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Don’t blame Watson for US Ryder Cup woes

Going Long with Geisler

By Andrew Geisler, For The Miami Student

After a blowout 16.5 to 11.5 point loss for the United States this weekend in the Ryder Cup, many rushed to blame captain Tom Watson for his country's lack of success. This criticism, while valid, is misplaced and puts a disproportionate weight on the effect the team captain has on the proceedings.

If we shouldn't blame Watson, then who deserves the blame? The easiest culprit is injuries and suspensions, which kept Jason Dufner, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson all out of the Cup this year.

Another choice is Jack Nicklaus. He's the American pegged with pitching the idea of expanding the Cup from Britain to all of Europe back in the late 1970s. Before this, the U.S. dominated Britain in Ryder Cup play. The British only won three Cups before 1979 - the competition began in 1927.

Fast-forward to the modern era and the United States has won only seven of the 18 Ryder Cups since 1979, when the competition expanded from Great Britain to all of Europe.

Watson is the easiest choice as the scapegoat, even though he was the last U.S. Captain to win in Europe back in 1993 and the choice to make him Captain was a smart and clear attempt to break the American malaise overseas in the Cup.

Golf fans were skeptical of Watson's picks of Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan. This became even more pronounced when, after the picks were in, Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk showed themselves to be the hottest golfers in America as the FedEx Cup came to a close.

Then he made matters worse by sitting rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed Friday afternoon after they tagged Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher 5 and 4 in the morning, and sitting Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley all day Saturday only to watch as the Americans got destroyed in the afternoon halving just one of the four matches.

Juggling personalities and keeping everyone happy is an important part of the management in any sport. This is especially true in a tough 72-hour competition like the Ryder Cup.

Unfortunately, it is hard to know what goes on behind closed doors on teams. It's also hard to know why a Ryder Cup captain makes the choices he makes. Monday morning quarterbacking such choices is quite easy. After all, somebody always loses. That doesn't mean it's always particularly productive or fair.

Johnny Miller, the NBC broadcaster and golf legend, made an important point after the Cup ended Sunday.

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"I'd like to say the captain makes a big difference, but I don't think he makes much difference at all. You just go let the guys play. From watching this as kids, they're going to want to win. Nobody wants to lose. Sometimes you've got to put a fire under them, maybe. We just need more [Patrick] Reeds on our team."

Distill Miller down and what is he saying? Quit whining about the coaching and worry about the players. Watching the Ryder Cup this weekend, the issue wasn't that Europe captain Paul McGinley had some superior plan. The biggest issue was how much better his team was than the American side.

Rory McIlroy is the best player in the world and primed to dominate the next era of golf. Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose are two of the steadiest and best players on tour. Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter are excellent Ryder Cup players. Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open this year, and a star was born in Frenchman Victor Dubuisson. Even less well-known guys like Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher stepped up.

Now think about the Americans. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed played great, but are green, same with Ricky Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and sadly Phil Mickelson have all seen their better days as players. Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley are all good, but inconsistent players.

Liken this to college football and we had a Big Ten team playing an SEC team. Could we have shocked them at home with a Bill Walsh-like game plan? Maybe, but we never should have expected the USA to beat this European group on their turf.

The American team will be better in 2016 at Hazeltine for this experience. This Cup, like it or not, was more of a test run for our young guys - Spieth, Reed and Fowler - who will need to play more like McDowell, Rose and Rory for the U.S. to regain the cup in 2016 at Hazeltine.

Nothing can really be worse than the 2012 American Sunday collapse at Medinah, and taking a real beating can help crystallize the state you're in. This loss is one of those situations.

But it won't be if we're unable to learn the right lessons. American golf fans have to stop blaming Tom Watson, who was in an impossible position, and instead realize it's time to start leaning on the next generation of American golf stars to start being stars.

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