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US trying to put Ryder Cup defeat behind them

October 8, 2014

A new PGA Tour season starts Thursday, and it's about time.

The last thing American golf needs right now is another idle week to rehash a Ryder Cup loss that is getting overcooked by the minute. It's probably good that Phil Mickelson is not expected to play again until we know which two teams are going to the Super Bowl.

To spend a week or more looking back at the pivotal moments is standard fare for a great event like the Ryder Cup.

What if Justin Rose had not made that 45-foot putt in Sunday singles at Medinah, or if Ian Poulter had missed any one of his last five birdie putts Saturday afternoon? If only Stewart Cink had made either one of those short birdie putts over the last four holes at Celtic Manor. And don't think Europeans haven't seen enough of Justin Leonard and that putt heard 'round the world at Brookline.

But that hasn't been the case this year. When it comes to a Ryder Cup review, no one is talking about the golf. For the Americans, it seems as though the Ryder Cup only got started after it was over.

One story says U.S. captain Tom Watson scoffed at his gift from the players - a replica of the Ryder Cup they signed. Another story said Watson wasn't dismissive of the gift, rather he tried to motivate his players by telling them he wanted the real thing.

Watson was not the Great Communicator. On that point everyone can agree.

But to prattle on about Watson's stubborn leadership style - did that catch anyone by surprise? - or the pairings he never seemed to get right is to overlook the obvious.

The better team won.

The Europeans were favored to win, were they not? They had Rory McIlroy with his two majors and No. 1 ranking. When the teams were set, they had four of the top five players in the world. And they were playing at home.

They also had captain Paul McGinley, who blended supreme confidence with an extraordinary eye for detail. Most telling about McGinley was when he was asked last week the one thing he feared when he was appointed captain. ''Honestly, I didn't have a fear. I had a real clear idea of what I wanted to achieve.''

Did he win the Ryder Cup for Europe?

McGinley certainly helped. The players took it from there. Rose was unbeaten. McIlroy played his best golf Sunday. Graeme McDowell unselfishly accepted the role of taking on a rookie (Victor Dubuisson) as his partner and sitting two sessions. They combined to go 5-0-1.

That's what should be remembered about this Ryder Cup.

The U.S. press conference won't be forgotten, which is why Mickelson said what he did and when he did. Lefty spoke of a ''winning formula'' from which the Americans have strayed, and he had a point. While his frustration might have been geared toward Watson, the message was for the PGA of America and the unilateral way it goes about the business of picking a captain and running the Ryder Cup.

Thanks to Mickelson, change is inevitable for Team USA, and that's a good thing.

But does that guarantee a change in the outcome?

No.

To suggest the Americans will look back at Gleneagles as the turning point 10 years from now is dismissive of the opponent. Even if the America has the ideal captain, Europe still has McIlroy, Rose, Poulter, McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer. It still has the cup. And it's no accident.

The Europeans once had a heavy-handed captain in Seve Ballesteros, and they managed. It's still down to the players, and the Americans as a whole didn't perform as well. Their top three qualifiers - Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk - combined to go 1-8-3.

More than its players, what makes Europe so formidable is the culture of winning it has cultivated for nearly 30 years. Everyone is involved. That much was clear when McGinley was leaving the press room at St. Andrews, and Ken Brown - a player on four teams, vice captain on another, now a TV analyst - approached to congratulate him.

A handshake quickly turned into a hug.

''You're a part of this,'' McGinley told him.

Europe celebrates. America contemplates. And it's time to move on.

Does golf even matter this time of the year? It sure did to the six players who won tournaments in the fall start to the wraparound season. All six began the FedEx Cup playoffs in the top 20, and all but one (Harris English) qualified for the Tour Championship.

The Frys.com Open was supposed to have Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods until one asked for time off from a hectic summer of winning back-to-back majors, and the other was forced into time off because of injury.

McIlroy and Woods are expected to be at the Frys.com Open next year. Think anyone will be grousing about the schedule then?




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