Do great Ryder Cup players make great Ryder Cup captains?

Ryder Cup Captains

If there’s one thing that history has taught us, it’s that the best golfers don’t always make the best Ryder Cup players.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, for example, have 21 majors and 127 PGA Tour wins between them – but both have also lost more Ryder Cup matches than they’ve won. 

However, what’s less clear is whether or not greatRyder Cup players make great captains. 

After all, having the confidence to hole a match-winning putt under pressure doesn’t necessarily mean someone will be able to inspire others to do the same. 

Europe’s recent Ryder Cup successes have largely come with extremely successful former players as captains.

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Five Europeans have scored at least 20 Ryder Cup points as players and gone on to become captains: Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal. 

Of those five, only Faldo failed to win. 

Langer and Olazabal, two of the greatest Ryder Cup players of all time, both guided Europe to famous victories on US soil. Langer’s team thrashed the US 18½-9½ at Oakland Hills in 2004, and Olazabal masterminded the Miracle at Medinah in 2012.

Of the ten captains to have won the Ryder Cup for Europe, seven possessed a points percentage of at least 50% and eight had won at least ten points over the course of their playing careers.

Thomas Bjorn is the only real exception in recent years. As a player, he had a solid if unspectacular Ryder Cup record, going 3-4-2 in his three appearances, picking up two points and posting a points percentage of 44.4. He then went on to captain Europe to a comfortable 17½-10½ win at Le Golf National in 2018.

The converse is true for the USA.

Tom Kite, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Lanny Wadkins and Billy Casper are the five most successful American Ryder Cup players who went on to become captains. All five won at least 17 points in their careers and had points percentages over 60%.

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Between them, however, they won just two of the six Ryder Cups in which they were captains. Nicklaus led the USA to a 14½-13½ win at PGA National in 1983 but returned as captain in 1987 and suffered a home defeat at Muirfield Village, ending a 13-0 winning streak for the Americans that spanned 60 years.

In fact, none of the three men who have captained the USA to victory since 1999 were particularly great Ryder Cup players.

Davis Love III possessed a 9-12-5 (W-L-H) record, taking 11.5 points from 26 matches, but won 17-11 as captain in 2016.

Paul Azinger, whose team won at Valhalla in 2008, went 5-8-3 as a Ryder Cup player, earning six-and-a-half points from 16 matches.

And Ben Crenshaw led the USA to a famous 14 ½-13½ win at the ‘Battle of Brookline’ in 1999 despite coming in with arguably the worst playing record of any captain since Europeans joined the fold in 1979. In 12 matches, Crenshaw won just three-and-a-half points, going 3-8-1. His 29.17 points percentage is the lowest of any player who went on to captain the USA.

So, what about this year’s skippers?

Padraig Harrington was a mainstay for the European team from 1999 to 2010, making six appearances and winning the cup on four occasions. Yet his personal record was just 9-13-3, including 3-3-0 in the singles, picking up ten-and-a-half points across 25 total matches.

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Steve Stricker, meanwhile, made just three Ryder Cup appearances as a player. He was a part of a winning USA team at Valhalla in 2008, but then lost at Celtic Manor in 2010 and at Medinah in 2012.

His playing record in the competition is also the worst of any US captain since Crenshaw in 1999. In 11 matches, Stricker picked up just three-and-a-half points with a 3-7-1 record, including 1-2 in the singles.

With a group of golfers that look stronger on paper than their European counterparts, along with the advantage of playing on home soil, it’s no surprise that the Americans are favourites this time around.

And while Harrington’s superior – although not exactly stellar – playing record may give the Europeans hope, history would suggest that it isn’t the advantage that it might appear.

--

Content kindly supplied by Betway.

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