How Ryder Cup Legends Performed as Captains
This article was written in collaboration with Betway Sports. The content is a reworked publication from this original article.
What makes a great Ryder Cup captain? Logically, a stellar playing record in this famed event would seem an obvious start, but having the ability to hole a match-winning putt doesn't necessarily mean that same individual will later be able to inspire others to achieve similar.
As Padraig Harrington’s European side travel to Whistling Straits to face Steve Stricker’s USA team - who are 8/15 favourites in the online betting odds - we explore how the most legendary Ryder Cup players performed when they were selected to step up as captains.
Europe’s recent Ryder Cup successes have largely come with extremely successful former players in charge.
Five Europeans have scored at least 20 Ryder Cup points as players and went on to become captains: Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Of those five, only Faldo failed to win the Ryder Cup, as his European side lost 16½-11½ in 2008.
Langer and Olazabal, two of the greatest Ryder Cup players ever, both guided Europe to famous victories on US soil. Langer’s team thrashed the US 18½-9½ at Oakland Hills in 2004, and Olazabal oversaw the Miracle at Medinah in 2012 as Europe famously came from behind to win 14½ -13½.
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 has been the only real exception to that rule, as he was a solid Ryder Cup player but not one of the greats. He made three appearances and went 3-4-2, before captaining Europe to a comfortable 17½-10½ win at Le Golf National in 2018.
While the best European players have generally also made for winning captains, that’s not necessarily been the case for the Americans.
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.
Between them, however, they won just two of the six Ryder Cups in which they were captains. Nicklaus led the USA to a narrow 14½-13½ win at PGA National in 1983, but returned as captain in 1987 and suffered a historic home defeat at Muirfield Village to Tony Jacklin's Europe.
When analysing it, 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, four years after he oversaw the dramatic loss to Europe at Medinah.
Paul Azinger, whose team won at Valhalla in 2008, went 5-8-3 as a Ryder Cup player, earning 6½ points from 16 matches.
And Ben Crenshaw led the USA to that infamous 14 ½-13½ win at Brookline in 1999 despite having arguably the weakest playing record of any captain since the Ryder Cup became USA v Europe in 1979. In 12 matches, Crenshaw won just 3½ points, going 3-8-1, and his 29.17 points percentage is the lowest of any player who went on to captain the USA.
Perhaps it bodes well for the USA, then, that this year’s captains don’t boast particularly impressive Ryder Cup records from their playing days.
Harrington was a mainstay for the European team from 1999 to 2010, making six appearances and winning the cup on four occasions. While he was part of some successful teams, Harrington’s personal record was just 9-13-3, including 3-3-0 in the singles, picking up 10½ points across 25 total matches.
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.
Stricker’s playing record in the competition is also the worst of any US captain since Crenshaw in 1999. In 11 matches, Stricker picked up just 3½ points with a 3-7-1 record, including 1-2 in the singles.
Considering how Crenshaw’s team performed 22 years ago, however, that will be of no concern to the US team.
With a group of golfers that look stronger on paper than the Europeans, along with the advantage of playing on home soil, it’s no surprise that the Americans are favourites this time around.
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