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At the Ryder Cup, would 12 divided by three equal victory for the US?

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“Pod” is not a golf word. And yet it has been on the tongue of nearly everyone in the golf community during the past, tense days before this week’s Ryder Cup, the biennial, pressure-packed team competition between American and European pro golfers that begins Friday.

Paul Azinger, the American Ryder Cup captain in 2008 and a former PGA Tour pro, deserves the credit, or the blame, for injecting “pod” into the golf vernacular. Thirteen years ago, after learning that Navy Seal units bonded by training and living together in small, carefully selected platoons, Azinger decided he would divide his 12-man team into three four-man units before that year’s Ryder Cup. The hope was that a finite, close-knit group could match the unity exhibited by Europe’s triumphant teams.

Called the pod system, Azinger’s four-man corps were chosen after each player took a personality test. Grouped together based on compatibility, the players did almost everything together before the Ryder Cup matches – practice rounds, meals, nightly table tennis games. When the competition started, they were paired together in matches and routed the Europeans to claim the first US victory in nine years and just the second since 1993. Azinger was celebrated for his innovation.

But in a show of the stubborn individualism that may be hampering the overall American Ryder Cup effort, the US captains who succeeded Azinger rejected or diluted his approach. Only one of those teams won, in 2016, when Davis Love III embraced the pod system.

‘Good concept’

At other team competitions in professional golf, including the Solheim Cup, which pits women’s golfers from the United States against those from Europe, leaders chose to adopt Azinger’s model with success and failure. Last month, the American Solheim Cup captain, Pat Hurst, implemented the pod system and her team lost, 15-13.

Even Azinger, now an analyst for NBC, has questioned the current efficacy of his idea. “The way I did it wouldn’t even work today, to be honest, even though the concept was good,” he said last week. “I just think the pods, they don’t work all the time. We keep getting beat. If everybody’s still using the pods, pods isn’t the answer. It’s something bigger than that.”

The pod debate has not stopped or impeded the discussion about the best way to replicate Azinger’s success on the American side. In the run-up to the event, the overarching intrigue is how Steve Stricker, this year’s US captain, will make up the two-man partnerships he sends out for the 16 matches against Europe’s two-man teams on Friday and Saturday. (On Sunday, the Ryder Cup concludes with 12 one-on-one singles matches.)

The American hand-wringing about their player pairings has generally been a source of quiet amusement for the European squad. Devising the pairings on their team is rarely controversial or the product of profound, multilayered planning. Players often form natural partnerships based on which European country they represent.

“The Europeans are bonded by blood, which means everything to them,” Azinger said. “The Spaniards play together. The Englishmen, the Irishmen, the Swedes, they’re bonded by something that really gives them a full-blown 1 per cent advantage.” Azinger said a 1 per cent advantage may not seem like much, but in the three days of a Ryder Cup competition, more than 4,000 shots are likely to be put in play. A 40-stroke swing, or 1 per cent, could conceivably decide a couple of matches, where one point is awarded for each victory and half a point for a tie. Europe has won nine of the past 12 Ryder Cups, but on four occasions the margin of victory was a single point.

Seizing on that 1 per cent edge, Azinger said of the Europeans: “They bring an intangible with them. It’s a fact.” Outside the golf world, there may be some precedent to explain how the European team’s geographic make-up improves its Ryder Cup results. Some of the strongest, most effective troops during the second World War were soldiers assembled from the same town or village, according to Charline Russo, a senior lecturer in organisational dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania and a consultant on executive coaching and team development.

“It wasn’t just because they grew up together, there was also that accountability factor,” Russo said. “You didn’t want to go home and admit that you screwed up.” Russo, who has a PhD in organisational leadership, has a deep familiarity with the personality tests that Azinger used 13 years ago.

Cautioned

Stricker, who was on the 2008 team, last week conceded that he would employ a variety of tactics to devise his pairings, although he declined to be specific on whether he would use the pod system. Russo said the assessments could be valuable tools, but cautioned, “You need somebody who knows what they’re doing with it because these things can be dangerous.” Azinger, for example, consulted at length with a clinical psychologist.

It may be even more difficult if Brooks Koepka, who qualified for the team but injured his wrist last month, is healthy enough to play. Koepka and his American team-mate Bryson DeChambeau have spent most of this year feuding on social media. Stricker has asked the two men to put aside their differences during the Ryder Cup, and each player has been discreet of late, but do not expect Koepka and DeChambeau to be paired for a match, or even assigned to the same pod – if there is a pod system.

Justin Leonard, who was a member of several American Ryder Cup teams including the 2008 squad, said that keeping Koepka and DeChambeau apart should be “real easy”, especially if the players are in pods. “We ate breakfast together, we ate dinner together, we played our practice rounds together, and when we were in the same room with the whole team, we sat at a table together,” Leonard said of 2008, adding that the arrangement provided a level of comfort because there were no surprises when the pairings were announced.

