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How Important Is Coaching During The Ryder Cup?

October 16, 2014

Team USA's loss to the European squad at this year's Ryder Cup -- a biennial contest the U.S. has not won since 2008 -- has generated a lot of finger pointing and blame casting. Most notably, Phil Mickelson groused during a post-event press conference that "nobody here was in on any decision" made by the team's captain, Tom Watson. A later report indicated Watson held a mid-competition meeting where he criticized payers and rebuffed a team gift.

To recap, the U.S. team failed to capture enough points in foursome play to have a chance in singles matches, and once the European team gained enough momentum in the singles matches, it was all over for Team USA, which lost 16.5 to 11.5. 

The outcome and subsequent criticism raise questions: What role did coaching play for the U.S. in the 2014 Ryder Cup? 

PressBox asked Dan Brooks, head coach of the Duke University women's golf team, a squad that has won six national championships, what he thought of the Ryder Cup and the coaching effect in golf. 

PressBox: At this year's Ryder Cup, much has been said about Watson's role as the captain (coach), and how he could have done a better job of leading the U.S. team to a win. How much of an effect do you think his coaching had on the team and its performance?

Dan Brooks: I'm not sure what could be done at that level. ... The interaction with players at the Ryder Cup is short, plus the personalities and games of the players are already formed. I don't know how the coach can be effective in that short a time to help players play better. The coach could only be impactful in making the pairing and matches and keeping a positive tone throughout the week.

PB: How could the Ryder Cup captain motivate, mentor and teach? 

DB: It would almost be better to do nothing and let them play since they are not used to much input from any other source. The players already have their own swing coaches and others they trust with their games. They are not looking for game advice or need motivation at that level. If you do offer too much [instruction, motivation], you run the risk of getting in the way of their good golf. It is important to know how to let players just play -- I say to my [assistant] coaches never underestimate how insignificant you are -- if the coach needs to be significant, he will be.

***

The world's best players who represent the U.S. are well established and in control of their games, needing little motivation or swing advice to play their best. Do they really need a motivational push to get fired up to play in the Ryder Cup? Probably not. They are realizing a career dream to play for their nation, a fact that provides a high level of motivation.  

As Coach Brooks mentions, "stay insignificant until the right time." That may be the toughest job of being the captain: knowing when to jump in and when to stay put. Watson did a good job of creating the pairings and allowing the team to come together as best they could. 

For his part, Watson missed the opportunity to create a positive atmosphere for his players and to understand when to stay insignificant. Win or lose, the team captain must lead players to the course with calm, clear minds to perform for their nation and earn their trust. I hope these characteristics are taken into consideration when the time comes to select a captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup.

Send your golf game questions to Joe at golf@pressboxonline.com,and visit PressBoxOnline.com for tips. Listen to Joe on the radio by tuning in to the "Better Golf" show on 105.7 The Fan, at 6 p.m. Sundays.

Issue 202: October 2014