By Dave Shedloski
Steve Stricker should be retained as U.S. Ryder Cup captain for the 2023 matches in Rome.
There. Said it. Flatly. Unapologetically.
This is nothing against Zach Johnson, who is the presumed successor to Stricker for the 44th edition. This ignores the captaincy jumble that results from keeping Sticker as Team USA skipper. This dismisses the notion that certain players deserve their “turn” to have the “honour” of being a captain.
And this asserts with extreme prejudice that the Ryder Cup is an exhibition goodwill match. It is. But almost wholly it really is not. It’s a competition – a hotly contested one that elicits copious amounts of emotion and tribal truculence, as we just witnessed this weekend at Whistling Straits.
In losing nine of the previous 12 editions before Sunday, America tacked this way and task-forced that way while achieving little purchase. But what the world witnessed in Haven, Wis., in the 43rd Ryder Cup was a new breed of American player recognising that the Ryder Cup is the ultimate vehicle to bragging rights and chest-thumping and that winning doesn’t have to come at all costs if they just buy into the notion, like the Europeans have for decades, that they have to hate losing more than wanting to win.
And, folks, America knows how to win—and win big—with Stricker at the helm.
The Yanks’ 19-9 shellacking of Europe, a record in the modern era of the Ryder Cup, probably can be explained away mostly by the colossal mismatch in talent. You can have the world’s No. 1 player, as Europe did with Jon Rahm, but you need 11 more guys backing him up. (Tiger Woods, who has been a part of just one winning team, somewhere is nodding in agreement.)
But America has been the perennial favourite since, oh, 1927, and yet this American wrecking crew assembled on the shores of Lake Michigan just achieved something Team USA hasn’t done since 1983, and that’s winning a second consecutive Ryder Cup at home.
The PGA of America should invite Stricker, 54, to remain captain and let him decide if he wants to continue. He has been groomed for the job since then-PGA President Ted Bishop implored Tom Watson to make the nice-guy Wisconsin native an assistant for the 2014 matches at Gleneagles in Scotland. Bishop and his successor Derek Sprague both saw the value in the PGA abandoning its rigid criteria for choosing captains based on, among other things, owning a major championship.
Stricker even told Bishop once, “Phil and Tiger always kid me and tell me that I will never be a Ryder Cup captain because I haven’t won a major.”
The apprenticeship continued in 2016 under Davis Love III at Hazeltine, near Minneapolis, though there’s a back story to share. In August of 2014, Sprague approached Stricker at Valhalla Golf Club during the PGA Championship about his readiness to be the next captain at Hazeltine, but the disastrous loss at Gleneagles followed by Phil Mickelson’s press conference indictment of Watson’s captaincy led to the creation of the Ryder Cup Task Force and committee, which handed the mantel back to Love.
Then Stricker was given the reins to his own team the following year, leading the U.S. Presidents Cup team to a merciless exhibition of throat stomping at Liberty National in Jersey City, N.J. Were it not for late Saturday afternoon heroics by Si Woo Kim and Anirban Lahiri of the International team in a comeback four-ball win over Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman, the U.S. would have closed out the matches on Saturday. Before the singles session. That team, which triumphed by only 19-11, included just five players who competed at Whistling Straits–Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Brooks Koepka.
So, to review, Stricker has led America to two blowout victories by a combined score of 38-20.
This is a guy you want to keep around.
Spieth intimated that it was no coincidence that the atmosphere among the American teams at Whistling Straits and Liberty National was similar. “They [Stricker and his assistants] kept the phones open. They let us be able to talk to them about what we felt and ask questions, and they had answers for us. It felt like a player-friendly environment.”
It’s not like captains have to settle for their one shot and move on. Love was a losing captain in 2012—that disastrous collapse to Europe at Medinah. Watson and Jack Nicklaus enjoyed multiple captaincies in the modern era, defined as the period beginning in 1979 when players from Continental Europe bolstered the Great Britain & Ireland contingent.
If your argument against is the possibility of costing another worthy candidate his turn, well it’s time to catch up with the times and realize that the captaincy isn’t some honorary award bestowed upon those with the right resume. No. The captaincy is a responsibility with but one task—just win.
Plenty of worthy players will never be Ryder Cup captain. Three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin comes to mind. (Though he did lead America in the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994.) Larry Nelson, who until Johnson this year had been the only U.S. player to go 5-0 in the modern era of the Ryder Cup, never got a shot. He also owns three majors – including two PGA Championships. Fred Couples, three times a winning Presidents Cup captain, isn’t likely to ever get the call. A pity. But every captain going forward would be ruled clinically insane to not include the former Masters champion among his vice-captains. His presence has proven to be almost indispensable. He just knows how to win.
And so also, it appears, does Stricker. With spectacular results.
Just a few days ago we wrote that it would be foolhardy for Europe to blow up its system because of one loss, as thorough and demoralizing as it was. Adjustments are in order, but the Euros get to host the next Ryder Cup in Italy, and America hasn’t won on the road since 1993.
Equally psychotic would be a decision to move on from Stricker simply to welcome the next guy in line because it’s “his time.” The captaincy is occupied by one man, yes, but the position doesn’t belong to him. The captain, like the team he leads, represents the American side of a competition that is among the most watched and most popular in the world. He should be selected, like the players, on the basis of a single criteria: Does he help your side win?
With Stricker, the answer, to quote Dustin Johnson, is a resounding, “Abso-f … lutely.”