Need a little Ryder Cup perspective? Think about this: the United States has lost every single Ryder Cup except one (thank you, Zinger) since the new Millennium. If you look on the board in those 5 meetings since 2000, you see 4 European flags… there is no getting around that, none. And it’s not like we just suddenly started sucking in this event shortly after Y2K, by the way… we were sucking hind tit long before parachute pants and big hair were deemed acceptable. From 1985 to present, the Euros have nearly doubled our winning record, they have owned us to the tune of 9-5. Paul Azinger knows why, he hit the nail on the head a few weeks back when he said, “Ryder Cup isn’t in their (Europeans’) blood, it’s in their soul.”
And it is. The Ryder Cup has always been the Super Bowl in Golf for the Euros, no question about it. Throughout his career, Sergio Garcia’s putting has been so bad that it often appears that he’s putting with a slinky… but when he’s on a Ryder Cup team – he turns into Steve Stricker. Now I’m not suggesting that there haven’t been great Euro players on the roster over the years, not at all. But compared to the US? Anyone ever heard of Paul Way? Or Howard Clark? Ken Brown, maybe? They were part of the European team that won the 1985 Cup…. except they just didn’t win the cup, but put a bloody ass whipping on us, 16 1/2 to 11 1/2. And guess what – we had a solid team top to bottom, with marquee names like Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins, Mark O’Meara, Andy North, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange, Craig Stadler, Hal Sutton, and Fuzzy Zeoller just to name a few. Back in the mid 80′s – these were THE guys in American golf, a team loaded with talent. And they couldn’t get within 5 points of a team that consisted of just as many no-names as top players? Like Azinger said – soul, baby… It’s gotta come from the soul. You gotta want it so badly that it completely ruins an otherwise brilliant season if you don’t make the team. You look at what has been missing over these past 17 years, the one thing that we’ve not really had – it’s not just the desire to be on a team, but to want to be on a team that wins.
And one American golfer might be getting that memo, or part of it anyway.
Hunter Mahan, who probably put a little too much pressure on himself in the latter half of this season to impress Davis Love III for a captain’s pick, WAS ASKED YESTERDAY if he plans on watching the Ryder Cup in a few weeks, since obviously he wasn’t picked and didn’t make the team. His reply? No – I have no intention of tuning in. Pfft… are you serious, Hunter? Are you really serious?
And that’s just it, right there… Hunter is part of the way there mentally… not making the team has moved beyond disappointment… he’s depressed about not making the team enough to want to avoid it completely. But then – that’s also selfish, taking this “I want no part of it” mentality. It’s all about me. If I’m not on the team, why watch? Why be there in spirit? Hunter, yeah – you probably got shafted, dude. I agree. I wasn’t fond of Furyk being picked over you, but here’s the deal: you needed to play steadier this summer to guarantee yourself a spot – and you didn’t. It sucks, but that’s what happens sometimes. I didn’t agree with DL3 picking Furyk over you, but that’s the way it went down. Furyk has been playing well recently and when it involves relying on a captain’s pick – it is very much a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately concept. Nor does it help your cause in the least when you consider that 1 of the top 3 or 4 American players over the past decade has been Jim Furyk, who also happens to be a friend of the captain. And you’re going to protest by refusing to watch the event? Two years ago, Sergio Garcia was playing so badly mid-season that he informed Captain Colin Montgomery that he was removing himself from the picture. It wasn’t about him, he wanted the best players on the team. It was about the team, Hunter. It was about wanting the best players on the team so they had the best shot at winning. And despite not feeling worthy enough to be on the team, Sergio not only wanted to watch the competition – he wanted to be an assistant captain. Like I said – no selfishness. Say what you want about the Europeans, but one thing is certain – you can’t be selfish and play on a European Ryder Cup team. Not gonna happen.
Anyway, all of these things aside… I think we’ll narrow the gap in a few weeks. I think the US comes away with the Cup in a highly contested affair, and below are my 5 points as to why I feel that way.
Medinah will definitely favor the longer hitters, no question. We’re talking almost 7700 yards, and we’re not in Colorado playing a mile and a half above sea level. The temps will be cooler, the ball won’t be traveling as far with the cooler weather, and the weather this time of year, especially in this region of the US, lends itself to softer course conditions overall. Mickelson, Bradley, Tiger, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson… we’re talking some serious firepower off the tee. I think that will be a huge advantage for us. I don’t think distance alone gets it done, but I do believe that it’ll be a significant advantage that the US will enjoy.
