Thursday, November 6, 2014

You Have the Floor

The most recent edition of the biennial golf matchup pitting golfers from the PGA of America against their counterparts from Europe proved once again that professional golfers from European countries at this point are better than those from America! That's the bottom line. The competition at Gleneagles, Scotland and the solid victory by the European side proved that notion to be true but, the Americans in my view missed an opportunity to make it least close by not viewing the matches as simply golfer versus golfer but rather as side versus side.

You'll notice that I have used the word "side" as opposed to "team" to describe the "Ryder Cup Matches". That's because part of the format is a two man "team" competition but more about that later.

That was not the case in 2008 when the Americans were led by Captain Paul Azinger. I wrote about Azinger's approach to the event whereby he looked at his 12 players and saw them as a group, not just a collection of skilled golfers. Actually, he saw them as three, four player groups. He divided the Americans into three groups according to commonalities (geographical background, personality etc.). For Captain Azinger, this was a side v. side event, first & foremost and as such, he knew and understood the importance of the support each player in the "pod" could provide for his teammates.

The Ryder Cup is a very different type of golf event for professional golfers. I adhere to the premise that unless a pro misses the cut in a tournament, he/she can't lose. It's just a matter of how much he/she can win. Professional golfers play for someone else's money. Not so with Samuel Ryder's hardware. The 12 professional golfers on each side stare defeat squarely in the face when they punch their ticket to the event. Nine of the twelve qualify by virtue of their play in tournaments by amassing Ryder Cup points. Then, within a few weeks of the competition, the captains select three additional players to round out the squad.

Any who have played in the matches will tell you that the pressure to perform in the Ryder Cup is enormous. Why? Because you're not playing for yourself which is what touring pros do virtually all the time. Now you have the weight of the nation/continent on your shoulders plus that of your teammates.

Actually, the Americcans should have this figured out by now as they play this four ball, foursomes plus singles scenario every year because the "Presidents' Cup" matches take place in the non-Ryder Cup years.  The President's Cup matches see the Americans get it on with a side from the rest of the world (excluding Europe of course) but the format is the same as the Ryder Cup.

The 2014 American squad was led by Tom Watson who filled that prestigious role for the second time. Worthy of note is the fact that Watson was the captain the last time America captured the Ryder Cup away from home soil. Also noteworthy is the preceding Ryder Cup held in the U.S. (referred to by the Europeans as "The Miracle at Medinah"). The event moves back-and-forth from the U.S. to Europe on an alternating basis.

For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the Ryder Cup Matches allow me to describe the event. It's a three day competition. On each of the first two days, each side delegates eight of its 12 players to play in one of four matches (four ball in the morning & foursomes in the afternoon). Each match is worth one point so after the first two days, 16 points will have been divided and it's "match play". When your team of two players has the better score on a hole, it wins the hole. If your team wins more holes in the 18 hole round than your opponent, your team wins the point for the match. If after eighteen holes neither team has won more holes than the other, the match is halved and each side wins 1/2 a point.

On the final day, each member of each side is matched with a player from the other side. Twelve singles matches take place on day #3 to round out the total of 28 possible points. Interestingly enough, if the points are tied at 14, the side that is the current holder of the Cup retains possession. In the case of the matches at Gleneagles, that "Miracle at Medinah" whereby the Euorpeans, on the final day of the matches, overcame a 10-6 deficit to win, put them in a position where the 14/14 tie would see them retain the Cup. The Americans needed that extra 1/2 point.

Ironically, after the first two days, it was the Europeans who held the lead at 10-6 so I'm sure it was not lost on the Americans that to win down 10-6 would go a long way to erase the loss at Medinah. But, such was not the case. The singles matches on the final did not see the Americans exact a measure of revenge with the final tally, after all matches were completed, 16 1/2 -11 1/2 for the Euros! It was a solid victory, the 7th in the last 9 matches.

Well, the story could end here with the Americans hoping to turn the tide at Hazeltine G&CC in 2016 but then the lesson the loss at Gleneagles offered would be lost and that's the premise of this blog.

In the days following the matches, much has been said about the leadership style of Captain Tom Watson and it was the most experienced American Ryder Cup participant, Phil Mickelson, who was the most vocal. Unlike Paul Azinger who constantly dialogued with his 12 players to win the Ryder Cup Matches, Captain Watson made virtually all the decisions unilaterally. To hear Mickelson, the pairings for the team matches of the first two days were made by Watson, with no interaction with the American team. And, since four players sit out for each of the four team matches on days #1&2, again, no discussion with the players was had on that decision either.

For the life of me, I have absolutely no idea why Captain Watson would have adopted that management style. I don't feel that's a very empowering tactic on the part of the leader of the side. Certainly it was in stark contrast to Captain Azinger. To his credit, Watson didn't try to deflect any criticism. He was accountable and took full responsibility!

By this time you're likely wondering why I choose at the title for this blog, "You Have the Floor". This was a lesson taught to me by one of the players on the first senior women's team that I had the honour of taking to the World Senior Curling Championships in 2008 in Dunedin, NZ. The team consisted of skip Pat Sanders (CCA Hall of Fame member), third Cheryl Noble, second Roz Craig and lead Chris Jurgenson. During team meetings, skip Sanders was very quiet but her eyes told me that eventually she was likely to have something to say and that's what prompted me to institute a meeting ending protocol I called "You have the floor". When all was said and done and I felt the meeting should end, I began pointing to each team member in turn and saying, "You have the floor!". That person could say anything she wished and it didn't have to particularly pertain to anything about which we had spoken during the team meeting. She didn't have to raise any issues or ask any questions. You have the floor meant exactly that. We will listen to "anything" you have to say and unless you wish, no response from us will be forthcoming AND if you have nothing to say/add, you could "pass". Well, Pat never passed and in most cases tied a red ribbon around the issues which were discussed and occasionally gave us all pause to consider another angle none of us had considered in the body of the meeting. But the important part is that Pat knew, she would "have the floor".

Not all members of a team will be predisposed to open up in a forum like a team meeting. "You have the floor" is a great way to ensure that everyone at least has the undivided attention of those in attendance. I'm sure it's not the only way to go about it but it certainly has worked for me. I have never not ended a meeting that way! It wasn't my idea, it came to me through Pat and I will be ever so grateful to her for that. Perhaps Captain Watson might have ended his meetings with "You have the floor!"

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