Since the Ryder Cup started in 1927, it has changed the outlook to golf from just being an individual sport to a unique team sport.
The Ryder Cup brings together individual golfers to play together in a team environment. There are many other sports around the world that follow this model such as The British and Irish Lions, Great Britain Rugby League team, the NBA and MLB all star teams. The difference being that these other sports are ALWAYS played in teams. They present their own challenges by having to bring separate individuals and unify them into a collective but the biggest hurdle with the Ryder Cup is they are individuals that rarely, if ever, play together as a team.
The players must change their mind set and have a high level of behavioural flexibility to adapt to a whole new playing environment. One player who is a shining light for the European side is Ian Poulter, who has never won a Major golf tournament but continually achieves in this event ( even if he was a little shaky at time this year) so the question is what changes in this team environment?
The Ryder Cup is a great example of a non-playing captain bringing in a group of highly performing players and forming them into co-active team. Even though it is still an individual sport where the players play individually, in the end it is the success of the team that determines whether they win or not.
Strength in Unity is a term talked about a lot in team sports as it has a direct impact on success. Strength in Unity, not only on the playing arena but also in the changing room and the bar afterwards will have a direct impact on success (this is where you see teams become great or crumble apart) .
Golf is perceived as one of the most mentally challenging sports there is. The time in between actions allows the player the opportunity to make a measured decision about what shot to play next. This can be of help, or with most players, of hindrance. With all players, whether they are on a course or playing in the Ryder cup, experiences and memory come in account. These decisions start from the unconscious mind and while underrated as just habit, they have a powerful effect on the conscious decisions. But then if you place too much time or external influences, that is where problems arise. Golfers at the highest levels have trained to ensure they have the skills and these have become unconscious skills – they have formed a habit. Doubt and anxiety is the main cause of mistakes.
Top performers will more times than not use less mental effort to perform the golf skills as they have formed all the ‘shots’ by modelling and in most cases anchoring from past experiences.
Top players have said that in high pressure situation where the nerves impacted on their performance, their normal unconscious skill become conscious.
Leadership also plays a huge part in deciding who comes out on top. One thing is clear in all events invoking teams : you have to have leaders on and off the course to adapt to the environment and fluctuating situations. However, things inevitably changed over the course of the weekend and some tough decisions had to be made by the captain and the players individually.
In 2010, Colin Montgomerie said that “if they need motivating, they shouldn’t be here”. Whether players are internally or externally motivated will have a bearing on how successful the players and team is. Internally motivated players are interested perhaps in improving themselves and enjoying the sport, whereas externally motivated players are probably interested in rewards and recognition.
It could be said that you would want, for this weekend, an externally motivated player as they want the rewards and want to win. This is not to say that internally motivated players do not want to win but they will see winning and rewards as secondary to their personal goals. A mix of both will motivate the player personally and they will be encouraged by winning which will continue the cycle of success.
There are hundreds of factors that affected the Ryder Cup of 2014 at Gleneagles, ones that no-one would have even though about. However, to win the Ryder Cup, the teams must come together, leave egos and emotions at the door, and play the golf of their lives!
That is why the Europeans were triumphant, but for all our American friends I know that the USA will come back fighting in 2 years time!