If there’s one thing that I don’t like about the timing of the Tour Playoffs – it’s that it’s too close to the Ryder Cup. But at the same time – it keeps the players active during a part of the season when in years past they would otherwise be sitting at home eating Cheetos and watching football on the weekends. I look at it like this: I don’t mind our guys playing all the way up to the week of the Ryder Cup when we’re at home every other year… it keeps us on edge a little better. It’s not like we have to reboot our minds to become competitive again after nearly a month off and it keeps us swinging a club. Now when we’re playing away? Different story. We need the break, we need some time to decompress before that degree of travel. It’s not like all of these guys are sitting on the runway at Logan International and a mere 6 hours away from being in Europe. The logistics involved are much, much more complicated and let’s not forget that generally speaking – the wives are coming along as well. So it’s a major issue when we’re on the road. But we’re not on the road in a few weeks, thankfully.. we’re here at home. Our guys are playing well, all of them. I can’t argue DL3′s logic with the pics, I just can’t. He chose experience and current form over popularity and feel good with Furyk over Mahan, and I respect that. People will argue that friendship trumped logic, and I can respect that argument as well. Yeah, maybe there was a little favoritism going on. Or maybe this was a case where one aging veteran threw a bone to another aging veteran. Who knows, really… but it’s not like DL3 chose Johnson Wagner over Hunter Mahan, we are talking one of the top 3 or 4 greatest American players over the past decade that got the nod here. And like I said – all of our guys are playing well.
I think this is the area where Captain DL3 really wanted an edge with regard to three of his four captain’s picks. He got it with Furyk, Snedeker and Stricker. He obviously chose length with Dustin Johnson, but Johnson would’ve likely made the team anyway had he not had to miss part of the season because of injury. I like our players on the greens… Zach Johnson – very good putter, borderline great putter. Steve Stricker – great putter. Mickelson – maybe has found something with the modified claw grip and has putted a lot better the past few weeks. Dustin Johnson – good putter. Tiger Woods – good and getting better. I like the confidence Woody has developed with the putter this season, he’s rolling the ball with a lot more confidence… then again, three wins tend to do that. Bubba Watson – good putter, they don’t award Green Jackets to bad putters. Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner – all solid putters. I look at the European side, nobody scares me on the greens, except McIlroy. An argument could be made for Luke Donald, sure. But when you look beyond those two players, who scares you? Ian Poulter? G-Mac? These guys are streaky putters, not great putters.
This is what it comes down to: on Sunday, with a 5-footer on the line to win the point that wins the competition – I see more holes on the European team than the American team. This is what it all comes down to, the ability to grind out the 4 and 5 footers that aren’t going to be conceded. I think the US has the edge there.
I’m not just talking about the Euros having to deal with rowdy US fans in the galleries, but with the entire package of traveling abroad. The American players who travel to Europe for the British Open – they understand the complexities of the logistics and the distractions that come with it. Do I bring the family or do they stay home and I go another 10 days without seeing them? Then you have the jet-lag with the body and mind being in different time zones, and the adjustment that requires. Are all of these major issues for every player? No. But I do think the adjustment, the planning, and the travel itself is understandably significant. It’s particularly significant when you step foot on the first tee box and know that 90% of the people in the galleries surrounding you are rooting for your opponent to beat you in humiliating fashion. But that’s part of my final point, below…
There’s No Place Like Home
Although the historical stats from either side don’t exactly support the underlying successes of the premise in theory – these players obviously prefer to play at home rather than away. This is the one event where the fans really can become like the 13th player for their team, the additional inspiration for their team to dig deep. No one likes losing, but to lose at home is twice as painful as losing on the road (the 1999 Ryder Cup notwithstanding if you’re a Euro). But here’s another little orb of information about the home aspect: the host captain can tailor the course setup however he wants. If he wants the rough lower and less penal than normal – it’s done. If he wants the greens a little quicker and firmer – not a problem. If he wants pimento cheese sandwiches and sweet iced tea in the concession stands – book it, Danno. I’m not saying that Captain DL3 will do a lot of course customizing, but have previous Ryder Cup host captains done this? You bet they have. It’s just one of the benefits of being the home team captain – although the practice isn’t acknowledged, that doesn’t mean it’s not accepted.
So there you have it. I think it’ll be a great event, like always, and there could be a few surprises in the form of upsets maybe on both sides… I think Woody and Rory will (and deservedly so) command a lot of the attention – both are playing very well and they’re both considered the anchors for their respective teams. But when you get to the bottom half of both rosters, which is generally the dividing line between winning and losing – I think the US really starts to pull away from the Euros. I’m of the opinion that while Europe enjoys the best player in the game currently in McIlroy, the US team is just simply too deep for them to go back home with the Cup.