Meyers stood in the fairway at Pebble Beach's iconic par-5 18th hole, needing to get up-and-down for eagle to win the pro-junior competition at the Nature Valley First Tee Open.

With partner Lee Janzen looking on, Meyers struck a 4-iron from 204 yards. After a couple of hops, Meyers' second shot found the bottom of the cup for a walk-off, tournament-winning albatross (or double eagle, if you so wish). According to Pebble Beach officials, this is the first time an albatross has been made in a tournament at the last hole.

What makes the outcome even more amazing is that Meyers' tee shot nearly went into the Pacific Ocean, caroming off the rocks separating the golf course and water. 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Sep 28

Phil Mickelson calls for return of Paul Azinger, or least his Pod system

Phil Mickelson knows the right man for the job of 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup captain: the man who led the American charge in 2008. 

Shortly after the Europeans clinched a third-consecutive Ryder Cup on Sunday at Gleneagles, Mickelson suggested Paul Azinger should get another crack at the job.

"We had a great formula in '08," Mickelson said on NBC's coverage. "I don’t know why we strayed. I don’t know why we don’t go back. What Zinger did was great."

Azinger guided the American team to a 16.5-11.5 win over captain Nick Faldo and the Europeans six years ago at Valhalla in Kentucky. He employed what he called a Pod system, creating three groups of four players based on personality types that bonded, practiced and played together throughout the matches. 

Whether or not Mickelson carries any weight with PGA of America leadership is unclear, but as an almost-certain future captain and five-time major champion, it would seem his words matter.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Sep 28

The suggestion from Jack Nicklaus that begat a lost Ryder Cup generation

You're angry. You're upset. You're looking for a scapegoat for the Americans' eighth loss in the last 10 Ryder Cups. Here's one: Jack Nicklaus.

In 1977, Jack Nicklaus met with the Earl of Derby, who, at the time, ran the PGA of Europe and the combined team of Great Britain and Ireland. GB&I had lost nine of the previous 10 Ryder Cups. They played to a draw in the 1969 matches at Royal Birkdale, thanks in large part to a putt Nicklaus conceded to Tony Jacklin on the final hole of the final match. It was obvious Americans would lose interest in the biennial matches if they won all the time. So Nicklaus had a suggestion: expand the GB&I team to include continental Europe.

Rory McIlroy shakes hands with Jack Nicklaus. (Getty Images)The PGA of Europe and PGA of America both loved the idea. It would inject some intrigue. Two years later, Team Europe made its Ryder Cup debut, falling to the U.S. by a 17-9 count. The 1981 matches were worse, with the U.S. winning 18½-9½. But in 1983, the Europeans nearly pulled it out, losing by a mere point. Seve Ballesteros, at the peak of his career, urged his teammates not to lament the loss but see it as proof that they could, in fact, beat the Americans.

Since 1985, the Ryder Cup has been played 15 times. With their victory on Sunday at Gleneagles, Europe has won 10 times, halving once.

How fitting, then, for the European Tour to award Nicklaus on Sunday with an honorary lifetime membership.

“Both organizations [the European Tour and PGA of Europe] would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the vision of one man who, in 1977, recommended to the President of the PGA of America and our President of the British PGA to consider widening the British and Ireland team to all of Europe," said European Tour chief executive George O'Grady on Sunday.

Nicklaus never could have imagined expanding the Ryder Cup would have flipped the matches on their head, so dramatically in favor of the Europeans.

A look down the all-time list of most Ryder Cup points won shows the importance of Europe to the matches. Bernhard Langer (from Germany), Seve (Spain), Jose Maria Olazabal (Spain) and Sergio Garcia (Spain) are all in the top seven of that list.

Despite their differences – language being the least of them – the Europeans band together every two years to wallop the Americans. They come together as a team, lifted by a singular cause.

The U.S. says they do band together, too, defeat after defeat, but the results simply don't show it. In fact, a generation – yes, a generation – of resounding losses have poisoned the American talent pool. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk – they've all been rolled by Europe so many times it's hard to imagine finding the inspiration to fight back. Mickelson may well have Stockholm Syndrome based on how he applauded Justin Rose after each successive bomb in their decisive singles match at Medinah two years ago. Woods phoned in the final hole against Francesco Molinari back then, knowing a win wasn't possible. Indifferent about the tie, he lost the hole to give the Europeans another win. Why bother.

