A Laboratory for Teams: The Ryder Cup is Coming

US Captain Paul AzingerEuropean Captain Nick Faldo

For golf fans, the PGA was quite dramatic.  Weather was the main competitor and in a surprise finish, Padraig Harrington took his second major in a row.  There are great stories from this year’s PGA championship, but my focus is on the upcoming Ryder Cup.  Why?  This event, played every other year, is one of the best laboratories for team performance in the world.  There are always lessons about how teams triumph, go down in flames, solidify and self destruct.  So for the next few weeks as the teams prepare and the competition heats up, I will be focusing commentary on teams through the lens of the Ryder Cup.

You get your first sense of how competitive this event is when you go to www.rydercup.com and see that you must view the site through the lens of Team USA or Team Europe.  There is little consideration that anyone would just be interested in the event for its own sake.  This web gateway is emblematic of the fierce rivalry that is fanned sometimes into fury by the event organizers and of course, the press.  While a player’s fortunes rise and fall on his Ryder Cup performance, no official money changes hands.  Pros play for national pride and honor of country.

So the first test comes early.  Captains must form teams in a sport that is often about individual performance.  So, what style will we see from Captains Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo.  Will the focus be on what the team is for or will they follow the tone of competition almost in the fabric of the event, and focus on beating the enemy?

There is a lot of rhetoric about the Europeans being more comfortable with a team setting than the US which has focused on individual skill.  And what will Tiger’s absence from the team mean or say about the event and the outcome.  Right now there are still more questions than answers.  In the near term, Azinger has the task (opportunity?) to make his captain’s choice players, which is not part of the European selection system.

Even if you are not a golf fan, this is one of the few opportunities to watch as teams form and move quickly into a tough competitive environment.  Personally, I love the event for its own sake and cheer for good golf and tough competition more than for one side or the other.  But if history is any indicator, the coming weeks will provide a study in teams and team leadership.