Updated: 2 days ago
"Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well." – Voltaire
Something quite extraordinary happened at the post-match conference after the 2014 Ryder Cup. The US team, after a third successive loss to the Europeans in the bi-annual event, had to face the music. Legendary Major Champion and captain Tom Watson was distraught after his team was comprehensively outplayed. But he couldn’t have anticipated what happened next.
Controversial golf superstar and senior player Phil Mickelson threw him under the bus. When asked why they had lost, Mickelson pointed to the way Paul Azinger had handled the captaincy six years before, resulting in a US win. And in doing so, he squarely pointed at his captain’s lack of inclusivity and man management. Watson, of a previous generation and not someone who believed in “inclusive” leadership, took it on the chin. The shocking breach of protocol lead to an outcry, but also a change in the way the US PGA operated, and a subsequent increase in performance.
Here is the gist of what Mickelson said: “Azinger’s use of a Navy-seals style POD system, where the 12-man Ryder Cup Team was split into smaller cohorts of four each, was the key to the success of that team. Players were included in the process and Azinger had a clear game plan.”
There’s a lot more to it, but let’s explore this whole POD concept a little bit:
US golfers play for two years against each other, trying their best to beat the other guy. Then they are expected to form a tight team quickly for the Ryder Cup.
It is easier to form tight teams in 4 than in a group of 12. Azinger split the team of 12 into 3 pods, each with a handpicked senior player as the leader. These pods would also be aligned on personality type using Strengthsfinders profiling.
In other Ryder Cup teams, senior players were not included in decision-making by the captain and vice-captain. This is particularly troublesome when doing the all-important pairings on the first two days, player chemistry is key, and senior players' buy-in is crucial.
Senior players get involved in decision-making process. 3 of 4 pod members automatically qualified, but the senior pod member along with the other 2 had the opportunity to make their own “wild card pick” for the fourth member out of a shortlist of 20. This created better team cohesion, player buy-in, and momentum upfront.
It was a success. Paul Azinger was the only US Captain to win the Ryder Cup in 7 attempts. His innovative use of Navy Seals methodology is not as strange as it sounds. There is significant science to suggest that 5-6 people is the ideal team size. If you factor in that each Pod of four had a vice-captain assigned to them, that does fit the bill. Jeff Bezos calls it the two-pizza rule: No meeting should be bigger than can be fed with two pizzas.
He not only carefully curated an inclusive culture, where leadership was delegated and information flowed in a transparent way, but he made sure that through the “Pod” system that those small groups of players formed a bond and chemistry that would transcend the tournament.
Azinger also followed age-old wisdom: “Trust everyone, but brand your cattle”. He did his homework, including using statistics, analysis, and course preparation, and communicated that strongly with his players. When they were asked to make a decision regarding the captain’s picks, their decisions aligned with his thinking because he had empowered them with the same data he had.
Phil Mickelson could be a troublesome influence, just ask Tom Watson. But properly managed and made accountable, he is a supreme team player. Azinger led with a firm but inclusive hand, where everyone took ownership of their role to play in the event…and they had a lot of fun doing it too!
Next week, I will talk about the third part of the PDP process…PRIORITIES!