- Steve Stricker was the sentimental pick to be the 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup captain—but was he the right one?
The PGA of America finally confirmed golf’s worst-kept secret on Wednesday by naming Steve Stricker captain of the 2020 U.S. Ryder Cup team. It’ll be a home game of sorts for Stricker, whose hometown of Edgerton, Wisc. is a two-hour drive from the host venue, Whistling Straits.
The home-state angle may have added some sentimentality to his candidacy, but Stricker was always going to be a no-brainer choice. He’s been an assistant captain on a winning Ryder Cup team (2016) and a losing one (2018), so he’s at least theoretically seen what works and what doesn’t. Despite not having a major championship to his name, he’s an accomplished player who has earned the respect of his peers. He also has captain experience, having guided the U.S. team to a resounding victory over an admittedly hapless International side at the 2017 Presidents Cup.
Demeanor-wise, Stricker is on the quiet side, but there’s a fierce competitor underneath all the smiles and Midwestern kindness. At least according to Tiger.
“Everyone knows he’s such a nice guy, but beneath all of that exterior is this fieriness and this competitiveness,” Woods said Wednesday.
All this to say: Stricker checks all the boxes: Successful player. Leadership experience. Good with the media. Able motivator.
He’s a fine choice, albeit not a particularly inspired one. The Ryder Cup committee apparently decided that the best way to rebound from a disastrous 2018 Cup was to go right down the middle. There’s nothing wrong with that choice. Unless, of course, it doesn’t work.
That’s the unfortunate truth when it comes to being captain of a team golf competition: all the preparation, all the strategizing, all the team building and mental priming and pairings calculus comes down to three days of golf. There were no indications of any fracturing within last year’s team when they arrived at Le Golf National. Then, three days of bad golf happened. Then, Patrick Reed ran his mouth. Then, there was some sort of altercation between Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka. Then, Reed ran his mouth some more.
Now we view the entire 2018 Ryder Cup cycle—and Jim Furyk’s captaincy—as an unmitigated failure. Did Furyk make some poor decisions? Sure. Could things have been communicated more clearly? Probably. But those decisions and those breakdowns in communication never would’ve been discussed if the Americans made more birdies. It’s that simple.
To illustrate this further, consider each set of captains picks for the 2018 Cup. Jim Furyk selected Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. The picks were widely lauded, viewed as a good mix of veterans and youth, of players with experience and those riding hot hands. Conversely, Thomas Bjorn picked four guys who weren’t playing particularly well: Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson. These were criticized as relying too much on the old guard at the expense of young, hot players like Matt Wallace. The U.S. captain’s picks went a combined 2-10, with the only wins coming via Finau. The European captain’s picks went 9-4-1. In the aftermath, the consensus became that Furyk didn’t weigh course fit heavily enough, while Bjorn was brilliant for believing in experience.
In the umpteen interviews Stricker will do between now and Sept. 25, 2020, he’ll talk about what he wants to do differently as captain. He’ll talk about listening to his players and studying the golf course and running through potential pairings. It will all sound good and logical at the time. And then, on Sept. 27, 2020, we’ll either crown him as the guy who got the U.S. Ryder Cup program back on track, or we’ll look back and nitpick every single decision he made. Such is the life of a Ryder Cup captain.