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As Padraig Harrington’s Team Europe prepare to face Steve Stricker’s Team USA at Whistling Straits, we take a look at how the greatest Ryder Cup players performed as team captains.
Reputations can count for little in the unique challenge that is the Ryder Cup. Just ask Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. They may have 21 Majors between them, but both have lost more Ryder Cup matches than they’ve won.
But this great competition down the years has proved that their losing records could actually be a good omen for Team USA should either of them one day take on the role of captain.
Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins and Billy Casper are the five most successful American players in Ryder Cup history who later became captains. All five won at least 17 Ryder Cup points as players and had points percentages over 60 per cent.
But between them they won just two of the six Ryder Cups in which they were captains. Also, none of the three men who have captained the USA to victory since 1999 were great Ryder Cup players.
Davis Love III had a 9-12-5 (Win-Loss-Halve) record, taking only 11.5 points from 26 matches, but won 17-11 as captain in 2016. Paul Azinger, whose team won at Valhalla in 2008, had a 5-8-3 record as a player, earning just 6.5 points from 16 matches.
Ben Crenshaw, who led the USA to a 14.5-13.5 win at the ‘Battle of Brookline’ in 1999, had one of the worst playing records of any captain, winning 3.5 points from 12 matches. With a record of 3-8-1, his 29.17 points percentage is the lowest of any player who went on to captain the USA.
It’s been a different story for the Europeans, whose Ryder Cup wins have largely come with very successful former players as captains.
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. Out of those, only Faldo failed to win the Ryder Cup, when his team lost 16.5-11.5 in 2008.
Langer and Olazabal, two of the most successful Ryder Cup players in history, both led Europe to victories in America. Langer’s team won 18.5-9.5 at Oakland Hills in 2004, while Olazabal oversaw the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ in 2012 when Europe came back to win 14.5-13.5.
Of the 10 European captains to have won the Ryder Cup, seven had a points percentage of at least 50 per cent, and eight won at least 10 points as players.
The only real exception is Thomas Bjorn, who captained Europe to a 17.5-10.5 win at Le Golf National in 2018, but had a playing record of 3-4-2 , earning just two points with a points percentage of 44.4.
Harrington’s record as a Ryder Cup player wasn’t great, which as we now know is not usually a good omen for Team Europe. The Irishman played six times between 1999 and 2010, winning the cup four times. But he had a personal record of just 9-13-3, including 3-3-0 in the singles, picking up just 10.5 points from 25 matches.
Another good sign for Team USA, Stricker’s record as a Ryder Cup player was even worse. He made three appearances, winning the cup at Valhalla in 2008, but losing it at Celtic Manor in 2010 and Medinah in 2012. In fact, Stricker’s playing record is the worst of any US captain since Crenshaw in 1999. In 11 matches, he earned just 3.5 points with a 3-7-1 record, including 1-2 in the singles.
With a USA team looking stronger on paper than Europe, along with the advantage of playing at home in front of their own fans, it wouldn’t be a shock if Stricker continued the tradition of a less than stellar American Ryder Cup player lifting the trophy as captain.
Which team is your pick for this year? Place your bet on Betway.