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Dilute trust with self-interest and you arrive at where US golf finds itself

Opinion

America’s professional golfers tend to be surly and belligerent at the best of times. So what happens when they are forced to acknowledge that there’s no “I” in team, asks Michael Blucher.

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It’s been funny, hasn’t it, the build up to this Ryder Cup?

Europe are meant to be the enemy, the sole source of the competitive tension. Yet for the past month, all the American animosity has been internally focused.

Will Brooks talk to Bryson? Will Bryson talk to Brooks? Can they even be in the team room together? Patrick Cantlay – can he cop Bryson? And DJ – didn’t he take a swipe at Brooks after they lost last time? What about Patrick Reed – we know he’s been left out, but perhaps he’ll turn up unannounced in his “Captain America” outfit to save the day? Distract the US team by giving all 12 players the same sharp focus of hatred?

What a circus. You wonder why the US don’t just have a grudge match between themselves? Save the expense of assembling the European team…

Team dynamics in elite sport are fascinating, never more so when they are overlaid on a competitive landscape that for 51 weeks of the year is “every man for himself”.

The world’s best golfers are solo operatives, guns for hire whose success in the sport is self directed and self determined.

In the heat of battle, there’s no batsman at the other end, keeping the scoreboard ticking over, or on the footy field, somebody putting you through gap, or shepherding you so you can get a clear kick, even making a covering tackle that you’ve missed. Bar some bloke wearing a bib, calling out yardages and handing over clubs, professional golfers are on their own.

For golf fans in particular, that’s what makes the Ryder Cup such compelling viewing. We see the world’s best in a different light, wearing team kit, representing interests much broader and consequential than their own.

The European team always seems to present a united front, despite being a hotch potch of Poms, Irishmen, Spaniards, Swedes, Italians, Frenchmen – it depends on the year.

However regardless of who’s in the mix, there’s routinely an air of levity – you can picture a team room where blokes are pulling pranks, laughing, joking, even standing on their head, sculling beer.

And then there’s the Americans, serious and surly, apparently overburdened by the gravity of the occasion, the enormity of wearing their country’s colours. There’s rarely any apparent chemistry, certainly no vulnerability, a key ingredient in the establishment of trust.

Bryson: “I’m a little nervous, Brooksie. How are you holding up?”

“Yeah me too, Big Man. But don’t worry – we’re all in this together We’ve got your back. You’re a great talent. Just go bash the little white bastard – just like you always do.”

Are there any words less likely to be spoken in the USA team room, than that little exchange?

The home fans were awash with excitement during the week when the pair apparently spoke to each other on the practice range in Wisconsin. Here’s the video. Look… see ..they do get on!

Powerful. Two blokes talking, without taking a swipe at one another – the genesis of a great team right there!

At least the Americans have finally culled Reed, who a couple of Ryder Cups go, famously claimed Tiger apologised to him in their four ball match, despite shooting 80-something himself.

Yep, he’s the sort of guy you need in a pressure cooker environment. At the Presidents Cup in Australia in 2019, his team-mates were required to answer questions, as to what they thought of his cheating. Now that’s what you need to be doing on the eve of your opening four ball match.

Selflessness, respect, personal accountability, behavioural standards, generosity of spirit – these are some of the elements that are conducive to, even foster a high performance environment.

In this sense, sport parallels business.

There’s a simple equation for trust that professional services master David Maister devised a few years ago that’s relevant to this discussion. Trust = C + R + I divided by SI.

In Maister maths, the C stands for “Credibility” – having the necessary skills to do a job. The R is for “Reliability”, doing what you say you’re going to do. I is “intimacy” – how well you know somebody, your understanding of who they are, where they’ve come from and what makes them tick.

These scores can all be very high – 10/10 in fact, but the total is then divided by “SI” – “Self Interest” – the notion of somebody putting themselves in front of others. The “me” instead of “we”.

Where there’s even an inkling of self interest, trust plummets. The high scores at the top level become almost inconsequential.

Try calculating the “SI “ quotient in the American Ryder Cup team. Can we spot any self interest within the ranks of the Red, White and Blue?

You bet, Uncle Sam.

It’ll be fascinating to watch the chemistry over the weekend – a team of champions up against a champion team.

The home course advantage and Whistling Straits set up may well be enough to propel the Americans to victory.

But win, lose or draw, I’d still much rather have a beer with the Euros.

 

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