Some 37 years after Nicklaus posited his revolutionary idea, it would be great if he, or anyone for that matter, could deliver one to benefit the United States. Let me humbly pose a pair of ideas.

PGA of America president Ted Bishop, or his successor Derek Sprague, should call 2008 captain Paul Azinger on Monday and offer him the job for 2016 at Hazeltine near Minneapolis. Apologies are in order for not celebrating what he masterminded at Valhalla. He should have the job until he loses. His "pod system" – he had players play, practice and hang out together based on personality tests – worked in the same way that nationality helps European duos gel.

Future captain's picks, be they two, three or 12, should favor inexperience. Tom Watson selected Hunter Mahan despite his crippling flub against Graeme McDowell in 2010 at Celtic Manor. Mahan's repeated goofs against Rose on Sunday was Exhibit A as to why Ryder Cup experience is a liability, not an asset, on the American team. Exhibits B, C and D are Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker, the three rookies who played inspired, passionate golf these last three days.

The next generation of American greats will have grown up knowing nothing but Ryder Cup defeat. They will be motivated in the way Seve Ballesteros was so infectiously. Reed and Spieth are the future, with other young players still to come.

Now we have two long years to identify a path forward, an inspired leader and to stew -- again.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

Sep 28

Ryder Cup Report Card: Europe passes, USA fails

Europe's Jamie Donaldson drinks from a champagne bottle to celebrate his singles match to win the 2014 Ryder Cup golf tournament at Gleneagles, Scotland, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)The Ryder Cup is over and done with, pencils down. Some players (and captains) performed well under pressure, and some, well, didn't. Let's take a look at each team and size up their performance at this year's Ryder Cup.

TEAM EUROPE

Paul McGinley (captain): He won the Ryder Cup, so that's an A right there. But the way he structured this team over the last two years, outlining expectations and containing dissent, he set a model for European captains for years to come. His captain's picks didn't work out, but they didn't need to. GRADE: A.

Thomas Bjorn (0-2-1): He didn't play particularly well in either the fourball or singles matches. But when you've got such an arsenal around you, you can afford to have a letdown. GRADE: D+.

Jamie Donaldson (3-1-0): Great success story, playing his way onto the European team despite setbacks in both personal and professional life. His reward? Striking the winning stroke for Europe. GRADE: A.

Victor Dubuisson (2-0-1): Quality performance out of the French rookie, who's just 24 and likely to be around for many more of these. This is exactly the way to build a strong Ryder resume. GRADE: A-.

Stephen Gallacher (0-2-0): The captain's pick was one of the few misfires on the European side, unable to get anything going against rookies Spieth and Reed on Friday, unable to hang with Mickelson on Sunday. GRADE: D.

Sergio Garcia (2-1-1): One of the most decorated Ryder Cup players in European history remained as steady as ever, winning when he needed to and not causing Europe any worry. GRADE: A-. 

Martin Kaymer (1-1-2): Wasn't as dominant here as he was at Pinehurst, but didn't need to be. And he handled Bubba Watson effectively on Sunday, keeping the European avalanche rolling. GRADE: B-.

Graeme McDowell (3-0-0): Did exactly what was expected of him, and rallied from well down to take out Jordan Spieth on Sunday. GRADE: A.

Rory McIlroy (2-1-2): The world no. 1 was oddly quiet through much of the Ryder Cup, but came through huge when he was most needed: the final singles match, in which he absolutely destroyed Rickie Fowler. Sometimes good is good enough. GRADE: B.

Ian Poulter (0-1-2): No player on either team underperformed relative to their expected contribution more than Poulter, who was predicted as one of Europe's titans. He was anything but, and only his astonishing pitch on Saturday afternoon to salvage a half kept him from failing this Cup. GRADE: D.

Justin Rose (3-0-2): You can't stop him, you can only hope to hold him to a half-point. The best player on the course from beginning to end. He wasn't the difference, but he gave Europe an aura of invincibility the USA couldn't touch. GRADE: A+.

Henrik Stenson (3-1-0): Strong performances throughout the weekend, though he faltered on Sunday against Patrick Reed. He's guaranteed competitive in every match, which is more than most of the U.S. team could say. GRADE: A.

Lee Westwood (2-2-0): The reliable Ryder Cup veteran delivered a reliable performance, hanging in for two points and validating his pick from McGinley. GRADE: B-.