Additionally, Leonard, who is now an NBC golf analyst, said he expected the pod system to return for the Americans this week because Phil Mickelson, who was on the 2008 team, is a non-paying vice captain to Stricker. “Phil Mickelson was a big proponent of the pods,” Leonard said. “He loved that system. Him being a vice captain, I feel fairly confident that we’ll see something similar to that.” Azinger said he did not have a clue how Stricker might proceed. “I don’t know what’s he’s doing,” Azinger said. “He’s not told me.”

– This article first appeared in the New York Times

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Britain’s biggest homes for sale: Devon country house vs London mansion

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The biggest properties for sale on the open market in Britain – both in and outside of London – have been exclusively revealed by Zoopla.

The largest home on the property website is in Devon, in the town of Ottery Saint Mary, and at 22,211 sq ft it’s almost double the size of the 12,451 sq ft mansion in the capital.

Yet the price tag of the country house in Devon – said to be where Oliver Cromwell declared civil war –  is significantly less at £5.95million, costing just over a third of the £15.95million one in North London’s Highgate.

For £5.95m, you could get more than 22,000 square feet of country house with 21 acres of grounds in Devon's Ottery Saint Mary

For £5.95m, you could get more than 22,000 square feet of country house with 21 acres of grounds in Devon’s Ottery Saint Mary

By contrast, £16.95million buys a 12,500 square feet seven-bedroom mansion on London's affluent Courtenay Avenue

By contrast, £16.95million buys a 12,500 square feet seven-bedroom mansion on London’s affluent Courtenay Avenue

The seven-bedroom London pile is on Courtenay Avenue, which was recently named the second most expensive street in Britain and is close to Hampstead Heath. It comes with half an acre gardens – a sizeable chunk of land for a home in the capital.

But the Devon property boasts 21 acres, 10 bedrooms, parkland and woodland, and comes with what the estate agent describes as ‘the fascinating Cromwell Fairfax Room where it is believed Civil War was declared in the 17th Century’.

The average price of a home in Ottery, where it is situated, is £433,981, which is up £28,052 on a year ago, according to Zoopla.

By contrast, the average price of a home in Courtenay Avenue is £20,510,200, but that is down £108,741 compared to a year earlier, as buyers’ pandemic desire for the countryside tops demand for the capital.

We take a look inside both properties… 

1. Seven-bed house, Courtenay Avenue, London, £16.95million

The property is on a private gated road and boasts a luxurious interior with a large dining room for entertaining

The property is on a private gated road and boasts a luxurious interior with a large dining room for entertaining

The house for sale in London with the biggest square footage is in the north of the capital, on Courtenay Avenue.

Running parallel with the more famous Billionaire’s Row of The Bishops Avenue, Courtenay Avenue is an even more exclusive no-through road on the borders of Highgate and Hampstead, which was recently named as the second most expensive street in Britain by Zoopla. The £20million average house price there was only topped by Kensington Palace Gardens at £30million.

The Courtenay Avenue house extends across 12,451 sq ft, the equivalent of 1,156.7 square metres, and sits in just over half an acre of land. 

It has seven bedrooms, including a main bedroom suite that overlooks the landscaped gardens.

Inside, there is a swimming pool, gym, steam room and sauna, as well as staff accommodation.

The property has a price tag of £16.95million and is on the market via estate agents Bargets. 

The Courtenay Avenue home boasts a swimming pool, gym, steam room and sauna, as well as staff accommodation

The Courtenay Avenue home boasts a swimming pool, gym, steam room and sauna, as well as staff accommodation

Deep pockets required: The property has a price tag of £16.95million and is on the market via estate agents Bargets

Deep pockets required: The property has a price tag of £16.95million and is on the market via estate agents Bargets

The house extends across 12,451 sq ft, the equivalent of 1,156.7 square metres, and sits in just over half an acre of land

The house extends across 12,451 sq ft, the equivalent of 1,156.7 square metres, and sits in just over half an acre of land

The house has plenty of space with seven bedrooms, including a main bedroom suite that overlooks the landscaped gardens

The house has plenty of space with seven bedrooms, including a main bedroom suite that overlooks the landscaped gardens

Daniel Copley, of Zoopla, said: ‘Located on Courtenay Avenue, which was recently crowned the UK’s second most expensive street, this palatial property has an enviable location a stone’s throw away from Kenwood House and Hampstead Heath, as well as 24hr security.

‘The property itself is brimming with luxurious touches including a spacious walk in wardrobe, while the fitness suites offer the perfect place to unwind.’

