Pressures of the Ryder Cup

If anyone showed that pressure in an outward way it was Hunter Mahan crying during the press conference after the USA’s loss to Europe in 2010.

I love Ryder Cup week, as much or more because I love both golf and team efforts, whether that be on the playing field or in the workplace.

A lot of attention is given to the Ryder Cup — and to a lesser degree the President’s Cup — in regard to the pressure placed on the players; the pressure that goes beyond the norm of playing for one’s self most of the time to now being responsible for the results of a team, a country or a continent. If anyone showed that pressure in an outward way it was Hunter Mahan crying during the press conference after the USA’s loss to Europe in 2010 when Mahan felt he personally blew it for everyone in the final round.

A story described that day this way:

Thrust into the 12th spot in the lineup opposite U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, the entire weight of defending the Cup fell onto Mahan’s shoulders at Celtic Manor, and both the pressure and the result left him crushed and inconsolable.

At one point, when Mahan was delicately asked about how his 3-and-1 loss played out, nothing came out but stuttering, sputtering air, and Phil Mickelson had to deflect the attention elsewhere, and other mates spoke for him.

“If you go up and down the line of the tour players in Europe and U.S. and asked them if you would like to be the last guy to decide the Ryder Cup, probably less than half would say they would like to be that guy and probably less than 10 percent of them would mean it,” teammate Stewart Cink said.

In a recent press release, Joshua Dines, M.D., a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, said the physical reactions can be very real for Ryder Cup players. “In these situations, the competitive atmosphere is clearly very stressful psychologically which can cause very real physical manifestations. Mild symptoms may include an upset stomach or headache. But, more serious effects have been observed ranging from tenseness, muscle stiffness or shoulder/back aches to rapid breathing and overt panic attacks. Clearly these can have effects on one’s ability to swing a golf club, so to a certain extent, the team that manages the stress best is in a good position to win.”

Very few people invite pressure, at least extra pressures on the job, for a serious family issue or other situations in life. But it does seem to be true that each time someone experiences those pressures and comes out fine on the other end (or even if they don’t), real personal growth is achieved.

The USA team was dealt a serious blow when it lost convincingly to Europe at Oakland Hills Country Club in 2004. Let’s hope lessons learned there and the seemingly lowered pressure of again having “home field” advantage makes for a better result this week.