I believe the best summation of what sports offers us was presented by ABC’s long-running “Wide World of Sports” program, where host Jim McKay’s voice welcomed viewers to the “thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the human drama of athletic competition.”
Every Saturday afternoon we were captivated by competition that left us feeling exhilarated, exasperated or both. Do you remember a sporting event that has left you on the verge of delirium or in the throes of depression?
I can think of numerous high points, which I believe is only natural as we are more predisposed to keep happy thoughts within close reach. Conversely, I think the negative memories are more likely to be suppressed. That’s why it’s hard to remember myself being more disappointed in an athletic competition any other time than the 2014 Ryder Cup. I’m not discounting that there has been greater heartbreak; it’s just that this one was so disappointing on a surprising front — team chemistry.
It’s not so much that the U.S. lost, rather it was how the team lost. Certainly, even the most ardent supporter knew the deck was stacked against the Americans, as some of their best players were unavailable for play. Still, one would have expected an us-against-the-world mentality to surface and serve as motivation. What we later came to learn is there was a lack of team unity, poor communications, and a public airing of dirty laundry. In my opinion, that is what was so disappointing.
We learned there was plenty of blame to go around for the resounding American defeat. The PGA of America has vowed to conduct a thorough review as to how the U.S. could improve on its 2-8 record in the last 10 competitions. I’m most interested in seeing what will be done to enhance the team chemistry. I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done to significantly improve performance from a skills standpoint, but history has shown that the intangible of “chemistry” can have an impact, both good and bad.
In some regards this reminds me of what the U.S. experienced when it came to international/Olympic basketball competition. After being invincible for decades, we found the world had closed the gap in terms of winning and losing. After some unexpected close calls and shocking losses, USA Basketball had enough. The organization established a structure to build chemistry among its developmental teams and Olympic roster. That included the selection of a successful coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who had decades of experience building and leading teams.
This isn’t to imply that Tom Watson is to blame for what happened at Gleneagles. Watson will always be my favorite golfer. We seem to forget that he was the winning captain in 1993. Obviously something didn’t click, and I’m not talking about winning and losing. If there was good chemistry, we would’t have had the bickering and the inexcusable behavior at the closing press conference. Successful teams generally have great leaders, but they also have great members who do their best to achieve success within the team concept. Anything worth doing is worth doing right or changes will be made. That not only applies to athletic competition, but to our work lives as well.
I’ve always marveled at the golf course management teams at professional golf events. Volunteers come from all corners of the world, assignments are given, and tasks are carried out. Activities are monitored and changes are made if necessary. Superintendents who work at top-100 facilities fill divots, rake bunkers and mow fairways with no complaints.
My point is simply that successful teams have synergy — where the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Golf course superintendents know this as well as anyone, whether they’re hosting a major or in the course of daily duties.
That should be the focus for the Ryder Cup selection and development process moving forward.