2. Ten-bed house, Devon, £5.95m

This £16.95million house in Devon's Ottery St Mary has the biggest square footage of any home currently for sale on Zoopla

This £16.95million house in Devon’s Ottery St Mary has the biggest square footage of any home currently for sale on Zoopla

The property has an impressive dining room where Oliver Cromwell reportedly declared the start of the Civil War

The property has an impressive dining room where Oliver Cromwell reportedly declared the start of the Civil War

The largest house for sale in the country on Zoopla is in Exeter’s Ottery St Mary. It is called The Chanters House and extends across 22,211 sq ft, the equivalent of 2,063.4 square metres.

The living areas include The Great Library, which is more than 70 ft in length and is where poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s family created one of the West Country’s most impressive libraries,

Meanwhile, the dining room is said to be where Oliver Cromwell hosted a meeting of local people and declared the start of the Civil War in the 17th century.

A story to tell: The Great Library is more than 70 ft in length and was created by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his family

A story to tell: The Great Library is more than 70 ft in length and was created by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his family

The property is called The Chanters House and extends across 22,211 sq ft and boasts a large indoor swimming pool

The property is called The Chanters House and extends across 22,211 sq ft and boasts a large indoor swimming pool

The Grade II listed property has a massive 10 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and a striking conservatory with a large seating area

The Grade II listed property has a massive 10 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and a striking conservatory with a large seating area

There is also a billiards room, a conservatory, a swimming pool and a striking greenhouse.

The Grade II listed property has 10 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and sits in more than 21 acres, including parkland and woodland that runs down to the River Otter. It has a price tag of £5.95million and is being sold via estate agents Knight Frank.

Zoopla’s Mr Copley said: ‘Chanters House is a true piece of British history, with links to famous figures including Oliver Cromwell and the renowned poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

‘The spacious interior has plenty of beautiful details including carved wooden ceilings and panelling, as well as a beautiful library with over 22,000 books. There’s also expansive grounds with a BBQ area and pool house.’

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Prosecution of former British soldier over Troubles killing defended

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Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service has defended the decision to prosecute British army veteran Dennis Hutchings over a Troubles shooting.

Mr Hutchings (80) died in hospital in Belfast on Monday after contracting Covid-19, leading unionist politicians to raise concerns that the case against him had been allowed to proceed.

The former member of the Life Guards, had pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974. He also denied a count of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.

Mr Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning difficulties, was shot dead as he ran away from an army patrol near Benburb. People who knew him said he had the mental age of a child and was known to have a deep fear of soldiers.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson had challenged the prosecution service over what new and compelling evidence led to the trial.

Deputy director of public prosecutions Michael Agnew said: “The PPS [Public Prosecution Service] decision to prosecute Mr Hutchings for attempted murder was taken after an impartial and independent application of the test for prosecution.

“The test for prosecution requires a consideration of whether the available evidence provides a reasonable prospect of conviction and, if it does, whether prosecution is in the public interest,” Mr Agnew said.

“Whilst a review of a previous no prosecution decision does not require the existence of new evidence, the police investigation in this case resulted in a file being submitted to the PPS which included certain evidence not previously available.

“In the course of the proceedings there were rulings by High Court judges that the evidence was sufficient to put Mr Hutchings on trial and also that the proceedings were not an abuse of process.”

Mr Agnew said the PPS recognised the “concerns in some quarters” in relation to the decision to bring the prosecution.

He added: “We would like to offer our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr Hutchings, and acknowledge their painful loss.

“However, where a charge is as serious as attempted murder, it will generally be in the public interest to prosecute.”

“Our thoughts are also with the family of John Pat Cunningham who have waited for many decades in the hope of seeing due process take its course.”

Mr Hutchings had been suffering from kidney disease, and the court had been sitting only three days a week to enable him to undergo dialysis treatment between hearings.

He was charged with the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974.

Mr Hutchings died at the Mater Hospital on Monday while in Belfast for the trial. Hours earlier, the trial had been adjourned for three weeks in light of his health.

Mr Donaldson said he had been shocked when the decision was taken to bring the case to trial. “He has been literally dragged before the courts,” he told the BBC.

“Dennis is an honourable man, he wanted to clear his name, he was prepared to go despite the risk to his health but I do think this morning there are serious questions that need to be asked of those who took the decision that it was in the public interest to prosecute this man.”

Mr Donaldson said Mr Hutchings’s actions had been investigated at the time.

“So it is not a question of this being something new, and therefore the question I have for the PPS is what was the new and compelling evidence that meant it was in the public interest to bring an 80-year-old in ill health on dialysis at severe risk to his health before the courts, and I think that is an entirely valid question that I am entitled to ask this morning,” he said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie has called for a “full and thorough” review into the decision-making of the Public Prosecution Service. – PA

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How to value your home

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Since Revenue disclosed details of its property tax revaluation campaign back in mid-September, households around the State have started to fret about how much their home is worth.

Where just a few short weeks ago, people were talking jubilantly about how much the house across the road had sold for, now there is a fear that exuberant house prices will cause a sharp rise in property tax bills.

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