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Fixing the USA's Ryder Cup problem

The 2014 Ryder Cup was a disaster for the United States, but it may have been the impetus for an overhaul to the process of building a team and selecting a captain. Here are a few prescriptions.

As Europe was putting the finishing touches on yet another Ryder Cup victory, their third straight, the second-guessing began for the United States side. As the U.S. team prepared to leave Scotland, the entire process of putting together a team and selecting a captain was coming into question, and appears to be at a crossroads for the PGA of America going forward.

It hasn't been a good run for the United States in the Ryder Cup. They have only won two Ryder Cups since 1999 despite having superstars like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, arguably the two best of the era.

Mickelson's press conference attack on Tom Watson and the entire way the USA has approached Ryder Cups may have come at the wrong time. But the team coming so undone in full public view may be the impetus for a much-needed overhaul. What can be done to fix the U.S. Ryder Cup team moving forward?

Don't Be Afraid of the Rookies

It seemed from the beginning of the selection process that Watson was concerned with Ryder Cup experience with his captain's picks. He went with Hunter Mahan, Keegan Bradley, and Webb Simpson, in part because they had been there before. And while you can't necessarily be upset with that logic, it obviously didn't pan out the way he was hoping. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the fact is the threesome of captain's picks only netted three points.

Meanwhile, Ryder Cup rookies who qualified on points thrived on the biggest team golf stage in the world. Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker, and Patrick Reed all delivered valuable points. And other than a terrible final match by Spieth, the rookies were unfazed by the pressure of the Ryder Cup.

The captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup will obviously not be able to control the automatic qualifiers, but he should have some captain's selections again (amount TBD by the captain). Watson elected to go with experience in 2014, but as we learned, it may not be necessary. The new U.S. captain shouldn't be afraid to go with players who are playing well at the time, regardless of experience. And if more rookies do qualify, the new captain shouldn't be afraid to play them. As Shane Ryan noted recently, why should experience matter when the only experience this generation of USA players has is losing?

Extend the Selection Process

Speaking of making captain's selections, there is no reason why the PGA of America can't extend the deadline for making captain's picks.

Let's take this year as the most recent and glaring example. Because of the self-imposed deadline this year, Billy Horschel, who was playing his best golf of the season just before the Ryder Cup, was not selected to the team because he hadn't accumulated enough points. He also missed out on a captain's selection. By the time Horschel was wrapping up his FedEx Cup title, Watson already had his 12-man team set for Scotland. Horschel, arguably the hottest player on the planet, was left at home while Simpson and Mahan, two guys who finished the postseason with underwhelming results, had already secured their spots at the start of the month. It made no sense.

On the European side, because of their later selection deadline, Graeme McDowell was able to play his way onto the team. He proved to be a valuable asset to the victorious European side.

If the PGA of America would extend their selection deadline, the U.S. team could add players who are playing their best, both through automatic selections and captain's picks. With such an early deadline, peaking players run the risk of staying at home instead of heading to Hazeltine in 2016. There should be no travel concerns related to putting a roster together at the last minute -- these guys all fly private, and the next Ryder Cup should be easy enough to get to in Minnesota.

Billy Horschel, Photo credit: Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

Promote the Team Atmosphere

Maybe this will come from the players themselves, but it's possible that the PGA of America can do more to foster a team environment well before the week of the Ryder Cup. As you may have noticed, the European squad in 2014 had undeniable team chemistry. This seemed to be something that was lacking from the United States team both this year and throughout this era of Euro dominance.

This may sound crazy, but as the next Ryder Cup cycle goes on let's get the top 10-15 guys together. Pair them with each other at the weekly practice rounds. Have parties or team events regularly. These guys need to get to know each other better, and they need to have a sense of who they will be playing with and paired with before the week of the Ryder Cup.

Many will point to Paul Azinger's "pod" system in the 2008 Ryder Cup as a great way to promote team chemistry. During that Ryder Cup, Azinger put players in groups of four. Each player knew they would play with one of the other three guys. They got to know each other, learned more about each other's games, and found out how to best motivate their partners. It was only one of two Ryder Cup wins for the United States in the past 15 years. I am not sure it's a coincidence.

Regardless of who the next captain is, the PGA of America can try to set guidelines in place for fostering that kind of team atmosphere by getting the top players together more often.

Pick the Right Captain

As we've discussed, Tom Watson was not the best choice for captain in 2014. He was clearly over-matched by Paul McGinley and bungled several decisions along the way. But how can the U.S. do better? After all, it is the players who have to go out and execute.

Well, the U.S. will need someone to act on the ideas above and get the most out of the players selected. If you notice the European side, they are invested in every shot. And not just their own. They are all in for EVERY shot. It always seemed the Euros were walking alongside their teammates when their matches were done.

Another must for the captain is picking someone who relates to the team. Remember when Watson played Gleneagles over the summer and invited players to join him? Well, Keegan Bradley was the only one to go. Maybe, just maybe, no one really wanted to go play a couple rounds with the 65-year-old Watson.

So who does the U.S. go with for the 2016 Ryder Cup? A lot of people will point to Azinger making a comeback to the captaincy. And why not? He is the only U.S. captain to win a cup this century and he clearly adores the role and the competition.

But my vote goes to Mickelson. By all accounts, he is one of the more likable guys on Tour. He has a great relationship with many players and regularly tees it up with them, and he is not afraid to push them either. A notorious gambler, Mickelson has a great idea of what motivates many of his colleagues. He can get under their skin when he is their opponent and can help them when he's not. He has also played in a record 38 Ryder Cup matches. He understands how it works. Phil is my choice to get the U.S. out of its recent funk.