By Steve Eubanks, PGA.com
MEDINAH, Ill. -- The plan is now evident. And it worked.
Long before he arrived in Chicago, Captain Davis Love III had his strategy in place. And while he'd been dropping clues like breadcrumbs since the PGA Championship, he and his assistants kept most of the details a secret.
As of late Ryder Cup Saturday afternoon, he still hadn't shared much. Even President George W. Bush -- no stranger to keeping secrets -- didn't know every detail despite sharing a golf cart with Davis for much of the afternoon.
But, like a well-crafted novel, Davis' plot unfolded with pace and arc and a rich texture that required no explanation.
It started with the makeup of the team. Davis admitted when he announced his four captains' picks that he had done so based on pairings. What no one could have realized at the time was just how much the pairings would mean.
From the moment they arrived on Monday, U.S. players paired off like dive buddies and never left each other's sides. Every practice round, every interview and every match saw the same pairings - friends who shared similar personalities and insights. If Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar, or Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson, or Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker, or Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson, or Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson were to take the Myers Briggs or some other personality test, they would come out as almost the same people.
It makes it easier to enter the three-day pressure cooker of the Ryder Cup when you know that the man by your side thinks the way you do, communicates the way you do, and reacts the same way as you to stress. It makes it easier when you know the man out there with you has empathy for what you're feeling and will rally to your side instead of walking away like you're contagious when things go a little south. And it's easier when you know that you have at least one friend out there at all times no matter what.
Equally important to Davis' strategy was the consistency the pairings added. By knowing that he was going out again with Watson, Simpson didn't have to worry that his mediocre play on Saturday morning would get him benched in the afternoon. He knew that he and Bubba were a pair, so he could respond in the afternoon and pull out a decisive 5 and 4 win.
But there is another, broader psychological advantage to this system: It gives each player someone to play for.
In the heat of a match, you can't think about something as vast as playing for your country, or playing for history, or even playing for your family and friends. But you can think about playing for the guy standing next to you in the fairway, your buddy who has been with you all week and will be with you until Sunday night no matter what.
By transforming the 12-man team into six two-man teams, Love accomplished something extraordinary: He got a disparate group of insular, individual athletes to bond as a unit, and to sell out for the men standing next to them.
"He told us that as long as they were going good, we would stay together," Kuchar finally admitted on Saturday night after the partners sessions ended.
The only player who didn't seem to fit was Tiger Woods. He and Steve Stricker have done well in Presidents Cup matches, but nobody believes they are similar personalities or that they share much in the values department.
They were also the team that accounted for three of Europe's six points.
"I've played well the past two afternoons and didn't get a point," Tiger said. "It's tough. Yesterday I made a bunch of birdies and today I made five on the back nine and it wasn't enough. I'm feeling good about my game, but just, unfortunately, haven't gotten a point yet."
Tiger sat out the morning session on Saturday, not because of his play, but because Love also let it be known early that everyone would sit out at least one session. Nobody would play all five, even a team like Bradley and Mickelson that had three wins and plenty of energy. They would run in shifts, like a hockey or basketball team. Everyone would be out with fresh legs and everyone would be rested in the clutch.
"That was the plan going into these matches," Tiger admitted. "I put so much effort into that last match (Friday) afternoon, and I was pretty spent. It was nice to get a bit of rest (Saturday morning). Five matches in three days is a lot, and, hey, I'm not young anymore. I'm one of the older guys. It's nice to get a little bit or rest."
Because of Davis' strategy (and the fact that his players putted like demons both days) the U.S. team did not lose a session.
He won't take credit - the players hit the shots and made the putts - but Davis deserves to be recognized. He put a system in place that has, so far, allowed his team to perform at their best.
If the Americans hold on to win the Ryder Cup, Davis' system deserves to be praised.
- Bubba Watson
- Davis Love III