INSIDE STORY OF RYDER CUP
By Bob Weiner
Many of the most dramatic moments surrounding the 2016 Ryder Cup occurred behind the scenes. With key insight and rare access to the greatest players in the world, award-winning author John Feinstein chronicles this historic event in his latest book, “The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup.”
Feinstein has written 38 books, including “A Good Walk Spoiled,” and “A Season on the Brink.” If you are a golf fan, “The First Major,” is a must read. I not only read this excellent book cover-to-cover, but I also interviewed Feinstein for this review. He was, as always, honest, insightful and extremely giving of his precious time.
Although the four major championships – the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship – are considered the most important events on the PGA Tour, along with the Players Championship and the FedEx Cup, Feinstein argues that the Ryder Cup is even bigger. After losing six of the seven previous Ryder Cups to the Europeans, the U.S. team – and PGA officials – desperately wanted to bring the Cup back into American hands.
Don’t forget that the U.S. used to dominate the Ryder Cup, especially in the early years when it was just the U.S. vs. Great Britain. Eventually, to make the biennial event more competitive, the format was changed to the U.S. against all of Europe. Begun in 1927, the Ryder Cup didn’t receive much publicity at all in the U.S. until the European team started to get more competitive. In the last two decades, the European dominance began to wear on the U.S.
Feinstein explains how former PGA president Ted Bishop got the ball rolling to introduce a Ryder Cup task force to improve all facets of the Ryder Cup preparation, including the choice of the U.S. captain. Perhaps the biggest problem in the recent past, according to the U.S. players, was their lack of input into an event that placed more pressure on them than any other golf tournament.
I asked Feinstein if the task force made any real difference in the ultimate outcome. “Well, obviously, the U.S. won,” he said. “The existence of the task force allowed the players to have more input in the vice captains and the captain, as well as with little things like getting rid of the gala dinner. More importantly, it made them feel like they had more input. They felt that nobody consulted them.
“When they lost, they got all the blame. Putting six players on that task force made them feel more involved. But personally, I never bought into the thought that it made them more invested. If they made the U.S. team, how could they not feel invested?
Although Feinstein gives a short history of the Ryder Cup and details all aspects of the event itself, the most intriguing parts of the story were the personality clashes behind the scenes.
CHAMBLEE VS. DUVAL
You will love reading about the many in-house conflicts. My favorite involves Golf Channel analysts Brandel Chamblee and former No. 1 player in the world David Duval, whose father, Bobby Duval, was born in Schenectady. A couple of days before the Ryder Cup teed off, Chamblee, live on the air, blamed recent U.S. losses on the lack of leadership from the Americans’ top two players – Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Duval vehemently disagreed. The argument, with Frank Nobilo stuck in the middle, got personal. I won’t spoil it for you, but there was a lot more to the heated discussion, and it had consequences.
“I think it was an ‘Us vs. Them’ kind of thing,” Feinstein said. “It got personal. I’m not sure either one got over it. Players don’t like ex-players [ripping] current players. They couldn’t go after Johnny Miller because he was better than 90 percent of them. Brandel was a solid player, a good player, but not a great player. He was never a Ryder Cup player. David was saying you can’t understand because you never played in the Ryder Cup.”
PHIL VS. TOM
Another major controversy was when Mickelson criticized former captains like Tom Watson and Hal Sutton for the way they handled the U.S. teams, especially how they dealt with Mickelson himself.
“I like Phil. He doesn’t pull any punches,” Feinstein said. “But I also know Tom Watson. It was a situation where I was dealing with two guys I like, and they were really on opposite sides. It came down to the fact that Tom was from a different era. That’s why Ted Bishop wanted him to be captain (in 2014). Phil didn’t like the decision from day one. Tom is a bright guy, and he picked up on that vibe. The team followed Phil, and the team ended up turning against Watson.”
INSIDE ACCESS THE FOCUS
There were plenty of behind the scenes stories you will enjoy, including how Tiger Woods became a surprisingly good choice for vice captain and got extremely involved – even obsessed — with helping to set the U.S. lineup.
Feinstein describes how Matt Kuchar kept the team loose with his jokes, and how Rory McIlroy became the undisputed leader of the European team.
If you think pro golfers are under extreme pressure every week, read about how some of the players, including Patrick Reed, Keegan Bradley and Padraig Harrington – had trouble even breathing when they got on the first tee. Pressure and intensity at the Ryder Cup are on another level completely.
Feinstein hits a home run – or, more appropriately, scores an ace – with this book. It should make an excellent holiday read.
Editor’s note: Capitalareagolf.com got a phone interview with author John Feinstein during his book tour for “The First Major.” It’s a book he first told us in an exclusive interview in the press room at the Masters in 2016. Click here for more about John Feinstein. This is part one of two stories about the book and Feinstein’s thoughts on the game. Check back soon for part two.