US team captain Tom Watson, left, sits in a buggy and looks at the scoreboard near the 11th hole during the singles match on the final day of the Ryder Cup golf tournament at Gleneagles, Scotland, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. Unidentified man at right. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)TEAM USA

Tom Watson (captain): His pairing of rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed was inspired; his benching of that pairing on Friday afternoon was not. Watson outthought himself in this Ryder Cup, from his selection of captain's picks to his start-and-sit strategy on Friday and Saturday. GRADE: D.

Keegan Bradley (1-2-0): Deserved better, mostly from his captain, but proved that he and Mickelson remain a viable partnership. The most excitable performer of either team, but didn't have much to get excited about. GRADE: C+.

Rickie Fowler (0-3-2): Just couldn't get going, but in his defense, he was going against some of the best players on the planet. He'll be around for awhile, and the breaks will come his way, but they haven't yet. GRADE: C.

Jim Furyk (1-3-0): He's now the losingest player (20 losses) in US Ryder Cup history, which is testament to how well he plays during the non-Ryder weeks of the calendar. Still, he just can't seem to get it done during Ryder weeks, no matter how hard he tries. GRADE: D+.

Zach Johnson (0-2-1): Largely a nonfactor, though credit him for playing strong all the way through the end of the singles match even though the outcome was long decided. GRADE: C-.

Matt Kuchar (1-3-0): Another American player who could never really get started, though at least he was able to take out Thomas Bjorn in an effective match on Sunday. GRADE: C.

Hunter Mahan (1-2-1): He's gained a rep for faltering in Ryder Cups, and letting Rose salvage a split after being 4-up on the European won't help that. Mahan is thisclose to breaking through, but he hasn't yet. GRADE: C-.

Phil Mickelson (2-1-0): Still turning in strong efforts even though he's far closer to captaincy than anyone else. Wanted to play more on Saturday, but enough of a pro not to take that public. (UPDATE: He went nuclear at the postround press conference.) GRADE: B+.

Patrick Reed (3-0-1): Only a gagged Saturday putt that cost him a half-point keeps him from an A+. The 24-year-old rookie was the Americans' brightest light, and although he approached the competition like a wrestler, maybe that was the right technique. Nothing else worked. GRADE: A-.

Webb Simpson (0-1-1): Simpson talked his way onto the team, but maybe he should have played his way onto it; he didn't play well enough to justify a captain's pick. He salvaged a half against Poulter on Sunday, but more was expected from this slot. GRADE: D.

Jordan Spieth (2-1-1): He faltered on Sunday when he had an opportunity to put away McDowell, but that shouldn't obscure his strong debut. He should be a team member for another 10 Ryder Cups, at least. GRADE: B+.

Jimmy Walker (1-1-3): The rookies on the American team acquitted themselves well, and Walker managed hang-in-there performances in four of his five matches. He probably should have been benched Saturday afternoon, but that's not on him. GRADE: B-.

Bubba Watson (0-3-0): Only led six holes all week, and only once was even 2-up. Could never get going, could never get his partners going. Maybe if they held the next Ryder Cup at Augusta... GRADE: F.

Stellar effort for Europe, and an ugly one from the United States. It'll be two more years before anybody gets a chance to change their grade.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Facebook or on Twitter.

Sep 28

Phil Mickelson grabs USA a much-needed point

AUCHTERARDER, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Stephen Gallacher of Europe shakes hands with Phil Mickelson of the United States after his defeat on the 17th hole during the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)Phil Mickelson will be a Ryder Cup captain one day, perhaps one day very soon, and he'll take plenty of lessons from this year's tournament.

Mickelson certainly wasn't pleased to be sitting all day Saturday, but he rallied and managed a 3&1 win over rookie Stephen Gallacher, who hadn't played since Friday.

Gallacher got out to a slight lead, but Mickelson kept pace, reversing a 1-up deficit into a 1-up USA lead in the space of three holes from 4 to 6. Mickelson couldn't post a lead that held up until the 15th, and from there, it was an avalanche. By 17, Mickelson was up 3&1, and that was enough.

Mickelson ended the weekend 2-1-0, a respectable record for the USA side. Gallacher, meanwhile, was 0-2-0, and never really had the opportunity to get started for Europe. Not that it mattered very much.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Facebook or on Twitter.