COMMENTARY | In 2004, the American Ryder Cup team captained by Hal Sutton suffered one of the worst defeats in the history of the event when it lost to Europe 18.5 to 9.5 at Oakland Hills.
In fact, it remains the biggest loss by the American team to date. Unfortunately, for Sutton, it will forever be a blemish on an otherwise respectable career that includes 14 PGA Tour victories and a major victory at the 1983 PGA Championship.
During a recent interview with Golf Magazine, Sutton recalled his highly controversial decision to pair Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- two players who have a lukewarm working relationship, at best -- in two matches. It was an attempt to create some type of "Super Pairing" that Sutton believed would be unbeatable.
Woods and Mickelson went on to lose both matches before being split up by Sutton. Oops.
Sutton received a monumental level of criticism from armchair Ryder Cup captains across the globe (as should be expected when your team losses by such a wide margin). The naysayers got to be so bad, in fact, that Sutton literally quit the game of golf.
"I quit. It drove me right out of the game," Sutton told the magazine. "You needed to blame a body, so I caught the blame. So I said, 'I'm going to go over here. I don't need you all.' That's the only way I could get grounded again, and get focused again on what I know."
When asked what he believed was the biggest issue with that 2004 American squad, Sutton suggested that there was nothing wrong with the team's talent level. Instead, he believes that the team's superstars at the time -- namely Woods and Mickelson -- were asked to do too much.
"We've created some real superstars in the U.S. who have failed us when it comes to [the Ryder Cup]," he explained. "They don't fail because they don't have enough talent; they fail because there's too much for them to do."
Hold on a second. Are we really supposed to accept the notion that the two biggest names in American golf shouldn't be expected to win more often? Sutton explained further in his interview.
"I mean Tiger's Ryder Cup record [13-14-2] is not very good at all, but everyone expects him to carry the team," the former captain surmised. "He can't get but five points. That ain't gonna win it. So everyone else has got to perform."
To be fair to Sutton, his obvious declaration that neither Tiger nor Phil could win the Ryder Cup single-handedly is correct. Other golfers on the team are going to have to pull their own weight. But surely American golf fans are in the right to expect the highest-ranked players on the planet to at least card a winning record, no? For the sake of comparison, Mickelson's Ryder Cup record is equally terrible as he has the most losses in Ryder Cup history (18).
True, it does take a certain type of player to be successful in match-play. Ian Poulter is the modern-day king of Ryder Cup matches, boasting an impressive 12-3 career record. However, the Englishman still searches for his first major championship in singles play. His is but one example of the playing style differences needed to be successful in match play.Even so, golf fans must be careful to not let players like Woods and Mickelson off the hook too easily. Despite Sutton's suggestion that the two veterans are relied on too heavily, they earned the unofficial designation of team leaders due to their playing success in other arenas.
Adam Fonseca has been covering professional golf since 2005. His work can also be found on the Back9Network. Follow Adam on Twitter at @chicagoduffer.
- Sports & Recreation
- Hal Sutton
- Tiger Woods
- Ryder Cup