Ever graceful and humanized in defeat, America’s losingest of losers were redeemed by something — whether it was their leadership, attitude, on-course efforts or post-match press conference emotions — from the week. Well, almost.
If Colin Montgomerie was the modern-day Churchill (as some have touted), then Corey Pavin was a cross between Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon.
From the start, Captain Dud was defensive, uninspiring and awkward. Whenever a mic was within earshot of him, I cringed in anticipation of the uncomfortable moment (not to mention hoped it wouldn’t trigger an impromptu siesta). At the opening ceremony, he forgot to introduce Stewart Cink. The team forced laughs while the crowd laughed at Pavin.
In the pairings announcement, emcee Di Stewart asked Pavin, “Why did you select Tiger to play the third match?” Pavin replied in a patronizing tone something like, “Because the first two were filled.” Though the lovely Stewart, who was trying to do her job, handled it well, it was just rude. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be, but Pavin couldn’t find a way to translate his paranoid, uptight captaining style without coming across like a prickly little man.
Captain America lacked wit, humor and fire. Simply assessing the little we were presented, I questioned his ability to rally and lead the team. I wished someone would tell him, “You know, you’re at the Ryder Cup and not the Pentagon, right?” All week I tried to be fair, reminding myself that I didn’t know what was happening in the team room — perhaps he transformed into the most passionate and cleverest leader in the world. I highly doubted it, and now, according to my colleagues, Pavin was just as lifeless as we assumed.
Nicknamed “bulldog” for his gritty, competitive nature on the golf course, Pavin has a fiery side underneath the stern exterior — though it was nowhere to be seen in Wales. At the US Senior Open at Sahalee this summer, I watched him strike his bag with a club in frustration and throw a tantrum at a bunker, kicking the sand like it was at fault for his poor shot (not as bad as Sergio at the PGA, but similiar). Perhaps Captain Dud was afraid to reveal the boiling passion and in his effort to appear cool, he came across as condescending and paternalistic.
As for his strategic decisions, there were a few red flags. (For the record, I know the captain doesn’t swing the club for the players, but as they say, “Players win the Ryder Cup and captains lose it.”) Apparently, Pavin drafted his singles roster on Saturday evening and refused to budge despite Sunday’s dreadful results. It was peculiar he chose Stricker/Woods to play in one of two foursomes matches in the third session. He paired Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson together because Phil wanted to play with DJ and Pavin didn’t have the backbone to question it. Pairing two wild bombs with such contrasting approaches — Mickelson analyzes every possible component to death, while Johnson just gets his yardage and grabs a club — sounds like a recipe for disaster.
But honestly, the pairings and choices didn’t really bother me. What’s completely inexcusable are the leaky rain suits and golf bags (towels were soaked because water was coming through the pockets). I thought this was the Ryder Cup, not amateur hour.
Captain Dud waxed poetic about how hard the Captainess had worked on designing the uniforms and organizing the odds and ends, like her decision to go with a vintage look for everything from the lavishly embroidered Sun Mountain rain gear to the bags. For goodness sake, when playing in Wales in October, impervious rain suits are the most important thing — to the point where they should have been tested before the charter plane left Atlanta and if that means putting them on and jumping in the shower, then so be it. Seemingly minor details have an impact on morale. Perhaps big enough to cost, oh I don’t know, say, half a point. (By the way, notice who completely vanished after the opening ceremony because she was too embarrassed?)
Finally, at the closing ceremony when Monty congratulated Pavin on a great job, the European team, fans and American vice-captains all gave Pavin a standing ovation — the only American players to get up were captain’s picks Stewart Cink and Rickie Fowler. (Maybe the other guys were too tired and I’m reading too much into it, but nonetheless, it was interesting.)
Meanwhile, Colin Montgomerie was Captain Charisma. Even the players that have had very public spats with Monty, like Ian Poulter, fell in love with him. In short, Monty was witty and engaging with the media and crowds, and most important, in the team room he was inspiring and spirited. Heck, he was so delightful that many Americans (including yours truly) were thrilled to see him win.
“This is one of the finest moments…no, hang on,” Montgomerie said for dramatics. “This is the greatest moment of my golfing career.”
And the worst for Pavin.
(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)