Originally Published: September 10, 2014 1:31 p.m.
ATLANTA - The losing captain - usually an American - is an easy scapegoat at the Ryder Cup. Now he at least has an accomplice.
Just blame it on the FedEx Cup.
Four years ago, it rained so hard at Celtic Manor in the opening session that no match got past the 10th hole and the Ryder Cup ultimately finished on Monday for the first time. During the seven-hour delay, a British golf writer demanded to speak to PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
Why did he need Finchem?
"Because of the FedEx Cup," the writer huffed.
Of course. Because of the FedEx Cup ending the last week of September, the Ryder Cup was played Oct. 1-3, which apparently is not ideal weather for Wales. Overlooked by the writer was that Ryder Cup officials held a "one year to go" celebration on the same day a year earlier and boasted of the magnificent sunshine.
The course was a mess. The competition was not. For the first time in 19 years, the Ryder Cup was decided by the final match. It was a thriller.
Two years ago at Medinah, the top brass at the PGA of America stood grimly behind the registration desk in the media center at the start of the week when they summoned a familiar face to join the conversation about what was hardly the most pressing of world issues.
"What are we going to do about the FedEx Cup?" one of them said.
Surely, the American players were exhausted. The entire team had played four of the previous five weeks in the FedEx Cup, and that included Brandt Snedeker, a captain's pick who arrived at Medinah with an extra $10 million in the bank. Five players from Europe also made it all the way to the Tour Championship.
Some disaster that turned out to be. The Americans raced to a 10-6 lead, only for Europe to stage a most improbable rally that featured Rory McIlroy needing a police escort to get to the tee on time, Justin Rose making a 45-foot birdie putt and Ian Poulter making everything he looked at during what now is called the "Miracle at Medinah." For pure theater, that Ryder Cup ranks among the best ever.
Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe it's cyclical.
But maybe the FedEx Cup should get credit - not blame - for the Ryder Cup living up to its reputation as the most exciting three days in golf.
Before the FedEx Cup began, the matches were all but over by Sunday as Europe twice handed the Americans their worst beating ever. Since the FedEx Cup, with players competing in meaningful events leading up to the matches, the last three Ryder Cups have been decided in the final hour, if not the final few matches.
U.S. captain Tom Watson was emphatic that the Americans at least had one week off before the Ryder Cup, especially for an away game that included travel and a five-hour time change. That led to four straight FedEx Cup playoff events, and visible fatigue.
Having a week off before the Ryder Cup didn't appear to be an issue in 2010. Even in their leaking rain suits, the Americans managed to win all but one session - a huge success except that Europe went 5-0-1 in that session, which turned out to be the difference.
The same schedule was in place for 2012 - three straight FedEx Cup playoff events, a one-week break, and then the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup.
Why is that a problem? Only 30 players are at The Tour Championship - 16 of them in the Ryder Cup - and everyone sleeps in with a short field. Besides, Ryder Cup matches don't start until Friday. Of course, it can be an exhausting week with photo sessions, a gala dinner and listening to Justin Timberlake read a poem at opening ceremonies.
Watson wanted a change. The PGA Tour players on the policy board went along, and Finchem acquiesced. Without conceding it was a mistake, Finchem said it wouldn't happen again under the same circumstances.
"Our plan would be to avoid it," he said. "We don't like it."
Four straight weeks of high-caliber golf has put an even greater focus on fatigue.
FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson failed to make it back to East Lake to defend his title, and he sounded relieved. "I'm in desperate need of some rest," he said.
Phil Mickelson protested four weeks in a row (even though he narrowly made it to the third event). He said on Wednesday he was rejuvenated to be back at Cherry Hills. He left Denver two days later, saying he needed to rest for the Ryder Cup. Sergio Garcia chose not to go for the 17th green with a chance to win. He blamed the decision on not being mentally sharp.
If the Ryder Cup is that big a deal, it should set its own date and have the PGA Tour build a schedule around it, just as the tour does for the Masters. Let the players decide what's more important, or how they should prepare for each.
When the Ryder Cup began, it was scheduled around the U.S. Open or PGA Championship in America, and The Open Championship when it was in Britain. That was when the Ryder Cup was an exhibition of golf, not an exercise in revenue.