Leadership, Teamwork and the Ryder Cup

So we’ve lost another Ryder Cup. You can’t say that it was unexpected, although it is disappointing.

The worst part is that golf pundits are going to spend an inordinate amount of time pontificating upon why the US has lost yet another Cup. And yet, that is precisely what I am going to do here.

Two of the biggest topics of discussion have been—and will most likely continue to be—the questions of leadership and teamwork.

The impulse has been to insist that Tiger “step up” and lead the team to victory. But all that means is that Tiger’s ability to strike a golf ball has somehow been confused with the ability to “lead.”

It’s a funny thing about leadership: You can’t just annoint someone as a leader and expect people to follow. Leadership has to be earned. And I’m not sure that you earn it by simply being the best player in the world.

As an Eagle Scout, coach and teacher, I think I know a couple of things about leadership.

When a leader sets forth, people follow because—while the leader has set the goals and is willing to make a tremendous personal effort—they know that the leader cannot do it alone. Each person on the team knows their responsibilities (which a good leader has assigned) and is willing to sacrifice … because they cannot bear to fall short of their leader’s expectations.

The problem for Tiger is that when he charges out of the trenches, the blokes remaining behind think “I’m sure glad we have Superman on our side. Look at him go!” There does not, however, seem to be any impulse to follow. Indeed, some of his trenchmates, don’t even know who the guy running across No Man’s Land is.

That such a big deal was made of Tiger taking a couple of teammates out to dinner shows the paucity of his “leadership.” Here were a couple of the better players on the Tour, and Tiger had to take them to dinner because he didn’t really know them (It’s not that big a fraternity. I would think that the top twenty players would know each other very well).

This is not to say that Tiger can’t be a leader—just that he is not one now. It’s also not meant as a criticism of Tiger. You have to want to be a leader, and I don’t think that he wants to be one. And that’s ok.

But if Tiger DOES want be a leader, he has to work at it for the next two years. He has to get to personally know the guys on Tour, invite them to his place, and talk to them about their—and his—goals, expectations and lives.

After that, when Tiger marches out take on the Euros, his teammates will say: “I know that guy. I know what he wants. It’s the same thing I want. I know what he expects of me. I like him.He has taken the time to know me. And I’m not going to let him down.

Then, there’s the issue of “teamwork.” And that, I think, comes from much the same place as leadership. It comes from knowing your teammates and from sharing goals. Every great coach sits down with his players at the beginning of a season to work out the team’s goals. And they work at building cohesiveness.

Teams don’t just assemble for a day or two before the big game to work out their issues.

Now, I don’t know how the European Team does it. But I would not be surprised to find that the European Tour is a much chummier place than the PGA Tour. I’ll bet that Ryder Cup teammates McGinley, Harrington and Clarke have played together for fun. And I’ll bet they have closed more than a few pubs together. There’s no slight intended here. That’s exactly the sort of place where confide and build trust.

Is there a solution to the US Ryder Cup woes?

I actually don’t think so (sorry to be so bleak here). I think the same dynamics that allow the PGA to put together a team of superstars that fail at the Ryder Cup are the same dynamics that get the NBA superstars sent packing at world basketball events.

They are great players, but they are not, nor will they ever be, a team.

I don’t think there’s a solution. But I do have a couple of suggestions, none of which are feasible.

The first would be to make Tiger Woods the Captain. If he would accept, it would put him in a position to take the leadership role that everyone seemingly wants him to have (but that he can’t because he’s not actually in charge).. Or make Furyk the Captain; or Toms (I frankly can’t see Phil as the Captain). A player captain may be just what we need.

The problem with this is that a) I am sure Tiger doesn’t want it. and b) there are probably a few egos that would be bruised by this … some perhaps to the point where they wouldn’t play for Captain Woods.

My other suggestion would involve completely revamping the selection process. In The GolfBlogger System, the Tour would ask for twenty players to volunteer to make a two year commitment to the team. If there were more than twenty who wanted to commit to the team, then the top fifteen active players would be in, and the Captain would pick another five.

You may not end up with the top twenty players volunteering. But you would end up with twenty guys who are prepared to be passionate about the event.

The commitment involves two years of team building activities—most of which would be scheduled on and around regular tour events. Some of the events would be mandatory “getting to know you” dinners or mixers after a tournament; others would be scheduled practice rounds where the prospective team members would play with each other (these pairings could be made during regular tournament practice rounds). And there would be two off-season, full blown practice sessions at the next Ryder Cup’s venue. To be considered for the final team, a player would have to participate in a minumum of events, including the two off-season practices.

As the Ryder Cup approached, the top ten players on the tryout team would be in, along with two Captain’s Picks.

Surely, there would be some top players who wouldn’t want to do this. But I doubt their absence is going to make things any worse. After this weekend’s blowout, things could hardly get worse.

But none of this,of course is going to happen. So be prepared for two years of hand wringing whenever the topic of the Ryder Cup comes up.

And I’ll predict right now that the Americans win in Valhalla.

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7 thoughts on “Leadership, Teamwork and the Ryder Cup”

  1. That is what I think as well.  I don’t think Tiger or Phil should have been there.  Both are too divisive and individualistic. 

    I think that the top 3 US players should be out of the running for the 2008 Ryder. 

    On the other hand, as long as we are losing anyway, might as well let Michelle on the team.

  2. I enjoyed your comments about leadership and team work and agree with most.

    I agree that Tiger is not a leader, no matter how much the pundits on NBC and The Golf Channel said it. I don’t even think he is a team player, much like the NBA stars you mention. That can probably can be said of a few more USA players as well.

    I also agree that Tiger hurts the team. They have lost 4 of 5 Ryder cups with him on the team. He sure hasn’t helped with his losing record.

    However, I don’t agree with Jim Furyk as a possible captain. I can’t see anyone wanting to play for that dour fellow.

  3. As an avid Euro fan over the last 20 years, it is amazing to see the turnaround of dominance. It took many years for Tony Jacklin to develop the passion and importance of the Ryder Cup for Europeans. Perhaps it needs the continuity of the same US captain for 2-3 cups to bring it back to parity.

    What I suspect will happen is that Corey Pavin or Paul Azinger will be announced as captain, and they will try to bring a fire and steely determination back to the US team.  They hopefully will lay down the challenge, and state continually that they only want players who really care, and who really want the cup back in the US.  Maybe the “War on the Shore” concept was spot on to motivate the US mentality?!

    I actually prefer an incredibly nail biting event and the cup continually changing hands … I hope for a close US victory in 2008.

  4. Andy—remember that for many years it was strictly a UK vs US event. The Euros were added in 1979, and things have turned around for them remarkably with the addition of the new talent.

    Europe won in 1985 and 1987, and kept the Cup with a tie in 1989. Between 1985 and now, Europe has won six times,  and the U.S. three times, with the one tie in ‘89.

  5. There is something else that I am surprised that nobody has thought of yet, the Euros play a really great match in all 5 sessions. They played better, made more putts, and had more chip ins too boot. There was some very good golf played by both sides.


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