The most embarrassing aspect of the U.S.’s Ryder Cup loss this weekend might be that the usual excuses don’t apply. Nobody can honestly say that the Americans don’t care about international team competition, or that the best players decided not to go.
The truth is that the U.S. brought its best team to Oakland Hills and still managed to get throttled by the worst margin in the 77-year history of the Ryder Cup.
On paper, it makes absolutely no sense. With a team replete with smokers and guys who train by lifting pints, it would seem like the Europeans would be better equipped to beat their counterparts in a case race than in any athletic endeavor.
The players’ individual records tell the same story. On the American side, five players have combined to win a total of 12 major championships. The entire European squad is stuck at nil.
Among the 12 players on the American side, three were ranked among the top 10 in the world rankings. Eight resided within the top 20, and all except Fred Funk were counted among the top 40 players. On the European side, half of the team was ranked outside the top 40. When you really think about it, with Americans representing half of the world’s top 40 players, the U.S. should have been able to form two teams capable of destroying the Europeans.
Instead, the U.S. was blown out of the water on day one. And, despite making noise early on Saturday and Sunday, the team never really had a chance. Whose fault is it?
Everyone seems to be saying that the Americans just didn’t play well. But really, the U.S. NEVER plays well in the Ryder Cup. If not for the miracle at The Country Club in 1999, the Europeans would be working on five consecutive victories.
There is just something about this event that fazes Americans and brings the best out of the continentals. How else can you explain the disparity between talent and results? On Friday, the U.S.’s top pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson bombed like “Gigli.” Meanwhile, Colin Montgomerie went 3-1 to improve his all-time record to 19-8-5. Which is great, except for the fact that ol’ Monty is not actually good at golf.
Seriously, if you gave him a lead on the final day of a major, which was not an entirely infrequent scenario in the 1990s, you could confidently bet Monty’s rather substantial weight in gold that he would choke. But, put him in the Ryder Cup, and he plays how God would, or how Tiger (7-11-2 in four Ryder Cups) should play.
Overall, the results over the last decade have demonstrated that this weekend’s result was not a fluke. It’s a trend. Everyone has to accept that while America has the best golfers, Europe is just better at the Ryder Cup. And the Europeans’ money is worth more now, too.
In many ways, the Ryder Cup team’s disappointment mirrors the other major American sports debacle of the last month: Olympic basketball. Yes, the U.S. team would have been helped by Shaq, T-Mac, Garnett, anyone who has ever played point guard beyond the middle school level, or any shooter. Also, bizarre rules like, “Every time Tim Duncan blocks a shot, it’s a foul” certainly hurt the cause.
Still, the Americans had by far the most talented group, including the world’s best player. As loaded as Team USA was, it proved impossible to compensate for the fact that the other national teams had been playing together for years. Squads like Italy and Argentina were just better “teams.”
Team chemistry is all too often overlooked in sports. Obviously, I’m a complete sap for stuff like this, but some people view it as a cliche or a joke.
In baseball especially, it seems like all the intangibles of teams are being replaced with Moneyball. Analysts might say that the Red Sox turned their season around because Theo Epstein studied the range factor numbers for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz and knew each would help prevent runs. Numbers can be insightful, and upgraded infield defense has definitely been huge for Boston. But I still haven’t seen a formula that explains that if A-Rod simply had walked to first base after being beaned on July 24, the Red Sox would be 10 and a half games out. I’m sure Bill James is working on it though.
Last weekend, it definitely meant something that Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia were always reading putts together, while Tiger and Phil wanted nothing to do with each other. As tight as the Europeans looked, it’s hard to remember that they’re actually not from the same country.
If for really nothing else, the Ryder Cup is a great example of what can make team sports so special. A team can be greater or lesser than the sum of its parts and chemistry has a lot to do with it.