One Mans Mistake in Forecasting

By George WhiteSeptember 13, 2005, 4:00 pm
If anything has been proven by the Europeans play in the Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup, it is definitely this: medal play and team stroke play are two very different animals.
The U.S. women rallied big on the final day in singles to win another Solheim Cup. But before Sunday, the Americans were having a terribly difficult time subduing their European cousins. The matches were tied at eight points each with Sundays singles looming. The eventual winning team was by no means a foregone conclusion Saturday night.
Up to that point, there was no difference in Team Europe and Team USA. The two had played 16 team matches, and had come out dead even. The matches, in fact, looked dishearteningly familiar to U.S. fans after Day 1. Europe had shocked us once again by leading, 5-3. The Euros had jolted America into cold reality by winning the opening sessions Friday morning by a 3-1 score, and it was clear by noon of the first day that the U.S. had a real fight on its hands.
Now, this is not to demean the Americans in any way. It is simply a sobering way to say, you can never predict who is going to win one of these exercises unless you factor in pairs ability. Golf fans in this country have got to realize that, just because Americans will rule the leaderboards in any individual tournament, they wont necessarily dominate team play.
Golf is exactly like tennis in this regard. A player who excels at doubles may or may NOT be a singles superstar. The Europeans have always excelled at doubles - pairs, if you will. The Americans have always excelled at singles. Where the women are concerned, at least, singles play has been more important than doubles, with 12 points available Sunday in the solos. The European men have generally done so well in doubles that the singles results havent been enough to tilt the scales in Americas favor.
Tiger Woods doesnt have a particularly outstanding Ryder Cup record in team matches because he is only one-half an entity - particularly in the alternate-shot format. It doesnt particularly matter how great he plays his half, he still will only hit only half the shots.
It seems pretty clear, this doubles vs. singles thing, but I have to re-learn it every time a team match occurs. And I have to re-learn it because I am amazed every time that the Euros are neck-and-neck with the U.S. when the results of the first day are in. Its not a case of patriotic jingoism clouding my vision. Its simply a matter of looking at the scores of each tournament week to week and seeing where the players finish.
>But then, a golf tournament is not a match play event, is it? The Americans may have the best singles players, but European has proven so many times that it is at least an equal when it comes to doubles. And that is where we repeatedly are taken down a wrong path in trying to forecast who will win. We dont stop to consider that this is a TEAM event, and a team event doesnt have much similarity to a singles event. It is totally different.
Why is that? Theories abound forever, and I confess that I dont have an answer. No, I dont think it has any relationship to who likes whom, who gets into the team spirit any better, which team has dinner together every night or any such foolishness. Maybe ' and Im just saying maybe ' it is because Americans are taught the singles game from an early age. They dont play pairs in the American Junior Golf Assn. Players are taught how to win individually in the States. And they do it impressively.
Or, maybe that has nothing to do with it. Maybe beating the Americans is enough of a status symbol ' but Im not egotistical enough to think this is the case. Why cant we just acknowledge that, at many European golf courses, alternate-shot is the preferred manner of play for EVERYONE? You play in half the amount of time, and time is something of considerable value considering the short days in the northern climes.
At any rate, there can be no question that pairs play and singles play is totally different. The Americans held their own in doubles this time and won the match by swamping Europe in singles. But ' again ' I was reminded of a basic tenet of golf: you cant predict a final outcome by just knowing which team has the best singles players. Another giant factor looms ' the doubles. And unless you can handicap the pairs, you dont know who is going to win the match.
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