LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As the dust settles over yet another Ryder Cup defeat for the United States, PGA of America president Ted Bishop says he would like to see a more “systematic approach” in selecting the U.S. captain for 2016.
Bishop, who expressed “absolutely no regrets” over the appointment of the much maligned Tom Watson for last week’s Cup showdown with Europe at Gleneagles in Scotland, is also in favor of a much later selection of the 2016 U.S. team.
Those were the key changes highlighted by Bishop in a wide-ranging interview with Reuters on Tuesday in which he was asked about the lessons learned by the Americans after they had suffered their eighth Ryder Cup loss to Europe in a decade.
He also spoke about the perceived division within the U.S. team, a topic which became a hot-button issue after Cup veteran Phil Mickelson launched a thinly-veiled attack on Watson’s strategy as a captain shortly after the cup was won by Europe.
“There’s been a lot made of what Phil Mickelson said on Sunday night at the press conference,” said Bishop, who was already back at work at his Legends Golf Club in Indiana on Tuesday.
“You know what, that was no surprise to me because I had a very similar conversation with Phil when we played together in the pro-am at the Scottish Open back in July at Royal Aberdeen.
“I had asked Phil a question about his perception of the Ryder Cup and he gave me the same answer that he gave on Sunday night, so it’s clear to me that he feels very strongly about that.”
Bishop, whose PGA of America organization represents more than 27,000 golf professionals, felt Mickelson’s biggest mistake was not to speak out earlier, and in private with Watson.
“It would have been nice if he had maybe conveyed those feelings to Tom before the Ryder Cup rather than after the Ryder Cup,” said Bishop. “And I wish he wouldn’t have done it in that venue on Sunday night, but it is what it is.
“There probably weren’t two guys that were part of that team that wanted to win any more than Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson. I think they’re very similar in that regard.”
With Europe in jubilant mood after crushing the U.S. by 16-1/2 points to 11-1/2, Mickelson said Watson had not engaged with his players during the week and should have used the “pod” system that worked so well for their last Cup victory in 2008.
“He (Watson) probably implemented the ‘pod’ system that everybody has made such a big deal about more so than Davis Love (III) or Corey Pavin,” said Bishop, referring to Watson’s two predecessors as U.S. captain.
“I think a lot of that was because of the influence that Steve Stricker had as assistant captain with Tom. Steve of course was part of that Ryder Cup team at Valhalla that did win (in 2008).
Paul Azinger was the successful U.S. captain at Valhalla where he implemented a four-man ‘pod’ system, an idea he got from the Navy SEALS.
“Tom had the same four guys practicing together on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Gleneagles and they were playing their own games within their foursomes,” said Bishop.
“He made them switch up the partners on Thursday because he wanted everybody in the group to have a chance to play with each other so he had the flexibility to switch the pairings throughout the week as he needed to.
“He had the same assistant captain basically assigned to each of those groups, so there was a lot of continuity in that regard.”
Bishop believes the U.S. can learn a great deal from Paul McGinley’s meticulous and sensitive captaincy of Europe last week and from the settled structure that paved the way for the Irishman to take charge of the team.
“There really is some merit in having a structure in place where you are bringing guys in as vice-captains who are going to be potential Ryder Cup captains,” said Bishop.
“And just like Europe has done, we need to break the mould on saying that a U.S. Ryder Cup captain has to be a former major champion.
“I’d use a guy like Steve Stricker as a potential Ryder Cup captain. Why not? He has already served one tenure as a vice-captain and he is very well respected by the players.”
Bishop said he had no regrets over the bold gamble to appoint Watson, 65, as the oldest ever Ryder Cup captain but he envisaged a more structured strategy in the search by the PGA of America for the 2016 skipper at Hazeltine National.
“I think you’re going to see us having a little bit more of a systematic approach where we probably don’t do anything different from the past where we have solicited opinions of others (on a captain) but you’ll see more structure to it,” he said.
Bishop also suggested that the automatic qualifiers for the 2016 Ryder Cup should be identified later than usual, perhaps after the Deutsche Bank Championship, with the captain’s picks being announced at the season-ending Tour Championship.
“We have to try to make sure that we field the strongest team possible and with the PGA Championship moving to late July (from August) in 2016 because of the Olympics, there is no way you can announce the automatic qualifiers two months before the Ryder Cup,” he said.
“I don’t see why it would be impossible to allow the captain to make his captain’s picks after the Tour Championship. That would give the captain the option to pick a couple of hot players, like Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel were this year.”
Kirk won the second of the four FedExCup events to make a late bid for a captain’s pick this year while Horschel triumphed in the last two to clinch overall playoff honors. Neither player made the U.S. Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles.
Editing by Frank Pingue