A Tale of Two Continents at Ryder Cup

By Associated PressSeptember 16, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesTom Lehman stayed up all night agonizing over his captain's picks for the Ryder Cup before finally picking up the phone and telling Davis Love III and a few others that it ripped his gut apart not to be able to take them to Ireland.
Ian Woosnam, meanwhile, walked into a bar and casually told Thomas Bjorn he wasn't going to be on the European team.

Oh, and barkeep, while I'm here would you mind pouring me a pint?
'In a bar,' a bitter Bjorn said. 'That kind of sums it up.'
Trouble on the European team? Hardly, because Bjorn didn't wait long before apologizing to everyone around for any disparaging comments he made about the pint-sized European captain.
Besides, nothing much shakes these Euros. They beat up on Tiger Woods on a regular basis, know how to play alternate shot, and don't tremble at the thought of having to make a 5-footer on Sunday afternoon with the pride of a continent at stake.
All good reasons why they've won four of the last five of these things, and are the favorites to be hoisting seed salesman Samuel Ryder's cup above their heads at The K Club.
But there's more to it than that. There has to be, because the recent European dominance of the cup makes no logical sense.
America has the best players in the world, including the top three in the world rankings at last glance. And Americans win the major championships, something a European hasn't done since Paul Lawrie won the British Open seven years ago.
Yet somehow they get drubbed almost every time they put a flag on their shirt.
Just how is it that Colin Montgomerie can't come close to sniffing a par from the fairway on the final hole of the U.S. Open, yet can't lose when playing for national pride? How does Sergio Garcia manage to elevate his game for his teammates when he can't do it in the final round of a major championship?
And how can the greatest player of his time -- perhaps all time -- play so miserably when he has to play with someone else?
Maybe it's because the Europeans take it more seriously than the Americans. More likely, it's because they don't take themselves as seriously as the Yanks.
When Woods took the rookies of the U.S. team out for dinner at a fancy steakhouse one night last month the golf world was astonished. So apparently were the rooks, one of whom, Brett Wetterich, had never met Woods.
Contrast that to the on-course leader of the European team. When he's playing the PGA TOUR, you can usually find Monty in the corner booth of the local Chili's. Across the pond, he's likely as not to be joining the lads in the hotel bar for an after-round libation.
Americans try their best to manufacture camaraderie every two years for players whose idea of conversation with each other at any other time is limited to 'You're out.' They bring in fine chefs, stock a room with every toy and game imaginable, and hope some serious bonding goes on.
Lehman went one step further this year, convincing Woods and Phil Mickelson to leave their private rides home and go on a charter with the team to Ireland for two days. Once there, they practiced their games, learned the names of some of their teammates, and practiced how to get along with each other.
With the Europeans, it's already there.
They know each other, socialize with each other, root for each other. Like the Americans, most of them are millionaires. Unlike the Americans, they don't act as though being rich and playing golf for a living was their birthright.
Most of them are stuck on a minor league tour that zigzags through Europe and Asia, playing mostly before small and apathetic crowds. The Ryder Cup is their moment in the spotlight, their time to shine.
They've now won seven of the last 10 of these events, which, by the way, never seemed to mean that much when the Americans were regularly whipping the British. Even Woods says -- and the oddsmakers agree -- that they will be the favorites in Ireland.
With good reason. Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk may be the top three players in the world but they're a combined 20-28-7 in the Ryder Cup. The current U.S. team is a pathetic 31-39-10 overall, and will start four players who have never played a Ryder Cup match.
The Europeans, meanwhile, are 75-42-21.
In the end, it's not the numbers that really matter. What matters is the Europeans understand how to take an individual game and make a team sport out of it.
It's something the Americans have yet to figure out.
And a few days in Ireland isn't likely to change that.
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