By Mark Lamport-Stokes
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – In more ways than one, the United States proved up to the task as their meticulous preparations and renewed team spirit helped them beat Europe to clinch the Ryder Cup on Sunday for the first time since 2008.
With Cup veteran Phil Mickelson playing a pivotal role as on-course leader, Patrick Reed injecting passion and inspired golf into the mix and skipper Davis Love III ensuring that every player had a vested interest in the outcome, the U.S. won 17-11.
The balance of power in the biennial team competition shifted as the Americans avoided what would have been a damaging fourth defeat in a row, and it was underpinned by the work of an 11-man task force set up after their heavy loss in 2014.
Following Europe’s victory by 16-1/2 points to 11-1/2 at Gleaneagles in Scotland, the PGA of America established a task force, including eight current and former players, to identify how the U.S. could compete more successfully.
The number of automatic qualifiers was reduced from nine to eight to boost the number of captain’s picks to four, with the final wildcard choice being announced just five days before the start of the Ryder Cup.
There was also a return to the successful system adopted by 2008 winning U.S. captain Paul Azinger, who wanted his players to be fully engaged in the entire process and relied on the input of the automatic qualifiers for his wildcard selections.
“Just because we got kicked around for so long, you keep losing, you feel like you’ve got to do something different,” said Love, who was brought back by the task force for a second stint as captain.
Love had guided the U.S. to a 10-6 lead heading into the final day in 2012 but the team lost by 14-1/2 points to 13-1/2 in what is known to European fans as the “Miracle at Medinah.”
“It was a little bit of a rebuilding, a little bit of a shift in attitude,” Love told reporters on Sunday. “We’re going to go into it with a better attitude from here on forward.”
Mickelson was also a key member of the task force, having scathingly criticized the tactics of 2014 captain Tom Watson immediately after the U.S. loss at Gleneagles, saying that the players had been left out of the process.
While Mickelson was jubilant on Sunday after his team had regained the cherished Ryder Cup trophy with a sizzling display in the last-day singles, he cautioned that what had been ushered in by the task force was only a foundation for the future.
“We’ve got some work to do,” said the 46-year-old after competing in a record-equalling 11th Ryder Cup this week. “The thing about this is that we need to build on this. Otherwise, it’s all for naught.
“With the input that Davis Love had, and each vice captain — Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson — all brought integral parts to the success of this foundation, and it’s important that we build on that.
“Davis is going to be a very instrumental part of that going forward in two years, because for us to go to Europe (in 2018) and try to win the Cup is a whole different feat. That’s going to require a whole different level of play, of solidarity, of fortitude.”
(Editing by Larry Fine)